Conquering Barre Chords The Easy Way

This lesson is for beginning guitar players: learn how to get your fret hand in the best position so that you can play barre chords without struggling or tiring your hand out.

Ultimate Guitar
Conquering Barre Chords The Easy Way

Most beginning guitar players try to avoid barre chords in their early stages of playing guitar. After realizing that there are some songs that you absolutely must use barre chords to play, they struggle with two main problems: 1. Getting their chords to sound clear and correct, and 2. Their fret hand "runs out of gas" and gets tired out quickly from trying to force their barre chords by trying to clamp their hand down on them as hard as they can.

This lesson will help you learn to how to get the best fret hand position so that you can easily play barre chords and get them sounding great without tiring your hand out.

Watch the video to learn exactly what you need to do so that you can conquer barre chords now - it's simple once you learn how:

YouTube preview picture

The video shows you that the first key in the barre chord setup is in the fret hand thumb positioning: Your fret hand thumb should be located near the middle of the back of the neck. This allows your index finger to make the "reach" across the neck to cover and bar all of the strings. If you allow your thumb to get too high and hang over the top of the neck, it is nearly impossible to play barre chords - you will not be able to get your index finger extended flat across the strings.

Now that your thumb is behind the neck, you need to make sure it is in the best position so that you can avoid the brute force method of trying to play barre chords. The location of the thumb in relation to your fret hand index finger is extremely important - this is the key to playing barre chords and getting them to sound good without having to try to "squeeze" the neck using only your fret hand.

Refer to the video at 1:40 to get a good look at how to get your hand set up the right way.

Looking at the guitar neck from the top, your fret hand thumb needs to be placed closer to the guitar body than your index finger. The thumb should be approximately even with your fret hand middle finger.

The reason for this thumb placement is simple: You get the leverage you need to press the strings down with your bar finger. Placing your thumb nearer to the guitar body than your index finger allows you to use a "twisting" type of pressure with your wrist to clamp the index finger down when playing the barre.

Your wrist and forearm muscles are much bigger and stronger than the smaller muscles in your hand. If you have been playing barre chords by trying to squeeze the neck using only your hand muscles, this is the reason why it has been difficult and also why your hand gets tired quickly.

The key is to twist with the big muscles of the wrist and forearm so you don't have to pinch with the hand.

When your thumb placement is set up correctly, your fret hand index finger will actually contact the strings and fretboard on the side of the index finger. This is fine - your index finger does not need to be flat on the strings. When you use the twisting pressure from the correct thumb placement, your index finger will naturally take this position.

Learning how to play barre chords and getting them to sound good is a big step in your development as a guitar player. Now that you know how to set up correctly to play barre chords, they will soon become easy for you. Remember that the positioning of your fret hand is the key - it is about getting the right leverage from the right muscles in the forearm and wrist.

About the Author:
Paul Kleff is a rock guitarist and instructor teaching beginner guitar lessons online and in the rock, metal and blues guitar learning programs at his music school in Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.

7 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I remember first starting out on guitar. I started out on an acoustic, and for the life of me, I couldn't play that frigging F chord. Eventually, I decided to start practicing on my electric, which actually really helped. Nice lesson though.
    Awesome tip man. My fret hand was tiring out really quick, the twist is so much more comfortable. thanks for the lesson.