Barre Chords: The Ultimate Guide

Looking to learn about barre chords? You’re in the right place!

barre chords

In this free guitar lesson you will learn:

  • Learn 5 essential barre chords.
  • 3 tips for clean & easy barre chords.
  • 2 advanced barre chord secrets. (Complete with bonus video & tips.)

Let’s get started.

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So what are barre chords?

A barre chord is a chord where one of our fingers is pressing down more than one string.

barre chords

If you’ve never played barre chords before, then that probably sounds quite difficult, and it is at first. BUT, like a lot of things, with practice and patience you’ll get the hang of it.

Barre chords in many ways mark our transition from beginner guitarists to intermediate guitarists, so please don’t be put off if you struggle with them at first.

Barre chords aren’t easy.

Why are barre chords important?

You might be asking yourself, “If barre chords are so difficult, why not just stick with ordinary open chords?”

barre chords

There are some chords that quite simply can’t be played in the open position. Sooner or later, you are going to encounter a song that unavoidably has a barre chord in it.

Barre chords also allow us more options for chords we already know. If we only know one way of playing a chord it can limit our playing considerably.

Our first barre chords

Because barre chords can be tricky, we’re going to start off with the absolute basics of barring before we do anything else.

You know your normal A chord?

barre chords

(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)

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Normally you’d play that with three fingers… but we’re going to try playing it with just ONE finger.

All we need to do is lie our index finger across all three of the strings and press down.

Like this:

barre chords

NB: You’ll probably find unavoidably that you end up pressing the high E string down as well. That’s fine. We simply don’t strum that string when we’re barring the A. If you can’t help but strum it, that’s not a problem. It just means you’ve got yourself an A6 chord instead of just an A chord. Jazzy!

Give it a try.

How does it feel? A bit uncomfortable perhaps? Do you find you’re having to press quite hard?

That’s quite normal. Don’t worry. It takes time for our fingers to get used to barring.

How does it sound? Are some of the notes not quite sounding? Are you getting a lot of dead string noise instead of nice clear notes?

Again, perfectly normal.

We have to be patient and allow our fingers time to get used to barring.

Try strumming the chord and arpeggiating it (ie. playing one note at a time).

You’ll probably find the strum is a bit more forgiving than the arpeggio, but the arpeggio will show us exactly which strings aren’t quite being pressed down enough.

It’s important that you don’t hurt yourself when playing barre chords. Allow your finger plenty of rest in between attempts at the chord.

Download a free beginner chord guide and learn easy versions of every chord

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The D Major 7 Chord

barre chords

Dmaj7 is basically the same shape as the A, except we’ve moved everything over by one string, so we’re barring the 1st, 2nd and 3rd strings of the guitar.

barre chords

Give it a try. Try strumming it and arpeggiating it.

You’ll probably find a lot of similarities with playing this chord and the previous chord.

A good exercise can be to practice switching between these two chords.

Try them in a sequence:

| A              | Dmaj7           | A               | Dmaj7            |

Before you go any further with barre chords, it’s vital to have these two down.

Take your time and don’t try to run before you can walk.

Spend as much time as you need practicing these until you’re happy with them.

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More Barre Chords…

Once you have the A and the Dmaj7 down, a good barre chord to try next is F#m.

F#m looks like this:

barre chords

The best way to approach the F#m is to first play the Dmaj7 and then reach over with either the 3rd or 4th finger and press down the D string (the 4th string) at the 4th fret.

Give it a try. How does it compare to playing the other chords? Do you find that when you stretch over for that extra note that your first finger tries to follow it? When you try and place your first finger back down does it pull your other finger with it?

This is quite a common problem.

Our fingers instinctively try to bunch together. It takes practice to persuade them to work separately from one another.

One thing you can do to help is to re-think the positioning of your thumb round the back of the neck.

Have a look at how your thumb is positioned when you play a chord.

Does it look like this?

barre chords

Wrapped right around the back of the neck with the tip of the thumb peaking out over the top?

The problem with this sort of grip is, while it feels stronger in terms of pressing strings down, it does mean we lose a lot of our reach.

To get some of that reach back we want to move our thumb down a bit, closer to the centre of the back of the neck (the ‘spine’ if you will).

We also want to stand our thumb up a bit more so it’s just the print or the tip of the thumb touching the neck. Ideally we don’t want the palm or the heel of the hand touching the neck at all.

Your hand should now look a bit like this:

barre chords

As you’ve moved your thumb to this position you can probably feel your fingers span out a lot more, allowing us more reach.

The downside is, you might feel you no longer have as much gripping power to press those strings down.

Eventually, you want to get to a stage where you can apply enough pressure to the strings without needing a death grip on the neck.

The reality is you may have to compromise a bit between grip and reach. Try adjusting the positioning of your thumb until you feel you have a good balance between the two.

This is where we have to again stress the importance of patience.

Barre chords aren’t easy.

They take time, so you must take your time. Don’t hurt your fingers by asking too much of them too soon.

Once you’re reasonably happy with your F#m chord then try it in a sequence with the A and the Dmaj7.

| A             | Dmaj7          | F#m           |F#m              |

Now let’s look at a major barre chord.

You’re probably used to doing your F chord like this:

barre chords

What we’re going to try and do is bring that high E string into the chord as well.

The way to do this is to flatten that first finger down so it covers both the B string and the high E string.

f

Give it a try. How does it feel? How does it sound?

Again, you may be having a lot of the issues we encountered with the earlier chords.

Remember, these issues are perfectly normal and they do take time to resolve, so be patient.

Make sure that you:

  • Strum the chord.
  • Arpeggiate the chord.
  • Check the positioning of your thumb.

Once you’re reasonably happy with the F chord, there’s a nice easy change we can do to practice it.

If you simply lift off the third and fourth fingers, but keep the first and second fingers on, that gives you a Dm7 chord.

barre chords

You might find this chord a bit easier than the F as it’s nothing like as much of a stretch.

Try changing between the two chords in a sequence, like this:

| Dm7           | F                | Dm7           | F                |

Moving barre chord shapes around the neck.

So, we now know a major and a minor barre chord shape.

The great thing about these barre chords is, we can move them all over the neck, allowing us to play all the major and minor chords.

All we need is a basic grasp of the musical alphabet.

Not familar with the musical alphabet? No problem. Check out this article: Guitar Notes Explained: A Guide For Beginners

Both our major and minor barre chords have root notes on the D string, so it’s the notes on the D string we need to concern ourselves with. Here’s a diagram of the notes on the D string. (4th string.)


Here’s a chord sequence to practice:

| F             | Gm          |Am           | Bb           |

Let’s try and play it using our two barre chord shapes.

We already know our F, but what about that Gm?

Well, we know our F#m.

What’s the next note on the D string in the diagram after F#?

That’s right. It’s G. To turn our F#m into a Gm, all we need to do is slide it along by one fret to the third fret.

Try changing from the F to the Gm a few times. Now, what about that Am? Again, let’s use the diagram.

We’re on Gm. How far do we have to count up to get to Am?

That’s right. The musical alphabet goes: G G# A. So we need to move the minor barre chord shape up another two frets to the fifth fret.

So far so good!

Try practicing F to Gm to Am a few times before we look at the last chord.

Our last chord is Bb.

It’s important not to be put off by chords that have unusual names. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re difficult to play.

We’re currently on Am. How far do we need to move up the musical alphabet to get to Bb?

That’s right. Just the one fret.

So we’re moving from the 5th fret to the 6th fret. BUT, remember, it’s a major chord we want, not a minor, so we need to switch back to our major shape.

This is important to remember as the difference in sound between a major and a minor chord is drastic.

Now let’s try the whole sequence:

| F              | Gm            | Am           | Bb            |

Go as slowly as you need to. Make sure you get the barre chords right above all else.

Make sure you have the right fret and the right shape.

A great way to practice barre chords.

What songs do you already know using normal open position chords?

Why not try playing them using barre chords instead?

Use the musical alphabet and your two shapes to see if you can re-learn songs with barre chords.

This will help you practice both playing barre chords and moving barre chords.

barre chords

Some more advanced barre chords.

Once you’re completely happy with the barre chords we’ve learnt so far, you might want to give some of these a try.

As we keep stressing, make sure you’re completely happy with the earlier barre chords before trying anything more advanced.

The barre chords we’ve looked at so far are good, but they’re a bit ‘top-heavy’ ie. there’s a lot of treble and not a lot of bass.

This can be great for styles like reggae or funk, but for other genres like rock or blues or folk etc. we might find ourselves wanting a bit more low end.

Let’s revisit that F chord from earlier.

barre chords

With this F chord we’ve got all the strings pressed down except one: the low E string. (6th string.)

To bring the low E string into the chord as well we need to lie our first finger across all six strings.

 barre chords

Sound a bit scary?

barre chords

Remember, these are called advanced barre chords for a reason.

Do not attempt a full six-string barre chord until you’re totally happy with the easier barre chords.

Give this new F barre chord a try.

Strum it. Arpeggiate it. Take your time with it.

You may have noticed with this chord that your second, third and fourth fingers are forming an E chord shape.

For this reason, we call this type of barre chord the E shaped barre chord.

But what about the minor chords?

Well, you know how to turn an E chord into an Em you’d lift of the first finger opening up the G string?

It’s the same with barre chords.

To make your F into an Fm, simply lift off the second finger and you’ve got it.

barre chords

Let’s try a sequence:

| F              | G              | Am            | G              |

Remember, use the musical alphabet to figure out where your chord shapes go.

Here’s are the root notes on the low E string. (6th string.)


Also, remember to use the correct shape. Don’t get the major and the minor muddled up.

barre chords

Here’s another sequence:

| F               | G              | C              |C                |

What you probably notice with this sequence is that it’s quite a leap up to that C from the G and then back down again to the F.

There is a way we can avoid this leap and that’s by using an A shaped barre chord for the C instead of an E shaped barre chord.

Let’s give it a try.

There’s two possible ways we can do an A shaped barre chord.

You can either lie your fist finger across the fret (in this case the third fret) and then stretch over and put an A shape on at the fifth fret like this:

barre chords

Or, you can press down the A string at the third fret with the first finger and then barre the second, third and fourth strings with your third finger, like this:

barre chords

Try both to see which works best for you.

Let’s try the sequence again, this time with the A shaped barre chord of C.

| F              | G              | C              |C               |

Notice how you don’t have to make a big leap to and from that C chord? It’s much closer to our other two chords.

We have an Am shaped barre chord as well.

Let’s say this is our sequence:

| C             | Dm            | G              |G             |

We know our C and our G, but to do that Dm we want to go to our fifth fret (two up from the C), barre it and put an Am shape on after it, like this:

barre chords

 

Bonus Barre Chord Tips

It can be a bit tricky if a song has a mixture of barre chords and open chords as it can involve changing the grip and positioning of the hand quite a bit.

Here’s an idea. If you’re playing an open E and a barre chord of F# one after the other, try making the E shape using your second, third and fourth fingers.

That way it will slide into the F# nicely and you won’t have to faff about changing shapes.

Also, be mindful of where your thumb is on the neck.

It’s good practice to keep the thumb on the ‘spine’ of the neck, even for open chords, as it means we aren’t constantly re-positioning when we change between open chords and barre chords.

For more tips, check out this video by Mike:

Find Out What You Should Learn Next With Our Guitar Map

If you want to understand where you’re up to in your guitar journey you should take a look at our Guitar Map. It will show you what you ‘should’ know by now (and also what you need to learn next to move forward as a guitarist).

Most people find that the Guitar Map shows them how everything fits together and best of all, it will help you identify gaps in your knowledge that are holding you back.

(There is often just one piece of information that holds people back, 1 key insight that they need to know so they can continue moving forward and improving in their guitar journey.)

We made the Guitar Map so people like you can quickly identify what you don’t know, that you need to know next. We hope that makes sense!?

NOTE: The Guitar Map is now included in our free special report: 'The 7 Steps To Guitar Mastery'.

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