How To Play Bar Chords

Want to know how to play bar chords? You’re in the right place!

how to play bar chords

In this free guitar lesson you will learn:

  • 4 essential tips for clean & easy barre chords.
  • 10 must-know barre chord shape.
  • How to learn 22 chords with just 2 chord shapes.
  • The no1 secret practice tip that will enhance your musicality.

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What are bar chords?

Bar chords are when we use our first finger to create a bar behind the chord shape.

Here’s a classic example of a barre chord:

rhythm guitar lessons

FYI, ‘bar chords’ can also be referred to as ‘barre chords’. They mean the EXACT same thing.

Barre chords often present a road block in a beginner guitarists journey, however don’t worry. With patience and practice you will learn how to play bar chords.

Why bother with bar chords? Why not just stick with open chords?

Some chords cannot be played in the open position. Even if a chord does work in the open position, it’s best to not be limited to just one way of playing a chord.

Learning barre chords bridges the gap between beginner and intermediate guitarists, by increasing your chord knowledge you will enhance your technique and musicality.

How To Play Bar Chords – Developing Your Technique

If you want to learn how to play bar chords, it’s vital to get the technique right.

One of the biggest mistakes guitarists make when learning how to play bar chords, is that they try to use the same grip they’ve been using for their regular open chords.

This won’t work. In order to get our technique right, let’s try this A chord.

open a one finger

(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!)

.

The most common way to play this chord is to use three fingers. However, to enhance your barring technique, try playing this chord with your first finger.

To do this:

  • Barre your first finger across the 2nd fret of the D, G and B strings.

This is a good place to start with bar chords because you only have to worry about your first finger.

To bar this chord correctly:

  • Place your thumb behind the neck. (Your thumbnail should be pointing towards the ceiling.)

It should look like this:

how to play bar chords

NOT like this:

how to play bar chords

For more barre chords tips, watch this video:

How To Play Bar Chords – Beginner Bar Chords

So, we’ve already had a go at playing an A chord with a bar.

Let’s try another, this D major 7 voicing.

D Major 7

dmaj7

To play this chord:

  • Barre your first finger across the 2nd fret of the G, B and high E strings.

To enhance your barring technique, try changing between the barred A chord and this chord.

Here’s a cool chord progression you can try:

A              | Dmaj7        | A             | Dmaj7        |

Once you get the hang of those two, have a go at this F#m chord.

F# Minor

how to play bar chords

An easy way to play this chord, is to:

  • Play the D major 7 chord.
  • Place your 3rd finger on the 4th fret of the D string. (4th string.)

This chord can be tricky, so take your time with it. Barre chords are NOT easy, so it’s absolutely fine if they take a little longer to learn than your standard open chords.

To practice your barre chords, try playing this chord progression:

A           | Dmaj7         | F#m       |               |

Make sure you’re completely happy with these three chords before you try anything more advanced.

How To Play Bar Chords – Intermediate Bar Chords

If you’ve been playing guitar for a while, you may know this voicing of the F chord:

how to play bar chords

To expand on this voicing, add your first finger to the high E string. (1st string.) To do this, barre the B and E strings simultaneously.

 

Here’s the chord box:

how to play bar chords

This may feel difficult at first, but if you work on your barring technique it WILL become easier.

Don’t worry if some of your notes are unclear when fretting barre chords, this is perfectly normal. Be patient with yourself and allow your fingers to adapt.

Bonus Barre Chord Tip

If you find this voicing too difficult, try moving it up the fret board. As the frets are smaller, it will feel easier to barre.

You won’t be playing an F chord, but you will be enhancing your barring technique.

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How To Play Bar Chords – The E Shaped Bar Chord

Two of the most common major bar chord shapes are the:

  • E shape bar chord.
  • A shape bar chord.

To play both of these barre chord shapes, you must barre across all six strings.

This may sound tough, but if you’ve practiced correctly you are more than ready for the next step in your barre chord journey.

Let’s give that a go:

how to play bar chords

This chord is one of the hardest barre chords you can play. To bar across all six strings effectively, your barring technique must be spot on.

We refer to this barre chord as the ‘E shaped bar chord’, because the heart of this chord uses the shape of an E chord.

Here’s the E chord:

E bar chord

Can you see how the shape of this chord is used in the F barre chord?

To learn the E chord, go here: 4 Easy Ways To Play The E Chord On Guitar

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How To Play Bar Chords – Moving The E Shaped Bar Chord

One of the best things about barre chords is that they are ‘moveable’ shapes. This means that you can get over 11 different chords out of 1 chord shape.

Because we’ve learned the F barre chord, this means we can play any major chord, which has a root note on the low E string. (6th string.)

To learn more about root notes, go here: What Is The Root Note of A Chord?

To move our chords around on the fret board, we must know what the root notes are on the low E string. (6th string.) Here they are:

How To Play Bar Chords

The note on the 1st fret on the low E string is an ‘F’. This is why the F bar chord goes here, because that’s the root note.

To play an F# chord, all you have to do is move your bar chord shape up by one fret.

Or, if you wanted to played a B chord, all you have to do is move it up to the 7th fret.

Basically if you want to find a chord using the E shaped bar chord, you must find the relevant root note on the low E string and place the chord shape there.

As handy as this diagram is, you won’t always have it in front of you so it’s important to learn the musical alphabet. Check out this article: The Musical Alphabet

Bonus Tip

If you’re struggling to remember ALL of the notes on the low E string. (6th string.) Just remember the 3rd, 5th and 7th frets. These frets are usually marked with fret markers.

To remember each of these notes, just remember the phrase, ‘GAB’.

  • The 3rd fret is a ‘G’ note.
  • The 5th fret is a ‘A’ note.
  • The 7th fret is a ‘B’ note.

If you can remember each of these notes, then figuring out the rest isn’t too difficult.

How To Play Bar Chords #6 The A Shaped Bar Chord

Let’s have a go at the A shaped bar chord.

There’s a couple of ways we can do it.

For this example, we’re going to be play a Bb barre chord. Here’s the chord box:

how to play bar chords

You’ll notice that this is very much the same principle as the E shaped bar chord, except we’re using an A shape instead of an E shape. You don’t need to bar across all six strings as we’re leaving the low E string out, but you still can if it’s more comfortable.

If you find this voicing too difficult, try this chord:

how to play bar chords

With this voicing we’re only pressing the A string down with the 1st finger and barring the other three strings with the 3rd finger. Different guitarists have differing opinions as to which of these voicings is the best. Give both a try and see which you prefer.

How To Play Bar Chords – Moving The A Shaped Bar Chord

Just as we were able to move the E shaped bar chord, we can do the same with the A shaped bar chord.

To do this, we must know what the root notes are on the A string. (5th string.) Here they are:

To change the key of the chord, we must move the chord to a different fret. Notice how the 1st fret on the A string is a Bb note. This is where our Bb chord is.

To play a B chord, we’d simply move the EXACT same shape to the 2nd fret.

A good way to help you learn the musical alphabet on the A string is that the 3rd, 5th and 7th frets are the notes C, D and E.

If you can remember these notes, then learning the ones that go in between won’t be too hard.

How To Play Bar Chords – What About Minor Chords?

For every major chord, there is a minor chord.

Just as we used the E and A shapes for the major bar chords, for the minor bar chords we use Em and Am shapes.

Here they are:

This one’s a Gm, using an Em bar chord shape:

how to play bar chords

This ones a Dm using the Am bar chord shape:

how to play bar chords

We move these two shapes exactly the same way we move the major chords:

  • The root notes for the Em shaped bar chord can be found on the low E string. (6th string.)
  • The root notes for the Am shaped bar chord can be found on the A string. (5th string.)

How Do I Practice Bar Chords

The best way to practice bar chords is to pick a song that has one bar chord in it and try and learn it. Try not to pick a song with loads of bar chords in it until you’re good and ready.

What you could also do is pick a song you already know that uses open chords and change one of the chords into a bar chord instead.

The best way to practice barre chords is to use them within a musical situation.

To learn some easy songs, check out these articles:

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'.

Want free guitar tips and video lessons delivered to your inbox?

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We'll send you a series of lessons that will move you to the next level of your guitar journey.

Learn how everything fits together quickly, easily and effectively. We share ninja tips (for instant fun!) but also timeless fundamentals that will deepen your understanding.

NGAEM

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