Today, we’ll learn how to play bar chords on the guitar. Yes, I know, they are painful to make. But they’re important to learn as they’re used quite often.

If you’re here, I assume you already know how to make an open chord like A minor or E Major. If not, I advise you start there.

Now. Bar chords… You love them, don’t you? You’ll see, with a bit of practice and theory, you’ll make it through.

Note: the following text is just a transcript of the video lesson presented above. Enjoy! 😉

1. A bit of theory.

The pitch of a guitar is determined by three things: the distance between the bridge and the nut – the scale length, the tuning heads, and the mass of the strings (weight and gauge).

Now, if you place a capo on the first fret, you can see that the fret wire replaces the nut, the scale length is then shortened. Therefore, the pitch goes up. And… If you make a bar with your first finger, it’s actually doing the same as the capo. But the advantage here, is that you can take it out of your fingerboard really quickly if you wanna switch to an open chord, for example.

Moreover, you’ll extend your chord dictionary massively.

And that’s why it’s important to learn how to do a bar chord.

There are different positions. You must already know the basic open chords, E and A minor and major. That’s it. You just have to copy those forms. Don’t worry about the other open chords such as Em7 or A sus4. We’ll talk about that later.

Let’s say you want to do an A minor shape and play an E minor. Where are you going to play it? You place your index on the seventh fret, and with the rest of your fingers, you do an A minor. As simple as that. But that’s the theory. I know it’s a bit harder in practice.

If you’ve already tried a barre chord and played it, I’m pretty sure you don’t like the way it sounds and that’s why you ended up here. Let’s unveil the truth. If you wanna make it sound better, the best you can do is practice, over and over again. But of course, there are ways to make your learning faster.

2. A few words…

First of all, if you wanna do a bar chord, I advise you to start out with the easiest ones. You probably wanna make an F or a B minor, but these chords are harder to do, as you have to force a little more on the strings.

If your F chord sounds badly, maybe it’s better for you to start with an E or D minor, which are less challenging.

Before going any further and try other shapes, I want to make sure you do a bar chord correctly.

When you press the strings with your first finger, it’s important to do it with the exterior side of your index. You don’t lay it flat on the fingerboard. And it’s not completely on the side either. But normally, as you’ll shape the chord, you should do it the right way as it’s very intuitive.

Now… about the creases. Sometimes a string will go just below one of them, and it will be muted as it’s not pressed down correctly. What your can do to avoid that, is to move your index up and down until you find the right spot.

The thumb stays behind the neck. It does not go over or below it. Try to place it in the middle. Ideally, it’s situated between the index and major. Let’s say you do an A Minor shape. This is how it will look like without the guitar neck:

A Minor shape without fretboard

Also, don’t twist your wrist. I assume you’re not a contortionist. Even if you are, it’s very bad for you to do such a thing. If you cannot play the barre chord without twisting your wrist, try to lift your guitar neck up a bit, you should be more comfortable.

About the recommended type of guitar to learn bar chords… Well, any guitar you like. Actually, it’s simpler to practice them on an electric guitar, as you’ll encounter less resistance. But that does not make a huge difference.

I know it’s a lot to think about, but with discipline you’ll develop good habits, and you will not have to think anymore.

3. First barre chord exercise.

3.1. Presentation.

Now, we’re ready to make some barre chords. For this lesson I thought of a cool pattern you can do to work on the different chord shapes:

Em (7th fret) – D (5th) – C (8th) – Bm (7th)

E minor is an Am shape. So, don’t let the sixth string ring. You can slightly touch it with your first finger to mute it. The same goes for D which is an A Major shape. For the other two, strum all the strings.

If you know how to do an A, you probably do it like this:

A Chord

Or like this:

A Major Alternate Position

For an A shape bar chord, it’s better to use only two fingers. Your index, of course to bar all the strings, and your ring finger, to make a mini-barre from the second string to the fourth. Just like the picture below:

A Bar Chord

You can also use your three other fingers but I do not recommend it. Why? Because when you’ll do this type of bar chord on the 10th fret or higher, it’s gonna be really hard to place all your fingers.

So… yeah, you will experience pain, I guarantee it. But the more you do it, the more the fingers will get use to that stretch. If it’s really painful for you, maybe try to do some warm-up exercises before practicing your barre chords. You can find cool tutorials on that on YouTube.

One more thing about the A Major shape. It’s more than likely that you’ll mute the first string unintentionally. Try to find out the right amount of pressure and move your finger up and down until you got the chord right.

Which fingers do you position first on the fretboard? Well… it’s really up to you. If you feel more at ease placing your index first, then do it. Otherwise, if you prefer make the shape before barring, then… do it. Do what you think is best for you, there’s absolutely no rule.

3.2. Practice.

What you can do for this exercise is to play the pattern I propose repeatedly. You can copy mine or build your own, it’s your choice. Rhythmically, it goes like this:

Down – Down – Up – Up – Down

Now, if that sounds crappy at first, don’t get too worried about that. Concentrate on making the barre chords and the shape right, then focus on the rhythm. It’s better to work on one thing at a time, especially when it’s completely new.

If you’ve got a capo, it’s actually a lot easier to make a barre chord. You can place it on the third fret for example, or the fourth, and play the same pattern. You can increase the difficulty subsequently by placing your capo on the second or first fret.

4. 2nd exercise.

The second exercise is a mix of barre chords and open chords. A lot of fun. The goal here is to get used to switching from an open chord to a barre chord as you’ll do that for a lot of songs.

Again, it’s a four-chord pattern:

Bm (barre – 2nd Fret) – A (open chord) – G (barre – 3rd Fret) – E (open chord)

And the rhythm goes like this:

Down – Down – Up – Up – Down

For B minor, it’s the same as any other A minor shape, you don’t let the sixth string ring.

5. Grow stronger.

I’ve got a couple of things to say before I let you practice today’s exercises. You probably want to build your hand strength faster. I’m not a gym teacher or sport expert but what you can do is to buy a gripper, which is not expensive at all.

A gripper looks like this:

Hand Gripper

There are tons of them online and I’m pretty sure you can find them in a sport shop as well. And what is really great is that you can carry it everywhere thanks to its small size.

Another option is to buy a stress ball. You can put a lot of pressure on it, it will never get out of shape. And moreover, you’ll relax yourself.

The last option, and the most important one. Practice. I really advise you to do it at least every two days if not each. I don’t think practicing one day every week is efficient and will give you enough strength, even if you do it 3 hours non-stop. Instead, working on your barre chords 5 minutes every single day is the key. And this advice can be applied to any kind of activities.