Why You Should Learn Barre Chords
So you’ve been playing guitar for a while, mastering most of the open chords and playing a whole bunch of songs with them. And then… you run into some songs using chords like Bb or F# minor. Or chords like B minor and C#7.
Looking up charts for how to play these chords, you’ll probably find out about barre chords: chords where you lay down your index finger flat across all six strings to create a ‘barre’. The first time you try to play a barre chord, it might feel impossible. Especially compared to open chords.
But learning barre chords is very much worth the effort, and not just because you can play chords you can’t using open chords. By mastering barre chords, you’re unlocking a huge range of options and possibilities. In this article, I’ll explain how!
Barre Chords Let You Play Chords in Any Key Using Just One Shape
Here’s the logic behind barre chords. Let’s take an open E chord.
Notice that we produce the lowest note in the chord by playing the open E string. So that means the lowest note is an E.
The logic behind barre chords is to take this exact shape and move it to other parts of the neck. To do so, you place your index finger flat across all the strings as if it’s the nut. For example, we would get this shape when we move everything up three frets:
This is a G chord. By moving the shape three frets up, we’ve taken every single note from the open E chord and made it higher (three frets or ‘half steps’, to be precise). To figure out which chord we have created, we need to look at the low E string again. Playing the third fret of the low E string gets us a G. And so, this chord is a G chord!
If we moved this shape up two frets into the fifth position, that would get us an A chord. Move it up to the sixth position and we’d get a Bb. And so on…
This is the first really cool thing about barre chords. You can move a single shape around the fretboard to play it in any key! The only thing you need to know are all the notes on the low E string.
Barre Chords Make it Easy to Play a Bunch of Different Chord Types
So that by itself is pretty cool, right? What’s also cool is that many of the shapes are pretty simple to learn. Let’s go back to that open E chord:
We can make this E chord into a different ‘chord type’ just by taking away a single finger. For example, if you remove your finger on the G string the name of the chord changes and you get an E minor chord:
And by removing your finger on the D string, you get an E7 chord:
If you’ve been playing open chords for a while, you might’ve learned these chords already. Barre chords use the exact same logic. If we go back to our G chord, we can also simply remove the finger on the G string to get a G minor chord:
Or remove our finger on the D string to create a G7 chord:
Of course, this works for any key! So knowing the notes on the low E string and just these three shapes, you could also play for example B minor, C#7, Gb, Bb7 or Ab minor. In total, you could play 36 (12×3) different chords already!
To become good at playing rhythm guitar you need two things. You need to develop your strumming skills and you need to know plenty of chords. So if you’ve been struggling to master barre chords you should know this: it may be hard now, but it will definitely be worth it. Barre chords will make playing songs much, much easier. So if you’ve decided to go for it, here’s what you should know.
The first thing is that barre chords do require some strength. There’s a muscle in your thumb that needs to ‘wake up’. To do that, you might want to check how you’re playing your open chords. Many people play these chords with their thumb sticking out over the fretboard. But if you place on the back of the guitar neck, you’ll be training your thumb and making it used to applying pressure like that.
The second thing you should know: things will be much easier if you get your technique right. If you take private lessons, your teacher can point out what you might be doing wrong. But learning this over the internet can be tricky. That’s why I created an illustrated guide to barre chord technique. You can check it out here.
The last thing: practice! Barre chords will feel weird and uncomfortable at first. But the more you practice, the better it will feel. It’s exactly like when you first learned your open chords. You’ll master them if you stick with it!