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Blues Guitar Institute

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Quick Tips to Improve Barre (Bar) Chords

Lesson ID: TB039

Some things are an absolute must for guitarists to learn. Perhaps one of the most fundamental elements of good guitar playing is getting a clean note to ring.

It may sound simple.  Too simple, even.  We spend a lot of time as guitarists talking about this scale or that, or how to play a flashy lick.  But when it comes down to it, we need to make sure that we can play the notes on our guitar cleanly and clearly.

We need to make sure that every note of the chords we play rings like a bell. One of the first real stumbling blocks for guitarists is the early difficulty of getting the notes of a barre chord to sound solid.

Heck, I was playing for more than a decade before I took a real honest look at my barre chords. I thought they sounded much better than they really did. I thought I was playing all 5 or 6 notes of the chord just fine. But, in reality I was cheating by strumming through the chord and keeping the rhythm going.  Truthfully, it’s difficult to hear the difference in a well executed full-barre chord and one played with just one missing note.

So we get by.

But, when I broke my playing down and really focused on getting better at my barre chords, I feel like my playing jumped ahead by a few years.

If you’re like me and need to work on getting a better sound from your barre chords even though you’ve been playing a while or if you’re new to barre chords, I urge you to check this lesson out and hopefully pick up a couple of useful tips.

A Couple of Tips to Improve Barre Chords

Start with Simple

First, simplify things by trying to tackle the barre chord form with the least notes under the barre:  the 5th string root minor chord.  Like a B minor played on the second and 4th frets (x24432). Make sure you can hold down the barre and that the notes played on the second fret 5th string and second fret 2nd string ring true and clear.

If so, move on to the full chord.  Then, move on to the 6th string root barre chord like the G Major on the 3rd and 5th frets (355433).  In this chord there are three notes sounding under the bar.

Take some time, work through the exercises in the TAB for this lesson and really focus on getting the notes under the barre to sound great.

Finger Placement

This is one of those super obvious tips that doesn’t sound so obvious until someone shows you.  You may need to check out the video if you can on this one for a visual.  But, make sure that when you lay down your finger across the strings for the barre that you don’t end up with a string running right under a finger joint.

There’s no real flesh there and in fact it’s nothing but a little crease in your finger.  Just enough of a crease so a guitar string could slip right under it and not actually get pressed down on the fretboard.

In effect, if this is happening when you fret up a barre chord (it was for me) you’re trying to press the string down where their is no flesh on your finger – nothing to press down with!

Set the Clamp

One of the best ways to make sure you have a solid barre is to lay your finger across the strings just behind the fret then, roll your first finger back so that you’re now fretting the barre with this bony outside part of your first finger (index finger).

This move creates a bit of a clamping action on the strings and produces a really tight barre.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Hopefully, this lesson can save you some years of half-done barre chords. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t that long ago when I dismantled my barre chords and I was a little shocked at how inaccurate most of them were.

I can’t say they’re perfect now. Certain chords in certain positions still challenge me but I can tell you that paying attention to this has helped my playing greatly. Especially, when I’m fingerpicking and need to lay down a barre so I can use my other fingers to take on the melody.

So,, I urge you, no matter what stage you’re in as a guitarist, take a minute and take a look – and listen – to your barre chords.  Are they as perfect as you think they are?

When you are ready, there are two ways I can help you:

Back Porch Blues Course:  A proven system to fingerpicking the blues.  This step-by-step course guides you through building fundamental fingerpicking skills.  Plus, you’ll learn three levels of a delta blues style performance study to put your new skills into action.

Become a myBGI Member: Membership comes with access to Back Porch Blues plus over 70 step-by-step courses.  Get proven results with one of myBGI’s structured Roadmaps.

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