How to improve your barre chords
Barre Chords are typically a complicated feat for beginners. If you’re like most beginners, you’ve already played (and started to perfect) some open chords, played a melody and a harmony here or there and dabbled a little bit into strumming, all in order to start playing your favourite songs. You may even be at a point where you can play a few of your favourite songs (if that’s the case, horray!). But eventually you’ll be trying to learn a new song and come to face something you’ve never seen before – suddenly your first finger is not supposed to press only one string anymore. It’s supposed to be pressing several at the same time! How is this possible?
Well, what happens here is that your first finger is not going to press the strings anymore with it’s fingertip anymore, but is instead going to have all 6 strings fall alongside it and you’re going to use that outside of the finger to push the strings down, all at the same time. If you don’t know what I mean, then do the following: put your first finger (left hand) on top of a table, then rotate your wrist inward, so that the outside of the finger touches the tabletop. It’s that part of the finger that will be pressing the strings down.
There are a lot of things that can go wrong when playing and practicing barre chords. Since I’m not a big fan of focusing on what can go wrong (although it is important a lot of times), but on what one needs to do in order to make things right, let’s talk about how you should press and practice a barre chord.
First of all, how to place your first finger with the right technique. What most neginners do is that they use way too much force to try and get the strings being piushed down by the first finger to ring out right. This is because they don’t have the appropriate technique yet. Try this instead:
1. Put your first finger on a tabletop (again)
2. Bend it outward, so that the top half of the finger is in the air and the bottom half is still touching the tabletop
3. Notice how there’s a muscle between your index and thumb that’s tensing. That’s the muscle you want to use.
4. Apply exactly the same movement for when pressing a barre chord (any barre chord).
If you do these 4 steps on an ongoing basis, you should very quickly start getting the right feeling for the barre chord.
Next, when switching from any chord to a barre chord, learn how to get the right finger sequence down. This means that you shoulnd’t, when practicing barre chords, to try and get all fingers down at the same time. Use this sequence instead:
1. Put the ring and pinky fingers on the right strings down first. When you do this, put the thumb in the middle of the neck, fully stretched out (it should be stretched out most of the time when you’re playing anyway)
2. Then put the index finger in the same way we just discussed in this article above. Whatever you do, resist the urge of putting middle finger down before you put the index first!
3. You can now put the middle finger down. You should be able to notice that it requires very little effort to position it correctly once all other fingers are firmly and correctly down on the strings.
If you keep repeating these steps over and over when practicing barre chords, you will be able to see some radical changes in the speed and precision of your movements.
There a lot of things that can go wrong with barre chords and it can be very frustrating at first when you’re starting out with them, since you may feel the need to apply a lof ot force to get them down. If you follow the aforementioned steps, you’ll be a lot closer to mastering them, with half the energy needed. Playing your favourite tunes is going to be a small step away!
About the author
Based in Zurich Switzerland, Gonçalo Crespo is a professional guitar teacher and musician. He has taught guitar for over 8 years covering a variety of styles but focuses mainly on getting his students to guitar playing success in the most efficient way possible. Founder of Music&Co. guitar music school, Gonçalo also offers tuition for acoustic and electric guitar.