As a beginner guitar player, one of the hardest things to get right are barre chords. I have struggled with these in the past but through my learning and investigation, I have come to realize there are some simple tips that you can follow to make barre chords easier to play.
So if you would like to learn how to make barre chords easier to play then watch my video or read through the essential tips below and I time stamp videos where necessary to help illustrate the tip I am providing.
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1. Lower The Action on Your Guitar
One of the first things to do when learning barre chords is to check the action on your guitar. This particularly applies to acoustic guitars as they often have thicker strings than an electric.
This is something you can do yourself and if you would like to learn how then read our article here How To Do Your Own Guitar Setup. You will learn how to adjust the truss rod on your guitar and lower the action.
The action is the distance between the strings and the fretboard. The lower it is then the easier it is to fret notes and play chords although care must be taken in adjustment. If you lower the action too much then this can cause other issues like unwanted fret buzz. So make sure to read our article to ensure you make the correct adustments.
Once you have done this then barre chords on a cheap guitar will feel entirely better and consistently achievable. A simple adjustment that can make a huge difference.
2. Inclined Neck Position
Often many of us hold the guitar in awkward positions like inclined towards us or with the neck lower than the body or way higher.
These awkward positions can put your hand, arm, and shoulder in awkward positions that can not only lead to injury but also make it a lot harder to play hold chords and perform barre chords.
Time-stamped video below.
Make sure to have the neck on a gentle incline so that it is easily accessible when trying to create a barre. this will ensure consistency and give you the best chance of being able to make the strings ring clear.
3. Use Your Body as a Fulcrum
This has been one of the most effective ways for me in improving my barre chord. If you do it correctly then you don’t even have to put your thumb on the back of the guitar neck to play the barre. Not that you would want to do this but I demonstrate in the timestamped video below that this is possible.
By levering off your body and with enough pressure you can make playing a barre chord so much easier. Pull in with your elbow on your strumming hand and this brings the body of the guitar hard in against your ribs making the fretboard move away from you.
Then place your barre chord down and put pressure on enough to bring the fretboard back into a comfortable position (Ease off a little on the body of the guitar pressure on your other arm if you have to.
Now you should have equal pressure, and if you have it right then you will find it a lot easier to form the barre chord and without any fret buzz or muted strings.
4. Drop Your Fretting Arm Shoulder
Your fretting arm should be relaxed. An exercise that you can do to make sure this is happening is by pulling your shoulder up to your ear then letting it go without any control. Where it ends up will be in a position where your shoulder is dropped and relaxed.
This is the position where your shoulder should be when playing barre chords and helps you avoid a hunched up shoulder which can not only make the whole thing uncomfortable but create inconsistencies in your barre chord.
5. Bring Your Fretting Hand Elbow in Against Your Ribcage
By keeping your fretting hand elbow hard in against your rib cage then it naturally moves your forearm, wrist, and hand in to a more comfortable position for playing barre chords.
Your hand will move slightly away from your body and therefore more closely alone with the fretboard. Often many people push out their fret arm elbow away from them and this leads to discomfort and ultimately, pain in the shoulder and further down the arm including the wrist.
If you experience any pain like this on a consistent basis from playing guitar then read our article here from our guitar playing Senior Therapist Jeff Caulfield Best Stretching Exercises For Guitar Players – Illustrated Guide (Back, Neck, Hand, Elbow, Fingers). Jeff covers
6. Point Your Thumb Upwards on The Back of the Neck
Pointing your thumb upwards on the neck of the guitar will help keep the pressure in the correct area and allow you to lightly ‘pinch’ the guitar with the thumb and index finger barre.
Using this with tip # 3 will really improve the consistency of your barre.
7. Keep a Neutral Wrist With Your Fretting Hand Slightly Forward
If you push your fretting wrist forward you end up with an ‘L’ shaped arm and wrist position which will hurt the tendons in these areas and cause irritation over time.
The best position to form with your wrist and arm when playing a barre chord is one that is neutral, so there should be minimal bend. When you first start to learn how to play a barre this is really tough though and over time you can refine it.
However, this being said I find that the most comfortable position is achieved by forcing your hand into a neutral position whilst holding a barre on the guitar, don’t worry about playing it or sounding right at this point. Then just pushing your wrist forward slightly.
I demonstrate this in the timestamped video below.
8. Start By Learning a G Barre Chord (Not an F)
Most beginners end up learning the F barre chord as their first barre.
This is not a good place to start and is one of the hardest major barre chords to achieve. It is a bit of stretch for the hand to get there and to hold the position as a beginner is tough. Learning how to play barre chords is all about building muscle strength and technique and this arent there at the start.
So give yourself a break and learn how to form a major barre chord in an easier position than on the first fret. Form a barre at the third fret and you are creating a G barre chord. It is a lot easier to do and a much more comfortable position to start.
9. Place Your Fingers Down in The Chord Shape First Then The Barre
When you first starting playing a major barre chord the likelihood is that you know how to perform the E shaped open chord that is required.
So a good tip is to place this E shaped chord position down first and then pluck these strings to make sure they ring true. Next, place your finger barre down and pluck each string. This way you gain confidence in your barre because you will be more confident playing the E shaped chord and then be able to easily determine where any errors lie with the rest of the barre chord.
10. Lay Your Barre Finger Down on Top Of the Fret Then Roll it Back Behind it
Your barre finger like the rest of our fingers is quite ‘fleshy’ on the front of it and when forming a barre chord it is important to make sure that you are using the ‘bonier’ side of the finger instead.
To ensure you get this correct, place your barre finger down on top of the actual fret itself. Then roll your finger on to its side whilst keeping the barre shape. This will involve rotating your wrist ever so slightly a you twist in towards the fretboard.
Your barre finger should now be in a position where it is tucked in just behind the fret. Pluck each string and see how it sounds, remembering to use the other techniques previously laid out.
11. Don’t Roll All Your Fingers Towards The Fretboard
In tip 10 I mention that you need to roll your barre finger back just behind the fret to get the right placement and best chance of a solid barre.
However, it is important to note (and I was guilty of this in the past) that you should not roll any of your other fingers in towards the fretboard. A little is fine as you naturally rotate your wrist a little in towards the fretboard but you do not want all your fingers to be slanted towards the fretboard.
Watch the video I provided if this is not clear.
12. Barre Strength Comes With Practice
The more repetitions you do when learning barre chords the easier it gets so you may choose to do this by learning a song for example which is always the best fun in my opinion. One that I would recommend and that I have used is ‘Creep’ by Radiohead, like the lesson in the video below from Justin Guitar.
Alternatively or simultaneously with learning a song you can work on the barre in short intervals every day for 2 weeks.
Start by playing in 1-minute intervals. Start a 60 second timer and form a barre chord, say at the 3rd fret, play it (plucking each string is best or just strum it) then release and move to the next fret and form the same barre chord shape. Work down the fretboard say 5 frets and then back again within the minute period.
Do this over a few days and then start to increase the amount of time you play the barre chords for. So you could jump up to 2 minutes and so on until you can reach 5 minutes. If you work gradually on this every day, using the tips I have provided above, over a 2 week period you will see a solid improvement.