Learning to Barre with a 'backwards L', shape/

Barre chords for beginners

This blog post will remind you how to create a barre chord.

Learning to Barre – an introduction

Learning barre chords on the guitar is the main hurdle to over come as a beginner guitar player. They are the next stage after feeling comfortable with open chords.

Why barre chords are useful

Barre chords are useful because it opens up the entire fret board. Once you’ve become used to a few barre chord shapes you’ll be able to change key without needing a capo.

You can barre across a minimum of 2 strings or more. Each barre chord shape (that corresponds to your open chords), requires a different barring technique depending on how many strings you’re needing to barre.

For this blog post, we’re going to look at how to barre across 6 strings. Once you can barre across 6 strings the process is similar for barring across 5 strings. Barring chords become a bit trickier with chord shapes that are barred with 4 strings or less.

Why you can’t change key with open chord shapes

You can’t change key with open chord shapes because there are open strings involved. What you can do is move the same open shape to any fret but only play the strings you’re fretting.

This is at times is a limited approach, Playing the same open chord shape on another set of frets with all six strings, can sometimes sound nice but it won’t be the same chord type.

Barre chords provide an alternative ‘sound’ in different positions and as a general approach, keeps the regular chords more interesting to the listener and from our point of view, keeps the chord type the same.

Open guitar strings can sound nicer than closed strings

Sometimes, the texture of the chord can sound nicer if an open string is involved; hence the need for different guitar tunings. However, this doesn’t remove the need for barre chords. At some stage or another, you will need to understand how barre chords work to achieve the same chord type in a different area of the fretboard.

Practice all open chords with fingers 2, 3 & 4

Practicing the open chords with fingers 2, 3 & 4 is the best starting point to being able to barre. Once you feel comfortable doing this, you’re then able to ‘shift down’. the fret board and approach the barre chord with the following technique.

Arch those fingers (except the first).

Remember to arch those finger tips even when your first finger needs to be flat and straight against the fret. Each knuckle should be exposed.

Practice using the finger-tips

Finger-tip placement is important (as with any chord). Each set of hands are different, generally speaking we want to play the note up against the nail as much as possible.

Notice in the picture where I’m fretting. It’s different to the chord charts you’ll see which are more often than not placed in the centre of the fret. Aim for your left side of the fret ‘ the sweet spot’.

Practice the ‘backwards L’ shape

Now that we’ve practiced each chord shape with fingers 2, 3, & 4, we next want to practice the “L’ shape. Notice where my thumb is. It’s underneath the fretboard. My wrist is also forward – allowing the ‘L’ shape to happen. The next step is to fret the first finger across all six strings without any knuckles exposed.

Barre chords as chord charts

Barre chords on a chord chart are often stipulated by having 2 of the same number needed for the fingers of the fretting hand. Barre chords are usually created with fingers 1, 3 and sometimes finger 4.

Here’s an example of what a barre chord looks like in chord chart form.

Some might argue about there needing another 1 representing the 1st finger on string number 3 fret 3 There answer here is yes & no.

The ‘yes’ is because you’re technically playing that note on string three fret three, but from the diagram’s point of view you’ll realise that finger 1 will cover that fret and string anyway because, you’re barring from strings 5 – 1.

Additionally, it says ‘barre chord’ in the title.

Once you feel comfortable…

Once you feel relatively comfortable with that, we can now try to include fingers 2, 3 & 4. Start with the E Major chord but with fingers 2, 3, & 4. Prepare the “L’ shape off the fretboard, Slide that shape down a fret whilst attempting to barre. This is a tricky step which will need to be repeated several times and for several weeks.

Pro tip: it may be slightly easier to learn to barre from frets 5 and above – it depends on how high the action is on your guitar (the distance of the strings from the wood). Also, Check each string individually.

How to play an E minor barre chord

You can play an E minor chord from these starting positions:

  • Open,
  • strings 6 fret 12,
  • string 7 fret 5,
  • string 4 fret 2,
  • string 4 fret 14.