The 10 Essential Barre Chords

Barre chords are often dreaded by beginning guitar players, and many players give up on trying to learn them altogether. This might be the single biggest mistake budding guitar players make, because barre chords are not as hard to learn as most people think, and they are an absolutely indispensable part of playing the guitar. You might start off hating barre chords, but once you get good at playing them – which should only take a few weeks or so – you will come to love them for their sheer versatility, and once you master them, you will wonder how you ever found them difficult.

What’s so great about barre chords? Literally, barre chords allow you to play any song in any key, a feat you can’t say for open chords. Yes, a capo can overcome some of those limitations, but then you’re reliant on an external tool that can’t easily be changed during a song. Barre chords circumvent all of these limitations by allowing you to play any type of chord using any root note, meaning you can play every possible chord with only your hand. No capo can match that.

How hard are they to learn? Well, I won’t lie. At first, they are difficult. No one ever plays them correctly right at the start. But don’t let this discourage you – look at all the guitar players out there who play them just fine. They all started out like you, and now they’re making barre chords look easy. That means you can do it too. Practice these chords for 5-10 minutes every day, and in a few weeks you will be good enough to play songs with them. At some point, they will become downright easy to play, and you’ll have difficulty remembering why they were ever hard. Have faith and practice – they will get easier and better!

To barre, form a vice with your first finger and your thumb, and press down as hard as you need to in order to make all six strings ring. Your thumb should be located approximately in line with your first finger. When you can make all six strings ring with just your first finger, try applying a chord shape with your other fingers. This is where things get really awkward, and chances are you won’t play clean chords at first, but that’s ok! That’s how it is for everyone at first. Keep at it, and soon your finger strength and dexterity will develop to the point that these chords become easy.

The major chord on the 5th string deserves special mention. It’s essentially a double barre, consisting of a barre with your first finger and another barre with your third finger, which also has to bend backwards to allow the first string to ring. This chord might seem impossible at first, but it isn’t! It’s just the hardest of the bunch. Practice it like any other and you will get it down too.

Learn the following 10 shapes, all of which are moveable, and memorize their names. There are 5 chords with a 6th string root, and 5 chords with a 5th string root. Let’s say you want to play a B major chord. You could choose to play it on the 6th string by simply locating B on the 6th string, then playing the major barre chord (6th string root version) with B as the bottom note. You could also choose to play it on the 5th string by doing the same thing, only locating B on the 5th string and using the 5th string root version of the major barre chord. Many songs will provide you the opportunity to choose 6th or 5th string versions of chords, so try to choose chord shapes that are close to each other and efficient to play.

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