You’ve heard of them, they sound scary, but what is a barre chord?
Barre chords are often spoken about in hushed or loud expletive laced tones by beginners as they pose a bit of a challenge when you first try to play them.
But, as time goes on, they really do become much easier and actually form a core part of playing the guitar, so you should try to persevere with them if you can.
So, what are these things?
Barre – strange word?
Actually, barre comes from the French word meaning – yep, a bar or rod as in a bar of iron.
And there’s the first clue – a barre chord has one finger used as a bar across 2 or more strings at the same fret.
When you play chords like the open E chord or D chord for example, you are taught to keep your fingers very much straight on the string, not touching others and placed just behind the fret.
But sometimes, we just don’t have enough fingers! So, a barre uses a single finger instead of 2 or more fingers to hold down strings just behind a fret.
You lay your finger across the strings, yes flat and parallel with the frets, thus holding 2 or more strings down at the same time. This leaves other fingers free to form chord shapes.
Barres are usually thought of as using the 1st (index or pointer) finger, but barres can often use other fingers as well and depends on the type of chord you are trying to play.
Some Simple Examples
To get you going on this, here are2 simple barre chords to try – they are actually cut down versions of full barre chords.
I’m using guitar tab to show the frets to play and then I’ll describe each finger position and a suggestion on which fingers to use.
A 4 String Minor Barre Chord
You’re only using two fingers to play this one!
Here’s the suggested fingering:-
- Place your 1st (index) finger flat on the D, G, B and (thinnest) E strings at the 3rd fret;
- Then, place your 3rd (ring) finger on the 5th fret of the D string.
To play the chord, just pick or strum the thinnest 4 strings (D, G, B & (thinnest) E strings).
Congratulations! You’ve just played a G minor chord!
A 4 String Major Barre Chord
You need to use three fingers to play this one!
Here’s the fingering that I suggest:-
- Place your 1st (index) finger flat on the D, G, B and (thinnest) E strings at the 5th fret;
- Then, place your 3rd (ring) finger on the 7th fret of the D string;
- Now reach your 2nd (middle) finger and place it on the 6th fret of the G string.
Pick or strum the thinnest 4 strings (D, G, B & (thinnest) E strings) for this one as well.
I know, it’s a bit tougher, but practice it for a couple of days and you’ll get it.
Congrats again! You’ve just played an A major chord!
What’s The Big Deal – Why Are They So Useful?
The big thing with barre chords is that they can be moved up and down the neck, using exactly the same shape, and give you just about any chord you need.
Take the G minor example above, if you know the notes on the fretboard, then you know that the note on the 5th fret of the D string is G – if you don’t, just take my word for it for the moment.
If you slide that entire shape up the neck 4 frets higher, so that it looks like:-
– You’ve now got a B minor chord (the note at the 9th fret of the D string is a B).
So, with this shape you’ll get a minor chord, and that minor chord will be the one defined by the note of the fret where your 3rd finger lands on the D string – does that make sense?
Another example, let’s move the same shape so that your 3rd finger is now on the 3rd fret of the D string so it looks like this;
That’s an F minor chord!
Exactly the same principles apply to the major shape, where I showed you the A major shape (because the 7th fret of the D string is an A note).
Move that same shape to the 10th fret and you have a C major chord:
The note on the D string at the 10th fret is – you got it, a C.
That’s why learning to play barre chords is so powerful, once you have the shape down, it opens up lots and lots of chords, and there are loads different shapes that I’ll cover in another article.
Why Does This Work?
If you think about it, because there are no open strings, your barre in this case (where your 1st (index) finger is holding down several strings) is kind of acting like a new nut on the guitar, or like putting on a capo.
Any chord that has no open strings – is movable and can therefore be any chord – that’s it!
Just to show you how many there are, think of all the open chords you know – if you could make that same shape whilst having a barre underneath, you could then move that to any part of the neck and get the same chord, but in a different key!
But there are also loads of barre chords where the barre is part of a chord that it would be hard to play as an open chord.
I’ll give you one example here and I think you’ll really like this one!
- Place your 1st (index) finger at the 5th fret;
- Then, place your 3rd (ring) finger flat as a barre on the 7th fret of the G, B and (thinnest) E strings. (If you’re struggling with the stretch, you can use your 4th (pinky) for the barre on the 7th fret – I do!)
Play those same 4 strings (D, G, B and (thinnest) E strings – sound nice? That’s a G major seventh chord!
Again, the note on the D string is defining the key of the chord, so move it so your 1st (index) finger is on the 3rd fret of the D string and this is now an F major 7th chord.
Got the idea?
There you have it – I’ve explained what a barre chord is, given you a couple of simple examples and explained why they are so important to a guitarist.
I will do separate articles on barre chord tips and how to make them work for you plus other articles on the 100s of different shapes you can use to get just about any chord you want!
And, if you still have questions, I’d be happy to help, just use the comments box and I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can.
But, for now, that concludes my answer to the question – what is a barre chord on the guitar.
All the best and keep on rockin’