Why Are Barre Chords So Hard?

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The reason barre chords are so tough at first is because you’re using your hand in an unnatural way. Despite this, playing these chord shapes efficiently is necessary to play most of the repertoire of guitar music. 

Rock, Metal, Country, and even Jazz uses barre chord shapes in all sorts of creative ways. Although there are many ways to pick these shapes and turn them into music…there is only one or two fingerings that work best for these chords. 

If you’re in the first few weeks or months of playing, you’re probably having trouble keeping a firm grip on this shape and moving it around the fretboard. Don’t worry! We’re going to go over several mistakes you can avoid and correct, as well as several examples to help you improve playing the barre chord shapes on guitar

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Why Are Barre Chords So Hard?

The Barre Chord Positions in E and A

(image of E5 and A5 chords) 

These two basic chords will reoccur very often as shapes across the fretboard. Although you’ll play the open E and open A differently from their barre chord versions, it’s important to have these shapes memorized. 

The idea is that 022 can be used as a 355, 577, and so on, while the A chord can do the same. Lots of guitar riffs will only use the bottom 3 notes instead of the full chord, but this varies according to the song. 

So familiarity with these two chord shapes is very important, and I recommend that you practice going between E5 and A5 at first, before trying to use the shapes across the neck

Problem #1: Pressing Your Finger Against The Entire Fretboard

Playing any barre chord will require you to use your 1st finger on your fret hand to play at least three notes. 

In the case of G major (355433), you’ll need to use your 1st finger to play all the notes at fret 3. This is difficult at first because you’re using your other free fingers to play the notes on fret 5 and fret 4. 

So what’s the solution to this? It all has to do with the position of your thumb. 

Try pressing your thumb right against the back of the fretboard, while holding those notes. You can also try resting your thumb on top of the fretboard too, where the dots will be. 

There are pros and cons to each, but I prefer having my thumb against the back of the fretboard as it gives me more room to maneuver. 

Doing all of these things at once will be really uncomfortable as you’re pressing against the wires in the strings and against the wood too. It’s going to hurt at first! 

All you can do is repeat until your hand gets more comfortable playing these shapes. 

Problem #2: Hitting All The Strings At Once Correctly 

So we just covered the big problem you’ll find with your fret hand playing barre chords. This next problem will cover what happens with your pick hand. 

Many beginners are afraid of hitting the wrong strings, or they don’t hit them hard enough and only part of the chord sounds out. This is a very common problem and it’s not as hard to fix as the previous problem. 

You want to 1) stiffen your grip on your pick and 2) aim to hit all 5 or 6 strings (depending on what shape you’re playing) all at once in one quick motion. Sometimes you want a softer touch to emphasize a different feel or strumming pattern. 

There will be different concerns addressing this problem as you go from song to song. You’ll have to figure out how to do this on upstrokes, and you’ll have to figure this out as you change fret positions. 

One big concern will be to not hit notes that the song doesn’t call for. This is where muting will come in, which is a huge topic of its own. The main idea of muting is that you use your fret hand fingers that are free, or your pick hand fingers or palm, to mute any noise as you’re playing. 

As you can imagine, this also takes experience and practice as you may not be aware yet when you’re doing this and how. 

Problem #3: Changing Between A & Low E Strings

This may actually be the biggest problem with playing barre chords as going between these two strings will take up a lot of your time learning and playing these riffs. 

The big obstacles you’ll face are: 

1) Failing to keep your fret hand from moving too much so you can quickly play the shape when going between strings

2) Hitting the low E string when you’re playing barre chords on the A string

3) Controlling your pick hand when hitting the various combinations of strings that each barre chord requires

4) Then finally, using other techniques when changing between these strings like palm muting and alternate picking

Every riff you play that goes between these strings will teach you something new about this problem of playing barre chords. Some riffs will be quite easy while others will have many challenges and choices to make when practicing and learning them. 

Thankfully though, if you’ve gone through the first two problems thoroughly, you’ll be ready to address all of these challenges of playing barre chords. 

Basic Principles Of Playing Any Chords On The Guitar

If you tackle each one of the problems we’ve just discussed, and run through each of the aspects of playing barre chords I’ve mentioned….

You’ll be able to tackle at least 90% of the riffs out there with relative ease!

With that said, I will leave you with some parting ideas that will help you play any set of chords you may come across, and not just barre chords: 

  • When changing chords, find which fingers can stay in place or move very easily to some neighboring tones. 
  • A lot of guitar playing involves mastering around 12 various chord shapes and being able to move between them. 
  • With that said, you can create hundreds of more chords by just adjusting one or two notes in these core chord shapes
  • An advanced tip: there are lots of chords and chord progressions that have yet to be explored. So when you have a grip on some of the basics, start exploring “slash” chords that use notes other than the root note in the bass. 

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