Here we are! In this lesson, we will be tackling the basic barre chord shapes. Over the past two weeks we’ve covered a lot of fundamental ideas that you'll want to keep in mind so that today will be awesome because it will be easy. I hope you’ve been practicing this whole time, you’ll only get as good as the time you put into your instrument!
Just a short recap before we jump in:
We learned about the E and A strings, where all the notes are on each string, and a little bit of music theory so that you know why each fret is named what it is.
We learned about how to hold your body when making barred shapes. How your thumb, and your wrist, and your elbow all contribute to a strong grip when making barred shapes, shapes that require you to lower your thumb from over the neck to the back of the neck.
We learned about power chords, these shapes that, are another one of the building blocks of the barre chords that we’ll be looking at today.
And of course, we talked about some exercises that will help you build the strength you need to fret multiple strings with one finger. We’re going to have to do a lot of that today, in addition to fretting other notes in the shapes we’ll be talking about.
So here’s what I want you to be able to do by the end of this lesson:
1.) To play the four basic barre chords. Major barre chord shapes and minor barre chord shapes on both the E and A strings.
2.) To see how these shapes resemble our familiar open chord shapes. And how easy it is to move these shapes around the neck.
3.) To work through some simple chord progressions using these shapes.
And hopefully, by the end of today, you can play some of the songs that you already want to learn, that use some of these shapes.
Let’s start with the easiest of these shapes… the minor barre chord on the A string. The most common chord you see that uses this shape is a B minor. I know you’ve seen it before. We’re going to take a look at this chord shape, this interval structure, and learn why it does what it does.
Minor shapes on the A string can be thought of as A minor chords moved around to different positions on the A string. Let’s take a look at the A minor chord. We use an open A, then fret 2 on the D and G string, then fret 1 on the B string, and another open string, the high E, right?
Okay, we are just going to transpose this chord shape up two frets so the root note of the chord in on fret 2, instead of on the open A string. So we are on B now, and the interval structure that we are transposing is a minor sound so that means we’re playing a B minor chord. It can seem a little redundant to say all of that, but it’s worth it to look into why things work on the fretboard. I don’t want you to just play the frets, I want you to understand the concepts behind what you’re playing. Later we’ll be diving even further into these chord shapes.
So when we transpose up two frets, to B, we have to create the whole idea of the chord and with one hand. 2, 4, 4, 3, 2.
We have a barre, we have a power chord, and now if we use our first finger here on the third fret of the B string we have a B minor chord!
So lets dive a little deeper here, first we need to barre, let’s do what we did last week. Get your thumb and your wrist into the position you’ll need, don’t squeeze quite yet though, now place your third and fourth fingers into the power chord shape, then add your second finger. The note your second finger holds down is the one that makes this whole chord “minor” so it’s kind of important.
Once you have the position ready, squeeze that shape on the fretboard! Make sure each string has room to ring and that means using the very tip of the fingers that aren’t barring. And arpeggiate… you want to play each note one at a time. Make sure you can hear each individual note in the chord. Once you’ve got ‘em all, strum away! Okay, this part is critical, once you have the chord, and it sounds good, freeze the shape your fingers are making, and lift it off of the guitar. Try not to tense up, but hold this shape, feel how it feels to make this chord shape. Now we’re going to put it back onto the guitar. Do like we did earlier, squeeze, apreggiate, strum, lift off, and repeat!
Now that we’ve learned how to play minor shapes on the A string, we can easily make Major shapes on the E string! What’s cool about the way the fretboard works is that all you need to do is shift the shape you just made down one set of strings and then you have this barre chord!
Think about how the E Major Barre Chord has the same finger pattern as an A minor barre chord. The same thing applies when making barre chord shapes. When we make a Major barre chord shape on the E string, it has the same finger pattern as the minor barre chord pattern on the A string.
So, let’s make an F# Major barre chord. From low E to high E, the pattern would be 2,4,4,3,2,2. We just need to extend the barre that you are making with your first finger to both the B and high E strings.
Do like you did before…
Fret the chord
Arpeggiate each string until they can all ring clearly
Fix any problems you might have
Strum the chord once everything sounds great
Take your fingers off the fretboard and repeat!
Making minor barre chords on the E string is super easy once you have the major shape down already. To make this chord, simply remove your second finger from the fretboard and allow your first finger to barre to the G string too. Just like you can make an E minor open chord by removing your first finger from the G string, this barre chord shape works the same way.
I use my free second finger to help out the first finger so that I can make sure to hear the note on the G string ring out. That’s the primary note that makes this chord shape “minor” so it’s super important that you can hear it. Any extra help is handy!
Now we come to the toughest shape when talking about the basic barre shapes.
Playing a Major barre chord shape on the A string is quite tough. The reason it’s tough is because you need to make a smaller barre shape with your third finger and if you aren’t flexible enough, it can be hard to find a way to make this shape. But don’t fret too much, out of all the chord shapes so far this one has the most options for how to play it!’
So the first way to make this shape is like this. Let’s say we want to make a B Major chord. Remember that these shapes are transpositions of the open chord that you already know. So an A Major open chord, from A to high E, goes: 0,2,2,2,0
So to transpose it up to B we need to play 2, 4, 4, 4, 2
Do you see the barre within the barre? The three strings that all have the same fret number 4? That’s where we need to barre - in addition to barring with our first finger.
Now, it’s important to note that making a barre with your first finger is not essential to the chord. I often like to just play this chord with the middle four strings. If you can do a double barre though, awesome!
Let’s focus on the mini-barre that you need to make on the fourth frets of the D, G, and B strings. If you can, hyperextend your third finger so that it plays all three of those notes at the same time. You might need to watch the video to see how this works. But try to get all three of those notes ringing with your third finger. Don’t forget about all the other important points about your posture and thumb/wrist position when trying to make this. After getting all three to ring together, add your first finger to the second fret of the A string and play them all together. That’s a B Major chord!
If you have a hard time making this shape with your third finger, you can try to make a barre with your pinky. Do the same thing, get those three strings to ring together. Then add your first finger. Make sure not to play the high E string when barring with your pinky!
And if that one is also too much for you, the last option is to play these three frets with your second, third, and fourth fingers all crammed together on the fourth fret. Don’t worry, every option is used by plenty of guitarists because each person’s hand is different. Here we are trying to play each notes with a different finger. Your first finger on the 2nd fret of the A string, your second finger on the 4th fret of the D string, your third finger on the 4th fret of the G string, and finally your fourth finger on the 4th fret of the B string.
More tips on making barre chords!
Weight of your arm
Don’t hesitate to use the force of gravity to help you hold all the string down in these shapes. It might be just enough to get all the strings to ring together. I know I’ve done this during long gigs when my thumb got tired of holding barres.
Twist your first finger
Remember that you don’t want to use the center of the pad of your finger when barring. Pull your elbow towards you and have your hand rotate with it. You’ll end up using more of the side of your first finger when you barre the fretboard and it’s less awkward to get all your fingers in the proper position.
Only focus on the notes you need
Whenever you play other notes while barring with your first finger, be aware that you don’t need to press down on the strings that your other fingers use. For instance, in the Major barre chord shape that’s on the E string you only need to hold down three notes with the barre. The other three are taken up with your second, third, and fourth fingers.
Practicing the barre chords!
Use these chord pairs to practice making barre chords:
(lowercase “m” represents a minor chord… chords are Major otherwise)
Open Chords to Barre Chords
1.) Em to Bm
2.) D to F#m
3.) Am to F
4.) E to B
Barre Chords to Barre Chords
1.) Gm to C
2.) F#m to C#
3.) F to Bb
4.) C#m to A
Let’s make a four chord progression with two and two!
1.) E to B to A to C#m
2.) F to Am to Gm to C
Use all four in a chord progression!
1.) Ab to Fm to Bbm to Eb
2.) F# to C# to G#m to D#m
Give those a shot! Try ‘em all out!
Download the PDF version of this lesson HERE