Hi There! And welcome to the Barre Course. I’m so glad you’re here!
Over the next six weeks we’ll be on a journey together learning how to go from playing basic open chord shapes to exploring all types of barre chord shapes across the fretboard.
A lot of guitar players struggle with making the leap to confidently playing barre chords. It is quite a large task to learn all the concepts involved and I’m not surprised some put it off for as long as possible or even give up all together.
It’s usually because they don’t have a plan. Maybe they see a common barre chord pop up in one of the songs they desperately want to learn (most likely a B minor or an F# minor) and then, they try and fumble their fingers together into this weird, messy, shape and it never sounds anything like the song.
If you only try to play barre chords when you need them, you’ll never learn how to make them sound clear. You need to practice them with a well thought out process.
And that’s why you’re here!
And you know what? Barre chords aren’t hard. If you work with me through the steps I’ll be showing you, without skipping over any of them, I hope you’ll find them to be easy too.
What’s In The Course?
Here’s a quick summary of what we’ll be covering in this series:
In week one, we’re going to dive into the open chord shapes that you already know and find out what makes them tick.
Next in week two, we’ll learn some of the fundamental building blocks of making barre shapes. And the proper techniques of barring.
After that, week three puts those building blocks together so we can make some great sounding barre chords.
In week four, we’ll take a break while you keep practicing the basic shapes to get into the music theory behind chords.
Because in the following week, we’ll go even deeper into the anatomy of these shapes so you can transform them into more complex chords.
And finally, in week six, I’ll show you about how to take other open chords and transform them into barred shapes too, plus we’ll discuss some other cool tricks to further extend your chord vocabulary.
Other Things To Consider
It would also benefit you to put a fresh set of strings on your guitar before the second week. I recommend going for a lighter gauge string set so that once we start making some barred shapes it will be easier on your fingers.
Once you got the positions down (and a bit more finger strength) then you can go back to your regular string gauge.
So after you watch the video, don’t forget to read the PDF and practice the exercises that I laid out for you, they are just as important as the things I’ll be showing you in the video.
So let’s move on to the first lesson…
[Summary] Download the PDF -> herE <-
This week we started from the basic eight open chord shapes (A Major, E Major, C Major, D Major, G Major, A minor, E minor, and D minor) and looked in one layer deep, to find two fundamental concepts at play: ROOT NOTES and INTERVAL STRUCTURES.
A ROOT NOTE is the principle pitch that a chord begins on. It is the reference point of all the notes that are built from it. For example, an E minor chord has the ROOT NOTE of E. The minor “sound” happens because of the INTERVAL STRUCTURE.
An INTERVAL STRUCTURE is the series of pitches that are played from the ROOT NOTE and gives our ear the characteristic feeling of a particular chord. An E minor chord sounds “minor” because of how the notes above and around it are laid out. There are, however, different ways of making “minor” chords too, as we will learn in future lessons, each with a different INTERVAL STRUCTURE that gives the chord a unique flavor.
(You can think of this term as a fancy way of saying “chord”, or even “chord voicing” but I don’t think these terms have enough weight to them - even though you will definitely here me say them or refer to them throughout this series.)
After we separated these two ideas, I spent a lot of time exploring the notes on the E and A strings because these will contain the ROOT NOTES of the barre chords we will be tackling in a few lessons.
But in order to do so, I had to take a step back to make sure you knew a little music theory about how we name the notes on the fretboard.
[Here’s a thorough explanation of note names and how they apply to the guitar, in case the video moved a bit too fast for you…]
Written music uses the first seven letters of the alphabet to identify notes.
A B C D E F G
However, there are 12 notes per octave (i.e. when the series starts over)… so that leaves us with five extra pitches that we still have yet to name.
These remaining five notes have two unique identities depending on which ACCIDENTAL you use.
An ACCIDENTAL is a symbol that can be attached to one of pitch letters and it is used to augment or diminish a pitch. Augment means to move up one half-step and diminish means to move down one half-step.
A half step on the guitar is simply one fret, up or down.
Sharps (#) augment a pitch and flats (b) diminish a pitch.
Or in guitar speak, a sharp (#) moves a note one fret higher and a flat (b) moves a note one fret lower.
So we can name all of the notes two ways, one using sharps and one using flats…
Bt, we have another rule when using sharps and flats (for now…). B and C are directly adjacent in the music line, there is no B# nor Cb. likewise E and F are the same way. E#, for our purposes, does not exist, nor does Fb.
Finally, I present to you: the CHROMATIC SCALE (the collection of all twelve pitches) ascending, using sharps (#)
A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G# (A)
and here it is again, the CHROMATIC SCALE, descending, using flats (b)
A Ab G Gb F E Eb D Db C B Bb (A)
We can use this knowledge to name each note on the guitar. But, in this series we’ll really only need to know the E and A strings.
Let’s look at each fret number on the E and A strings and see what name to use for each:
It’s best to learn the NATURAL NOTES first when tackling the task of memorizing these notes. The NATURAL NOTES are, simply, the notes without ACCIDENTALS.
Hey! Weren’t we trying to give up capos for a while!?
Well, they actually allow us to see these important concepts in action.
Because we’ve identified every note on the E and A strings, we can take a deeper look into what’s going on when we use a CAPO.
CAPOS allow us guitarists to easily play songs that might require us to use barre chords. We can transpose these songs with a capo so that they fit the keys that open chords make up: The keys of C and G.
We wont get into keys so much, but we can now find the real names of the chords we play when using a capo.
Say we have a capo on the 3rd fret. If we play an open E minor chord, we aren’t really playing an E minor at all. Because the ROOT NOTE of the chord is now on the third fret of the E string, and we know it’s G. Because we are playing a minor INTERVAL STRUCTURE, we can know that the real name of the chord is: G minor.
We can take this exercise and use any other open chord shape to look deeper into the notes of the fretboard.
Say we leave the capo on fret three. What chord would you really be playing if you made an A minor open chord shape? If you said C minor, then you are starting to see how things work. Because the capo is on fret three and the open A string is the root note of the chord, the root note is now the third fret of the A string - the note C! And because we are playing a minor chord, the C root has over it a minor interval structure, so we call it C minor.
So that is as far as I wanted to bring you in this first lesson. We talked about a lot of concepts in this first lesson. And that’s okay because we’ll be using them throughout the rest of this series.
And now we can take a look at the exercises that accompany this lesson:
How to practice learning the notes on the E and A strings:
In the video I recommended learning the NATURAL NOTES first. So we’ll start there.
Remember, our goal is to have an instantaneous connection in our mind between the fret position and the letter name. So these exercises are made to encourage this.
1.) Ascend up the E string from “open” to fret 12 using just the natural notes, they’ll be E F G A B C D E. Say these letters out loud as you play them. Descend from the 12th fret to the open string, again saying the letters out loud. Repeat.
2.) Once you’re familiar with where the natural notes are, play them in any order you chose. Improvise with them! Make sure to say the letters out loud. When you land on the 3rd fret, say “G”! When you play fret 10, say “D”! And so on…
3.) Record yourself, or someone else, randomly saying the letters. Make sure to have a few seconds between each one because you’ll want some time to find the note on your guitar and play it! This exercise will help the most, so make sure to do it a lot!
4.) Do everything above, but on the A string.
How to practice transposing with a capo:
Because we are trying to find out how capos work, here are a couple things you could try,
1.) Place your capo on any fret of your guitar and play the chord shapes E, A, C, G. What chords did you REALLY play? Now you can find out!
2.) If you know a few songs with a capo, write out the chord progressions with their actual chord names.
If you have any questions, you can email me: firstname.lastname@example.org or you can ask in the FB group!