I'm breaking this week's lesson into three parts.... today we are going to work on the building blocks of barre chords!
POSTURE FOR BARRE CHORDS
One Finger Barres
Lesson Two Summary
In this week’s lesson we cover a few more things that you’ll need to know before making the leap to playing barre chords across the fretboard!
Before playing anything on the guitar, we need the proper posture and techniques that go into the kinds of shapes your hand and body needs when playing barre chords.
Unlike open chords, where your thumb is placed over the guitar neck, barre chords (and similar shapes) require you to place your thumb in the middle of the neck to create a better and more open grip. It’s very important to take a close look at how your posture contributes to making the barred shapes so that every time you wish to make are barre chord, it’s easy on your body.
Looking at it from the connection between your fretting hand and the guitar, there is a chain that goes thumb > wrist > elbow > shoulder. We want to get every link in the chain to be as strong and free as possible, and it’s easy to start at the thumb.
We connect the base of the pad of the thumb to the back of the guitar neck. Don’t use the tip of your thumb like you would your other fingers on the neck. The reason is, by placing the bottom of your pad on the neck you are removing another possible joint that would have to support the weight of the chord grip. So get used to using that part of your thumb, you’ll see what I’m talking about in the video.
After the thumb, it’s time to focus on the wrist. Again we haven’t played anything yet, we are just looking at how these parts contribute to the whole. You should try as hard as possible to play WITHOUT a bent wrist. You need to have a lot of strength behind some of the shapes we’ll be covering in future videos and a straight wrist is a strong wrist.
In order to keep your wrist straight when making these shapes, consider moving your guitar higher and play with the neck of your guitar forward a bit. The position of your elbow should be right by your side. The guitar neck should have an upward angle and be positioned forward, not square against the plane of your body.
Play with it a bit, get comfy with holding your thumb on the back of your guitar while having a loose, free swinging elbow and a straight wrist. Oh, by the way, keep your shoulders loose too! Don’t forget to breathe!
One of the primary shapes that the basic barre chords use is the Power Chord. Built from two notes, the root and the 5th, these shapes are used all over tunes that have a rock feel to them: classic rock, punk rock, metal, etc. Learning how to play these chords and fret them accurately while holding their shape is fundamental to the barre shapes we’ll be looking at next week.
Remember all the things we talked about in the previous section with your posture as you try these shapes.
Let’s start with a G “power chord” or a G5 chord. To make this chord put your first finger on fret three of the E string and your third finger on fret five of the A string. Play those two notes together! There’s a G power chord!
Look at the shape your fingers make, we have a root note and then two frets higher and one string higher we have the interval of a perfect fifth. This “shape” is moveable to any position on the E or A string. Move it around to a new root note position, how about Bb? Bb is fret six on the E string, the shape this chord would make would have your third finger on fret eight of the A string.
Again, we can move this shape to the A string. So why note make a D power chord? That would be fret five of the A string and fret seven of the D string. Try your own shapes.
Once you get the idea, we need to add another note to this shape. With your pinky, add a third note to the same fret as your third finger but one string higher. Our G power chord would now be 3-5-5 on the E-A-D strings. The Bb power chord would be 6-8-8 on the same set of strings. The D power chord would be 5-7-7 on the A-D-G strings. And so on.
It might be a bit tough, but try to freeze your fingers into the power chord shapes so that moving between them is super easy. Being able to snap your fingers into the power chord shapes and later barre chord shapes is one of the tricks to being able to make these chord quickly and accurately.
ONE FINGER BARRE SHAPES
The other kind of shapes you’ll need to know how to make are, obviously, the barre that goes across the neck. So, we’ll do this incrementally, one step at a time. Why make it hard on yourself!?
But before we get into it, we need to talk more about technique. When you fret anything on the guitar, you want your fingers to make a nice round shape. Kind of like a “C”. Each finger acts as a bridge which gives it a lot of strength. Now, even when we barre across the fretboard, we want to be able to keep this round shape. It will be very subtle, but it will still be there. Don’t hyper-extend your finger when making a barre shape, that won't help you!
Okay, let’s start with two frets. Can you play the third frets of the high E and B strings together? Don’t forget your posture from earlier. Play both notes, make sure they ring loud and strong, and move on from there.
How about three frets? Let’s fret the high E string, the B string, and the G string at the third fret. Got that? It’s probably going to require the whole pad of your finger to make that shape.
On to four strings! Add another string lower, the D string. Are you keeping up? You might have to consider each string. You need all of them to ring together. Is your thumb still on the back of the neck? Is your wrist straight too?
How about five strings? This is where people really start to struggle. Just like juggling, where every time you add another ball to juggle it gets exponentially harder, so too when you try out barring for the first time. Be hyper-aware of each string. Arpeggiate the notes, does each one ring loud and proud?
Last we barre all six strings. You might really need to grip the neck hard. Don’t forget things you already know, like keeping your fingers as close as possible to the fret without going over it. Slightly rotating your first finger by pulling your elbow towards you a bit helps too, so you aren’t using the whole pad of your finger, but a bit of the side too.
Take a break and try the whole thing again. Two, three, four, five, six strings ringing together.
You’ll never actually have to play all six strings together, but it doesn’t harm you to have the strength to do it.
Let’s stick to three exercises this week…
1.) Continue to practice the speed that you can identify the notes on the E and A strings. This is super important!! I’ll be asking you to practice this every week until the end of the course!!
2.) Practice making power chords in all sorts of places on the fretboard. Once you can confidently make these shapes, create some chord progressions so you can practice moving the shapes around the neck and “freezing” the shape as you move it. Then, learn a couple punk rock songs if you haven’t yet!
3.) Go through barring more and more strings. Start with two and go up. Hone in on the sound and feel of the chord and make sure you can hear each string that you barre. Keep the “C” shape in your index finger, even it’s very subtle. Do this in all the spots on the fretboard. Barring on the eighth fret is much different than barring the first fret.