5 Ways To Simplify Barre Chords For Starters

5 Ways to Simplify Barre Chords When Learning the Guitar

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There are many frustrations to encounter and overcome as a beginning guitar player. But even the best players in the world once struggled with the same things you may be dealing with. Barre chords are a perfect example of an essential guitar-playing skill that feels awkward at first but gets easier with time and practice.

Learning barre chords may be difficult, but there's no denying that they are necessary. Barre chords are ubiquitous throughout many genres of music, so you are likely to need them regardless of the styles you play in. Fortunately for new players, there are ways to make barre chords easier while you are still perfecting your guitar technique. Below, we will talk about these chords in greater detail and share some useful tips for making these chords easier for you to play.

What Are Barre Chords?

person playing a barre chord

Barre chords are a fundamental guitar-playing skill for a reason. Almost every style of music will require mastery of the barre chord: jazz, blues, pop, and especially rock-and-roll. Without them, most guitar players would be very limited in their technique—not to mention unable to play many of the popular songs our friends and family ask us to play.

This type of chord is characterized by the use of one finger, typically the index finger, that is stretching across all six strings. Any of the remaining three fingers may be creating a shape ahead of these depressed strings. These chords come in so many shapes they are easier to define by the "barre" feature than anything else.

How Are Barre Chords Played?

Most barre chords are formed using the same hand shape you would make to play either an "E" or "A" major chord. So the good news is if you can play those chords—and most people can—you can easily learn to play barre chords. The key difference with barre chords is that a finger is used to depress all the strings ahead of your chord shape. Most players use their finger to create this "bar," which is where the barre chord gets its name.

There are many practical uses of the barre chord whether you are playing on your own or with other musicians. One way to think of a barre chord is to consider that your hand is doing what a capo might, giving you access to the full range of chord options on your guitar. Just as a painter may be more expressive given more color options, so too can the guitarist with more chord choices. If you are improvising with another musician who is playing sophisticated versions of basic chords, the fairly straightforward barre chord provides a simple solution for rhythm guitarists.

Commonly Used Barre Chords

person playing a guitar

If you ask ten different musicians which the most crucial barre chords to learn are, you would likely get ten different answers.

The "F" chord, as mentioned above, is a fairly complicated shape requiring most or all of a player's fingers. For this reason, "F" is a popular barre chord. There are other factors that make this choice popular. For instance, "F, Dm, C, Am" is a fairly common chord progression across genres, and the "F" barre chord provides variation if the common open variations are used on the other chords.

Many popular barre chords are easier for most people to play than their open variations. This is true of "F," "B" and "F#" in both major and minor forms.

Another simple way to think about the most common bar chords is not by the actual chord itself, but by the hand shape required on the fretboard for the guitarist to play it. Of your hand shape options, the four that most players would agree are essential to learn first are E, Em, A, and Am. When you add in the chords, you can play with this mix of hand shapes, and you open up your chord opportunities well beyond the world of the basic open chords.

Barre Chords Simplified

woman playing guitar

Below, we will discuss ways to make learning to play power chords easier, and some ways to substitute them out altogether. While you are still working on the structure of the chord and making changes, alternate shapes including power chords may prove useful and serve a similar musical function as barre chords. We will also go over some options for making these chords easier to play by altering your voicing, your instrument's tuning, and your hand shape.

Simplify the Structure Using Power Chords Instead

Power chords offer an alternative to the barre chord that even beginning players can readily master. These chords typically only require three fingers to play and may easily stand in for barre chords. Like the barre chord, the power chord can be moved all over the fretboard, giving you more options when playing. This ease-of-use has made the lowly power chord a staple in genres such as punk rock.

The structure the simpler power chord is 1-5-1. When we discuss chord theory, one of the first concepts we learn is "major" and "minor." This characteristic of a chord is typically defined by the 3rd note in a typical, standard triad. The power chord, however, omits this third note, making it more versatile while still maintaining the structure of the key the chord is played in. These chords are often played under heavy distortion for a fuller sound.

The "missing" third note may be omitted by all musicians in certain contexts, or another instrument such as a voice may be used in songwriting arrangements to "fill in" the missing third note to lend a major or minor flavor to the song as a whole. Having the option to use the bare bones structure of the power chord alone or as a basis for more elaborate arrangements is one feature of the traditional power chord that makes it so flexible.

Simplify the Structure Using Drop D Tuning

Tune your low E string down to D, and your guitar is now in "Drop D" tuning. If you don't have a tuner handy (or perfect pitch for reference), you can ensure that your tuning is correct by playing your lowest three strings. The third string should be a perfect octave above your new low D string.

Those same low three strings, when played open, will also represent a D power chord. Using the same strategy discussed above, you can now sub in any power chord with a root on the lowest string by barring your lowest three strings only. This method can serve you well on rock songs composed mostly (or entirely) of power chords.

Search for a Simpler Voicing of the Same Chord

With barre chords, there are typically multiple ways to play the same chord by barring in different places and using different finger shapes. Some of these finger shapes, naturally, will be easier to use than others. Fortunately, in the internet age, we have so many chord charts, instructional videos, and even apps at our disposal for learning new ways to play the same chords.

Take advantage of as many of these resources as necessary until you find a more comfortable way to play the barre chord you want. You may invest time into doing this, but it will be well worth it. After all, you don't want to be stuck in the land of power chords forever. While they can be a legitimate fix sometimes, some music will require the powerful major-or-minor-determining third note to be interpreted properly.

Practice Making Changes Between Barre Chords

We recommend making as many kinds of changes as possible when practicing. Practice changing between barre chords. Practice changing from an open chord or two to barre chords. Practice changing it up many ways until these changes become second-nature and well built into muscle memory.

Don't Stop Practicing

Sometimes it's easy to get so frustrated when learning something new that quitting sounds appealing. Don't do this with barre chords. Practicing acceptance around the fact you may not be able to hear all the notes on the first few tries can give you the patience to keep learning. You will be grateful you didn't give up when you have more musical tools for writing and playing.

Do your best to keep your head in a positive place when practicing. That often means it's a good idea to go easy on yourself. Nobody is born learning how to play any of these chords. There's no need to beat yourself up for needing to do some humble practicing.


man smiling while playing guitar

Learning a new skill or expanding upon an existing talent can be frustrating and difficult. Keep in mind the rewards that come with challenging yourself and achieving your goals. You are more likely to experience regret for giving up on something than you are for achieving a goal or mastering a skill.

No matter your reasons for wanting to learn to play barre chords, we commend your efforts. Learning new musical skills is always a highly constructive use of your time with the potential to bring joy to others. Follow these tips until you have mastered this chord structure, and you will be glad you did. Never stop rocking!

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