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How to play barre chords

How to play barre chords
(Image credit: Future)

Beginner guitar: If you know how to play an open E chord, F should be easy – just move it up one fret, right? If you’ve tried that, you’ll know it doesn’t work, because the open strings need to ‘move’ too. 

Full barre chords use your first finger like a capo, so you can use just a couple of shapes to play any chord. This process opens up a whole world of chords that can’t be played in open position. Eventually, you’ll learn to apply pressure evenly across all six strings with your first finger. 

It’s worth practicing barring all the strings without forming a chord, but it isn’t necessary for this lesson’s shapes. You’ll be fretting notes on the middle strings with your other fingers, so it won’t matter if your barre isn’t perfect yet. You should also practice playing open chords without using your first finger, to get used to the shapes your other fingers will be making. 

The four most important barre chords you need to know

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The shapes we’re using are called the ‘E shape’ and ‘A shape’, even though you can use them to play any chord. That’s because they’re based on the fretting shapes used for the open E and A chords you already know (and their minor equivalents). 

How to play barre chords

(Image credit: Future)

Make sure you’re really confident with those open shapes before you try these barre chords.

Technique check

How to play barre chords

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1. FINGER ANGLE
Try angling your barring finger slightly for an effective barring technique. The side of your finger is harder than the front, so it’s easier to apply pressure.

How to play barre chords

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2. LEAVING OUT A STRING

If you accidentally mute out the high E string on this shape, just leave it out. Then your first finger doesn’t even have to play a full barre!

How to play barre chords

(Image credit: Future)

3. THIRD-FINGER BARRES

Some guitarists prefer making the A major shape by barring with their third finger instead of fretting each note with a different digit. 

How to play barre chords

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4. MUTING THE BASS STRING 

For the A shapes, including this minor version, you can stop the sixth string ringing out by stubbing up against it with your first finger.

Example 1. Barres for arpeggios

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The arpeggio picking here will test the accuracy of your barring. Listen to every note and make sure it rings out cleanly. If you struggle, try changing to a partial barre, and practise playing just the top three or four strings. 

Example 2. Funky stabs

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These A (and A minor) shapes are great for funk guitar styles. Disco legend Nile Rodgers forms the full chord shapes but generally only strums two or three strings from each one. It’s a neat trick that gives him his signature sound.