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How to play partial barre chords

How to play partial barre chords
(Image credit: Future)

Beginner guitar: If you’ve only fretted one string at a time with each finger, it’s time for your digits to earn their keep with our guide to how to play partial barre chords. ‘Barring’ means pressing two or more strings with one finger. 

With just four fretting fingers, barring is essential for playing chords across all six strings at once, and it has many other uses. Partial barring shows up in the intro to Johnny B. Goode for example, and almost anywhere a lead guitarist plays two notes on adjacent strings.

When barring, you’ll use the pad of your finger to fret two strings, and for three or more strings you’ll need the rest of your finger. You won’t have calluses there yet, so go carefully to avoid blisters. Once you get the hang of pressing two strings at once, you’ll need to fret cleanly with your other fingers. 

Barring changes the angle of your hand, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself accidentally choking strings. Start by trying Dm7. With just two fingers, it’s the simplest barre chord in standard tuning.

Technique Check

How to play partial barre chords

(Image credit: Future)

1. Just a barre 

Start off by getting comfortable with barring two strings with the pad of your first finger.

How to play partial barre chords

(Image credit: Future)

2. Dm7 Chord

Next, move down to the 2nd fret and add a finger to make Dm7. It's often more comfortable if you angle your first finger slightly. 

How to play partial barre chords

(Image credit: Future)

3. Movable major shape

Adding your third finger gives you a major chord which you can move around the fretboard – no open strings!

How to play partial barre chords

(Image credit: Future)

4. Movable minor shape

When barring three strings, make sure your knuckle isn’t directly over a string – it’s hard to apply any pressure when you bend your finger!

Example 1. Rock 'n' roll barres

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This Chuck Berry-style lick is a great introduction to barring. Use the pad of your first finger to press down on the first two strings at the same time.

Example 2. Simple arpeggios

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If you need more time to change chords, stop each chord a beat or two early to prepare the next.