Beginner Lesson - Barre Chord Basics and the E Shape
Barre Chords. There are sources of strife for many beginner players and really even some intermediate players. And there are two main complaints: there are really out there when people start playing barre chords. It’s either, “I can’t seem to hold down all the notes, I get a lot of buzz.” Or, “My hand hurts,” after playing only a few chords. And usually people experience both of these things. So we’re going to address both of those problems in this short lesson.
Before we move on to barre chords and actually playing, I will say this: a lot of the time especially if you’re a beginner and you’re playing maybe a guitar that you haven’t had worked on, you don’t really know much about it, sometimes these guitars are just not set up that well. And so you end up with this guitar that even a very advanced guitar player couldn’t play a barre chord very well on.
Go to a local guitar store, take your guitar in there, and make sure that it’s set up properly. That’s going to give a huge leg up when you go to actually practicing barre chords. And really be open to the possibility that if you can’t get this guitar in shape to practice especially as a beginning guitar player, consider buying a new guitar. Consider buying a cheaper guitar that is at least able to be set up correctly.
The easiest way to get started with barre chords is to separate the two elements that happen with the barre chord. We’re going to be looking specifically at the E-shape today. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to play an E Chord. [strums] but I’m going to play it-- with my first finger free. A lot of people learn [strums] the E Chord like this, which is fine and it’s good to learn it that way. But for the purposes of this exercise, we’re going to be doing pointer-finger-free E Chord. All right?
Also you want to make sure that you’re not playing with your thumb over the neck. That’s okay in certain situations but in this case, we’re going to put the thumb down here behind the neck. As a rule of thumb, you want to make sure that this joint of your thumb is on the hump of the neck, the highest portion of the hump of the neck. Some of you might have a line going down on the middle of your neck, that’s a good guide.
Okay, that keeps your thumb down and behind the chord. This is going to be important when we move it around and at the barre later. It also keeps your fingers arched enough here so that all the notes are ringing through. If you’re learning barre chords, most of you probably know how to play the E already but again, I want to make sure that our hand position is set up so that we can do barre chords the best way possible.
Also as far as thumb placement up and down the neck, you want to make sure that it’s between your first and second fingers. And in this case since we’re playing it open, it’ll be between the nut and your second finger. You don’t want it too far this way, you don’t want it too far this way. You want it to be supported, well-supported right behind the corner [strums].
What we’re going to do is we’re just going to move this chord… [strums] up and down. You can go as far as you want, making sure that your thumb stays in position and that all your notes are ringing through [strums]. This is the easier one but it just gets to use to move on that E chord around. [strums] You’re not really interested in making music again, you’re just interested in having the strings ring out [strums].
Now notice also when I’m doing this that this finger is very free. I’m not doing this. [strums], I don’t have it real tense, I’m just nice and loose. Okay? Once you’re comfortable with that, ditch the E Chord [pauses] and try just using the barre.
Now, a lot of people try, the first part where they ever try is of the first fret. That’s probably the worst place to try it because it’s the hardest one to play. You have the nut right there. So I recommend starting at the fifth fret. Right in the middle of the neck, little easier to play.
With your thumb position that we talked about before, being between your first and your second finger, press the bar down. Now, also notice [pauses] I’ve got a little bit of my finger over the neck. Some people try to do this [pauses] as oppose to this [pauses]. There’s really a problem with that. This works okay but by having your finger up a little bit more, you’re able to take better advantage of this muscle, and of your forearm muscles by having your finger up just a little bit. It also helps get your thumb down a little bit and create a better finger position for the rest of your fingers. All right?
So keep your finger up a little bit, when in doubt. Don’t assume that you can just have it all the way down here like this. The other problem that happens with this is that this joint on your barre finger ends up flexing there, which is awkward and weird. So make sure that this joint of your finger is firmly on the neck. All right?
Also, a lot of people try to play with the barre flat, with their first finger flat. Well, a lot of people also have large knuckles. Your finger, if you feel along this side of your finger versus your feel here, this is flatter. This actually makes a better barre, the side of your first finger. So you don’t want to be [unintelligible 00:05:52] weird like this but instead of trying to be completely flat, tilt it over to the side just a little bit so you’re resting on the side. That’s really going to help both utilize your muscles and help you get all the strings [strums] sounding.
Once you’ve got this position down [strums], move it around, just the way you did. If you’re playing an acoustic or you’re just starting [strums], move it up first before moving down from the fifth fret. You’ll notice as you get further and further up, it begins to be harder and harder to get all the strings. That’s not that big of a deal, you may have to adjust a little bit.
With practice, you’ll start learning how to gradually and subtly modify your finger position and order the fret chords higher up on the neck. But I would say for beginners, you really don’t need to know how to play barre chords all the way up here. You can probably stop at the tenth fret or so.
The next step and really final step is putting those two things together. We’ve already taken our E Chord and moved it around; we’ve taken our Barre Chord and moved it around. Again notice my thumb positions between my first and second fingers.
Next, we’re going to put those together and we’re going to do it on the fifth fret. A lot of people try to fret the Barre and then fret the E Chord. I think that’s much harder. Remember how we worked on the E Chord where we had our -- everything was real loose, we had everything in position, and then this barre was just floating [strums], have that E Chord, U-shaped Chord, there and then put the Barre on. You shouldn’t have to adjust really anything.
So that’s the next thing you want to do. Notice I’m taking the barre off every time I’m practicing planting that barre. I’m programming that into my fingers, into my mind. Now after a while, you won’t have to create the chord that’s two separate actions. But it’s a good idea to be able to do that in for a start because it gives you little or chunks of things to do. And then after some work, you can probably play that dreaded E-shaped F Chord.
There’s more information on playing Barre Chords and thousands of other chords at jamplay.com. We hope to see you there.