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Perhaps it's just that I have small hands (e.g. index finger is barely longer than the 12th fret), but I seem to have issues with barring; no matter what I do it seems there is a string that's right on a finger joint and gives a dull note instead of ringing out. What can I do to ensure more consistent tone from all strings when barring without having to take a moment to readjust every time?

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I have normal fingers and I used to have this issue too. I found that my guitar wasn't adjusted properly, and once I had a luthier take a look at it, the barre chords came much more easily. –  Anonymous Mar 5 '11 at 3:26
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5 Answers

Not much more I can add but I'll try:

After you get your action adjusted if needed, start by just barring with your index finger and make sure all the notes ring out clearly. Then add each note one at a time making sure each one rings out clearly. Barr chords can be uncomfortable at first. We all went through it, and yes it can hurt, and notes get muffled, or make some weird buzzy noise, but each time you do it you'll get better at it. Also, try just holding the chord. don't strum, just hold it. By doing this you're building the muscle memory in your hands, and this will help in the long run. remember that term "long run" that's what we usually strive for when learning guitar. Unless your a prodigy, then you'll have to work at it for some time before you're recording albums and signing autographs. =-)

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I agree, action setup - the distance of the strings from the fretboard - for your hands is crucial. Also, play with different string gauges to find the one that works best for you.

The technical purists will probably read me the riot act, but I think everyone needs to adapt to what works for them. Ultimately this is about bringing out your magic and if you can't because you're not comfortable, what's the point? There are lots of technically great players, but lots of them have no feel.

I have small hands and have to compensate. With regard to Barre chords, I primarily get the "F" chord figure, for example, in place and then worry about the Barre factor - the bass note. Some people will use their thumb to cover the bass note.

Pick muting can help too. Pluck the bass note first, then mute across the "A' string and then strum the rest of the chord.

Lastly, you can shift the weight of your hand as needed rather than trying to hold the full chord tightly.

Keep at it - it will get easier!

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Practice, practice and more practice. I've always had pretty small hands myself. Full on Barre chords (as opposed to 3 note power chords) were a real pain for me when I was starting out. As with anything, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

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There's some good advice in todd's answer. My experience with your particular complaint about the gap in the finger joint is that it went away with time. I too used to never be able to barre without there being at least one string that would find its way into a notch in my finger.

While hand strength and the action on the guitar were important, I also learned that the practice itself of barring generates a callus right on that joint. This has the natural effect of filling in the space, and voila, the problem solved itself over time.

Just keep at it!

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Well, don't let lousy sounding barre chords stop you from playing them anyways. After getting your action adjusted by a pro, the next step is just to keep playing them and let your fingers get strong, and find their place. IE, where do I need to put the pressure, and where do I do not.

Alternatively, you might look into a guitar with a smaller neck width, or do what I did, and switch to an hollow bodied electric, specifically a Gretsch. For the first time, playing thru an amp, I could hear each string, which made me want to play those cool sounding 7ths and m7th's, and it was much easier to fret than my acoustic or my other electric. I strung the action really low.

But after getting my fingers stronger and more comfortable with the barres on the Gretsch, it is now easier to play them on the other guitars, too. It takes time, tho.

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