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I am having trouble playing pieces that require barre technique. I am currently playing Francisco Tarrega's "Gran Vals". In that piece, for example, if I try and barre the second fret only with my index finger and then press the fifth string on the third fret with my ring finger, all the other strings will not produce a good sound. Is there any way I can strengthen my index finger?

Note. I can do barre chords like F major, G minor. But the example that I've given (see below) isn't a barre chord.

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    Where does this happen in the piece? Can you include an image of that part of the sheet music? – John Belzaguy Jun 9 at 14:35
  • I've included the link. It is a screenshot of part of the sheet music I was talking about – John Yates Jun 10 at 4:06
  • Unless it is covered by the icons I don’t see where there is a 2nd fret barre with a note on the 5th string, 3rd fret. Can you include a measure number? – John Belzaguy Jun 10 at 5:30
  • The 2nd fret barre with a note on the 5th string, the 3rd fret is just an exercise. The real piece is much harder because it requires you to barre the entire 2nd fret. The question is how can I increase the strength of my index finger so that each string produces crystal clear sound – John Yates Jun 10 at 6:43
  • The sheet music does not help much. What would help is a pic of your hand posture as you try to play that chord. – user50691 Jun 10 at 15:09
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The question is how can I increase the strength of my index finger so that each string produces crystal clear sound

Taking up the paraphrased question, the obvious answer would be more practice but there are some other things to consider too.

Doing full barres on the lower frets is difficult, especially on classical guitars which have a wider nut and typically a higher action than most acoustics or electrics.

The first thing to look at is hand positioning - make sure that the barre is as close to the fret as possible and that the thumb is in a good central position on the back of the neck.

The next area I'd consider is the setup of the guitar itself. Can you lower the action of your guitar without adversely affecting the tone? You need enough clearance to be able to play a fortissimo rest stroke without string buzz ideally.

Obviously no one wants to hear fret buzzes, but in my experience many classical guitars have room to lower the action considerably. If your guitar has a truss rod (sadly many classical guitars don't) then you could also change the relief (tighten the truss rod) to reduce the amount of bow in the neck. The other methods would be to file down the nut or file down the bridge accordingly. One non-destructive way to check this is to take the nylon/bone insert out of the bridge and let the strings rest flat on the rosewood. If the strings don't buzz when tuned to pitch then you have room to lower the action.

Lowering the action should make it easier to play barre chords as the amount of pressing tension in the left hand is reduced.

Finally you could also look at using lower tension strings but again these may change the tone for you.

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I would like to offer a few points that might be helpful to you. First, I believe making a good barre is less about finger strength and more about how you shape your finger. Two things I do to get a good barre is:

  1. I try and use a little more of the outside edge of my finger on the thumb side instead of the center. That part of the finger is a little harder because there is less skin so you are closer to the bone and can make more solid contact with the string.
  2. “Hyperextend” is an ugly word but I also try and flatten and slightly back bend the joints on my index finger, especially on a classical guitar. This allows the finger to make good contact with all the strings. It takes some time to get comfortable with flattening and straightening one finger and having the others curved but it comes with the territory for the instrument we chose.

In closing I’d also like to say that playing a note one fret from a first finger barre with the ring finger is awkward, it causes the fingering hand to collapse on itself. It may be unavoidable at times but it’s better to use the middle finger whenever possible in that situation.

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I would not assume anything about what you need until you post a pic of your posture and left hand position.

As a guitar instructor for 35 years I will say that almost all problems with barre chords have to do with how the hand is placed on the neck (barring an issue with a hand injury or just have hands that are smaller than average).

If you can barre clean without placing the ring finger down then the issue is too much tension in your grip. When you place the ring finger down you are fighting your own grip (between the thumb and index finger). This may be due to not being physically aware of how little effort it really takes to press the strings. A lot of guitarists "squeeze" hard to play chords.

  1. Make sure your index finger is truly straight (almost bow it away from the finger board slightly).

  2. Have your thumb behind your second finger, not your index finger, when you place the ring finger down. This will feel more symmetric and prevent the two fingers from fighting for support.

  3. When you place the ring finger down try not to loose the form of your index finger.

If you can play a barre chord alone but not in the piece then the issue is that you are not able to adjust your hand for quickly and you will need to practice the transition from one chord to the other very slowly until you get it.

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Adding to the useful tips so far, is to be aware of the attitude of the neck of the guitar. Specifically, its angles. Check the angle (taken from above) that it makes with your body. Pushing out or pulling in, parallel to the ground, (like the hand of a clock) will make differences that might solve the problem.

Next angle check is the 'verticalness' of guitar, thus neck. Some players need to look at the fingerboard, so tip the guitar so it's not vertical. That in turn causes fretting to be more difficult.

Next angle to consider is the 'horizontalness' of the neck. This can make a big difference to fretting - particularly barres. We're all different, but by changing that (and other) angles, life can be made so much easier.

Also check on where the guitar is on your body - which leg it rests on, whether it's central, whether you're seated or standing, how high/low the guitar is slung. All angle-related.

A bass student of mine struggled to play a passage, so I asked him to raise the neck, close to vertical. Reluctantly he did, and played the passage perfectly first time. Doing that changed all the angles, making it achievable.

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