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I'm a novice at reading tab (don't know how to play any string instrument) and I'm trying to understand this tab notation for an F major chord from Ultimate Guitar:

I know that the 3, 4, and 2 mean that on those strings, it is played on the 3rd, 4th, and 2nd fret. But what confuses me is the thick line across the top that spans all the strings. What does this mean?

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    The 3, 4, and 2 indicate the fingering, not the frets. The location of the dots indicates the frets. Here the 3rd, 4th, and 2nd fingers are placed on the 3rd, 3rd, and 2nd fret, respectively. The F chord uses the 4th finger, but not the 4th fret. Mar 8 at 17:14
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    It might be good for an answer to (1) point out that this isn't tablature and (2) perhaps explain or link to a question on how to play a barre since technique matters a lot. Mar 9 at 6:27
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    @guest-comment Feel free to.
    – Divizna
    Mar 9 at 13:40

2 Answers 2

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That's your index finger pressing down on all of those strings, a so-called barré chord shape. It's a technique that usually takes a solid amount of time to master to a degree where you can rely on fingering the chord without any buzz.

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    I'll add that sometimes you can see a number next to the barred fret. This indicates which fret it should be, omitting all previous ones from the diagram. For example, the exact same picture with a little 4 next to the black bar would mean barré on the 4th fret, middle finger on 5th fret and the two fingers on 6th, which would be a G# or Ab chord.
    – Divizna
    Mar 8 at 21:26
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    @DarrelHoffman - first time I've heard about that. How does it work with cambered fingerboards? Probably best to bite the bullet, like maybe 99% of us did, and learn to barre with a finger. Imagine a song in key C, where the bottleneck needs to go on for each F chord..!
    – Tim
    Mar 9 at 9:30
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    @DarrelHoffman You mean a slide? As far as I know, that's for achieving a specific sound, not for protecting your finger from hurting. (Btw barré doesn't hurt the finger any more that open chords do. You develop calluses on the side of your finger just as those on the tips. You just have to practice for a while.) And if you're wearing the slide on your index finger, how do you then bend it to play C in the next bar (and then C7 where you need all four)?
    – Divizna
    Mar 9 at 11:04
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    @dbmag9 The origin is clear. It's barré in French where it comes from, Barré in German, barré in Italian, Czech, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish. Yes, barré is the participle of barrer which is indeed derived from barre but that's a previous generation of the etymology. When English ambushes other languages in dark alleys and searches their pockets for vocabulary, the speakers then have a tendency to throw out any diacritics and write cafe, nee and fiance (and not even distinguish between a fiancé and a fiancée at that), but that doesn't make keeping the accent wrong.
    – Divizna
    Mar 10 at 9:11
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    @Divizna: In words like "cafe", the diacritics markings are omitted, but the pronunciation is retained. The word "barre", however, is almost always prounounced like the word "bar". I don't think many people would describe such a chord by saying the index finger is "barréed" across the strings; most would instead use the past tense form "barred", pronounced like a minstrel. The adjective spelleing "barre" distinguishes it from a common term for a musical measure. At least in writing, a four barre-chord loop would be different from a four-bar chord loop.
    – supercat
    Mar 10 at 18:45
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It's a barre - meaning that one finger, here the index finger (not always though) is across all six strings. That doesn't mean that all six need to be pressed down onto the fingerboard - strings 5, 4 and 3 are already pressed down on frets 2 and 3.

So, it's called a barre chord - and as such is movable in its shape up and down the fingerboard, making many different major (in this case) chords.

As I say, the index finger doesn't need to press down hard on all six strings, as only 6, 1 and 2 are actually affected by the barre. It's one of the bête noire chords for beginners, but once you've mastered the concept, will lead you into a whole new world of chord shapes and keys. I've only ever had one student who played them successfully the first time they tried!

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  • IIRC it's originally written barré with a pronunciation for English speaking people like: bar-ray.
    – HarryH
    Mar 10 at 13:07
  • If only I knew how to print letters with accents...
    – Tim
    Mar 10 at 13:56
  • @Tim You just need the right keyboard. ěščřžýáíéúů (Yes, these are all single keys on mine. But â I need to write as AltGr-3 and then a. And à is AltGr-7 and then a.) Google suggests é should be AltGr-e on a British keyboard. I'm lazy to install and check.
    – Divizna
    Mar 10 at 15:27

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