I've been trying to learn the F chord for a while now, and I am having a very hard time playing the barre chord. I've read that pulling back slightly with your finger and using the body of the guitar for leverage is a good way to play them. What is the best way to learn barre chords that will set me up for long-term success?
I was struggling with my barre chords, but then my teacher showed me two great exercises. I've been doing them for a week or two and--it's a miracle--barre chords started sounding good!
1. Pure barre practicing
Just hold all the strings on fret 7 with your first finger and nothing else and check if all the strings sound clear. You can help with your second finger. When all notes are clear, move to fret 6. And so on, until you reach fret 1.
2. Tough barre exercise
Hold your barre on fret 7 and with the other three fingers, do this pattern, picking one note at a time:
-------------------------------------------------------------------8-7-9-7-10-7--- ------------------------------------------------------8-7-9-7-10-7---------------- -----------------------------------------8-7-9-7-10-7----------------------------- ---------------------------8-7-9-7-10-7------------------------------------------- --------------8-7-9-7-10-7-------------------------------------------------------- -8-7-9-7-10-7---------------------------------------------------------------------
Keep holding the barre on fret 7 for the whole exercise! By the time you get to string 1, your hand will hurt like hell, but that is the purpose - to get your hand strong. Rest for a while, and do the same thing on fret 6, and so on until fret 1.
Do this every day for 2 weeks--and you'll be able to play barre chords with ease.
I think the only answer to this one is...keep doing it.
The reason you're struggling is because your hand and fingers aren't strong enough yet to do it easily. It's like weight lifting, the more you do it, the stronger you'll get.
Try playing barre chords further up the neck, around the 5th fret. You might find it a little easier than F on the 1st, then as you get stronger, work it back down the neck to the 1st fret.
There are some good ideas in the other answers (for example, working higher on the neck first, to get the chord right, then working your way down). But there are two critical physical reasons why bar chords are hard for beginners, and they don't address these directly:
To get good purchase on the neck, the first finger (LH) must use the tiny muscles around its big knuckle (not the big muscles in the forearm that we normally grip with).
The other three LH fingers must be independent of the first finger, even though it is working very hard to maintain the bar.
So those two things add up to a big strength and coordination challenge for the left hand. Here are a few things that will help more quickly then simply slogging through difficult changes until your hand hurts:
A) Make sure that your first finger is close to the target fret, is pushing through its middle knuckle (i.e. "arching", so that the middle strings get good pressure), and that your left thumb is offset towards your elbow - this helps the whole left arm put more pressure on the strings.
B) Do this exercise once a day for four weeks to strengthen those tiny muscles around the first finger big knuckle, and I believe that you'll see a dramatic improvement in your barring:
- Stand with your hands hanging relaxed.
- Extend the fingers of both hands all the way out.
- Close the fingers to a fist.
- Easy, eh? Now do it two hundred times, as fast as you can, making sure you snap the fingers open and close all the way each time...
If your hands aren't developed, you'll start to feel it in your forearms, probably, after 20 or 30 repetitions. Work your way up to 200. Since this exercise is "isometric" (no weights) you can't hurt yourself, so go until you are completely slowed down with the extensions, and you have significant "sensation" in your forearms.
This is going to help all of your guitar work, especially the left hand, and if you've been completely extending, you've also been working those small muscles that are essential for barring. In any case, you'll get quicker results than if you just slugged away at chord changes, in my experience.
Finally, for the independent movement of the LH fingers not "tied down" with the bar, bar up higher up on the neck and play scales with the remaining three fingers.
Remember to set yourself a long-term window for improvement - "in four months I should be able to do this" - keeping in mind that playing music is a life-long thing!
The way I learned was just through old-fashioned repetition. I started with fifth chords, eg F5.
You can play nearly every Green Day song ever written if you learn fifth chords.
Next I moved on to the minor barre chord, eg Fm.
This took a lot of practice to get my index finger to press hard enough to make the G string ring clearly. Play some other chord and move into an Fm. Just keep practicing that transition until you can make it sound good and accurately place your fingers. Once I had built up the muscle memory and neural networks for Fm, I moved on to the major barre. For me, it was easier to learn the minor chord first and then worry about bending my middle finger to play the major third of the chord on the G string.
Then I had to learn the 5 string major barre chord pattern, eg B.
Practice, practice, practice, and you'll get it.
The error people tend to make concerning barre chords is to believe it requires strength. It does require some, yes, but the real trick is not to try to barre all the strings.
To play an F major, you don't need to barre all the strings, so in my opinion exercizing by barring a whole fret without other fingers is just the fastest way to hurt (or/and discourage)yourself. Truth is, when you play an F, you only need to barre two strings : the B and the high E.The way I do it : I press the low E with the tip of my index, I fret the other fingers (that's C with the ring finger, 3rd fret of A, F with the pinky, 3rd of D string, A with the middle finger, 2nd of G string). At that point, Im not barring the 1st fret. Then, not flattening the index finger, but bending it, I fret the last two strings with the flesh of my index finger. The curvature of the index means that you do not need to press where other fingers are already fretting (that is, the A, D and G string).
For this to work, you need to handle the guitar properly : your thumb is perpendicular to the neck, around the middle. Doing so, your other fingers face the bottom of the guitar, not the celling. When your in that position, just rotating the wrist in a counter-clockwise motion snaps the string behing the bony side of your index, facilitating the barre chord. I always explain to my students that it's as if your want to break the neck between your fingers. You're not pushing with the muscle of the palm of your hand (the one you use when squeezing a ball) but with your wrist muscles.
If you take a chord like the B minor, it's even better : you do no need to barre at all to fret the A string and the E string : you just push with the tip of your index on the A string, arc your finger and fret the E string with the fleshy bottom of your index.
I did following those (hard: F is a real bastard) steps:
A) learn to play "la bamba": C, F, G.
The change through C and F will kill you. That's where we'll focus. Speed is not interesting, perfect sound is. Play the chords very slow ensuring you get perfect sound from ALL the strings. You posture can do a LOT for your playing so check accurately how to sit / stand and hold an electric / acoustic / classic guitar :) In order to complete and master step A you can use this trick:
B) push and pull on the hard chord
Put a perfect F chord and then take your fingers away from the neck (1 mm) and then put fingers back. Do it again. Again. Strum strings to ensure every string is PERFECTLY playing. Now take your fingers away from the neck more and do it again. Then even more and do it again. The more you do this the more you'll be able to take your hand completely off and get it back with strenght and accuracy.
When you're done scream la bamba as loud as you can 'til your family hates you.
and never... NEVER forget:
c) Do not mix it with Twist and shout.
Have fun :)
Although the other answers are already brilliant and did help me overcome this big beginner problem, I still want to share my experience about how I finally managed to get a decent grip (no pun intended) on bar chords.
To let you have an idea regarding how bad I sucked at bar chords, I was about to write a book about how bad bar chords are for health, about that they are a big lie invented by doctors in order to have more hand-injured patients. I was doing pretty well with open chords, but not a single decent sound came from bar ones. Was I condemned to live a life in C major? Hell no!
Following points did work for me. Perhaps you already have all of them covered, and you struggle with other things: in case
Have a goal
You don't have to play bar chords for the sake of it, just because you read somewhere that is important or so. Don't get me wrong, of course they are! They will open you the full world of tonalities up all the neck, and make you play things that are otherwise impossible in standard tuning, not to mention all tecniques revolving around (funky sliding anyone?).
But you need a concrete goal now, i.e. you need to play that song very bad. Usually the big boss is the B minor chord, because most of the time a
Fmaj7 instead of a full
F will do.
Then play the song that needs the B minor. Don't stop to position the fingers when it comes the time to play it: just do on time, even if it sounds awful, even if you just do a mute strum. This way you won't lose the flow of the song, and your enthusiasm will do the rest. Of course you need to do proper slower and focused exercises alongside that, but what drove me was a specific song, or better a triplet of them with the same passage: aforementioned Space Oddity, Don't Look Back in Anger and Creep, as they all feature the dreaded
Play a lot
Even though I found a lot of advice regarding preliminary technical exercises, the best way to improve was...to play guitar. To play anything. Because everything helps you to build strength in you fretting hand and to get confident in moving it around. You will soon realise that you don't need to put the insane effort you used the first time you fretted all strings at once, with your virgin pointer!
Play different guitars
I loved my first guitar, and I will always do. But heaven knows how bad it sounded, how cutting its strings were, how high was its action! These are all things I realised once I played different guitars (and eventually got a new, better one). By changing instrument you shift the perspective from "I suck" to "I still suck, but I do less with this guitar". Learning bar chords on a cheap steel string guitar is the hardest way, but man you will thank me when you'll run fast on the electric later on!
Get a break
This applies for every step of the learning process. If something doesn't really work now, leave it before frustration runs over the joy of playing. Go back to it a couple of weeks later, even a month: you'll be amazed how better you became at playing that once impossible passage.
Eat well and work out
I thought that art was something that could be achieved by the mere focus of mind: nothing more distant from truth my friend. Guitar is a lover that wants to be held gently yet firmly. You don't need strength in your left hand fingers only, but in your whole body. I would call it control better, and it helps in all life activities.
Since I started applying control on my body and regulating how energy comes in and goes out (food exercise, for simplicity's sake), my guitar skills improved drastically. And you do want to look fit after you pick up that cute girl by nailing that song, after all!
And now some concrete piece of advice, besides all general considerations above:
Master the E major position with the last three fingers
I assume you know how to play an
E major (001220) with fingers 1-2-3. That's the most common fingering.
Well, learn to play it with fingers 2-3-4 until you feel no difference between positions. Yes that means that pointer is doing nothing. Ring and pinky should stick together like a sole thing. Your pinky will ache a bit, but you'll develop strengh (and the callus) soon. You will need this for a lot of other things (power chords anyone?).
Play it over and over, alternate strums with hammer-ons over both all three chord strings, or just the bottom two (the
B and the
Once you master it, you are ready to slide up one fret and play an
Fmaj7/C* (by fretting a
C on the second string with your pointer). Great, you can now play all the chords of C major scale (ahem - sorry
Bdim, you are a cumbersome one and we never invite you to our jams)!
(* - ok, you may want to mute the bottom
E string with your thumb, even though it belongs to the chord.)
Once you are there, slide the
Fmaj7 position over the neck by two steps. Anything familiar? Yes, that's a
G major! Almost, there is a ringing
E on top, that would make it a
G6. But if you strum just the middle four strings, you have a regular G. And guess what? Slide two up again, you have an
A major! Yes, the pesky one that needs you to pack three fingers in that tiny space, or to go all in with your squeezed pointer.
Cool, once you are able to slide this position all over the neck with confidence, you are almost done. Lift your pointer from the second string, and place it gently across all strings, with its side slighlty turned towards the fretboard if you can (it will hurt less).
Strum. You should hear a beautiful, major chord sound.
You don't? Play the strings one at once, and check where the problem is. Rinse and repeat.
Consider doing this not on the first fret (that would give you an
F), but rather on the fifth or seventh (respectively an
A and a
B), because you'll require much less effort there. Yes it will sound like an ukelele if you are just used to open chords.
It will take time, but at least we broke the problem in two main parts - the 2-3-4 fingers role, and the one of the pointer.
Sorry, you wanted to play a B minor (on the 2nd fret), not a B major (on the 7th)! Well, repeat all this training starting from the
A minor canonical position (012200), slide up and fret all over with the pointer. If you still can't but want to invite it to the party, fret the first string only and strum/arpeggiate over the top four.
Sorry again, you wanted to play an F minor, not major! Slide up the
Em position (000220) one step up, and lay your pointer across all strings over fret 1. Or if you haven't already forgot how to play the full
F, just do and lift your medium finger to get the missing minor third. Slide up the fretboard to get all missing minor chords (
F#m, I am looking at you!).
What comes next?
(Basic) Open chords rely on first three frets only, so you don't need much eye on the longitudinal axis. But once you unleash granted you by bar chords, you need to know where your dervishing left hand is landing! It's just a matter of practice, it's not hard to figure out by yourself either. Plus usually you will be playing in a known scale, and you know where the needed chords are located.
After major and minor bar chords, you'll realise that you can easily move dominant 7th and major 7th position for instance. And minor 7th too. I call them marr chords. How I hate and love you every day, Johnny.
Good exercises to improve/keep tecnique are for instance:
- to play a single bar chord (e.g.
Bm) and to hammer on fingers 2-3-4 at once, like in the exercise above. You have to focus on landing and keeping the pointer stead;
- to play any
E-shaped major bar chord, to lift fingers 2-3-4 and to land one string down on the according
Amposition - for instance if your bar starting from the third fret, you'll be switching between
Cm. You'll learn how the two "lanes" are related all over the fretboard;
- to play a simple
Bprogression using different rhythms, and by sliding (especially between
B). Yes it sounds like
G. Yes, you are playing grades
IVof the major scale.
A (major) shaped bar chords are the biggest beast for me. I still cheat with a
sus2 surrogate most of the time, I am sorry. But as soon as I'll find a song that cannot be played without a proper
E up the neck...;))
Happy barring people!
One addition to what everyone else has said:
Before learning barre chords, make sure your guitar is set up properly. A high action combined with heavy gauge strings will make it difficult even for an experienced guitarist.
Ask a guitar player to try it out. They'll be able to tell you if it feels wrong.
If there are problems with the guitar, take it to a guitar shop to get set up properly.
I think it's easier to learn on a nylon-strung guitar, because although the neck is wider, the strength required to press down the string is much lower. It then becomes another leap to progress to steel-strung acoustics.
It's vital that you hold the guitar properly, so that you can reach the fretboard without curving your wrist too far. If you can see the fretboard without leaning your head forward, you're probably turning the guitar towards you too much.
Try learning a Bm cord first. It's the same fingering, but everything is 1 string lower so you don't have to bar the low e (you don't play it). It's a bit easier to play than the F and will help you build up some hand strength. Once you start to get that down, start learning the F again and it will be easier.
This is such a frequently asked question, I've written the following article on my website: The F Chord There's basically only 2 ways to play an F Chord: a) Barre Chord b) Hendrix Chord
BARRE CHORD The Barre chord is obviously the use of the index finger across the entire set of strings. The reason this is difficult is due to the tension of the string from the nut to the first fret... it's the hardest place of the fretboard.
- Play the E CHORD with your bottom three fingers of your fretting hand.
- Slide the E CHORD up the fretboard, one fret space up.
- Place your index finger across the first fret.
Some of the responses here state this as well.
HENDRIX CHORD Essentially, you are NOT playing a barre chod. You are using variations of the C Shape and using your thumb over the neck to fret the E Bass string (marked X). You are only using the index finger to fret 2 frets instead of the intire first fret.
Now some people advise correctly that you can try OTHER BARRE CHORDS to get used to the feeling. This is correct.
My first chord was actually a B minor. Again, same "technique"... B minor is really an A minor SHAPE played with the bottom three fingers and using the first/index finger as the barre. The tension on the 2nd fret strings is alot less than the 1st fret so it will definitely be EASIER to perform. In addition, your index finger gets used to the pain (killing a few nerve endings!) and you will be fine.
It took me 3 to 5 days just to hold the chord. But the ULTIMATE TRICK.... is to change from other chords into the BARRE CHORD.
So coming back to the F Chord, my guitar teacher introduced the F Chord as the Hendrix shape first before getting us to play the BARRE version after we had successfully played and practiced the B Minor and F# Minor.
Long term success with barre chords comes from repetition and proper form. Be sure your thumb is directly behind your barre finger when you form the chord. To make the repetition part more enjoyable by allowing for success as you build strength and refine your technique, you might consider some of the ideas below.
To make things easier (especially with the F Barre chord) as you build strength, try tuning the guitar a half or whole step flat which will reduce the string tension and make it easier to play barre chords. If you don't want to play your songs a step flat, then put a capo on the first or second fret (depending on if you are a half or whole step flat) and this will make it even easier to play a full six string F Barre chord because the fret becomes the nut and is much closer to the next fret than the nut is to the first fret.
Lighter gauge strings will make barre chords easier to play as will a proper set up on your guitar. The lower the action, the easier it will be to play barre chords.
If you try different guitars, you may find one that is much easier to play barre chords on. Of course an electric is easier to play than an acoustic where barre chords are concerned. But various acoustics have different construction characteristics which make them easier or harder to play barre chords.
The nut height makes a big difference when it comes to the relative ease of playing an F Barre Chord at the first fret. If you try this with a bunch of guitars at your local music store you will find differing degrees of tension required to cleanly fret an F Barre at the first fret.
If a new guitar is not in the cards, try lighter strings and de-tune half or whole step and use a capo. Soon you will be playing the F barre chord as easily as a G chord and you can gradually move to heavier strings and/or the tighter tension of standard tuning. The idea is to gradually build strength while successfully playing the chord - as opposed to grappling with the frustration of not being able to cleanly play the chord you are trying to play.
If you want fun with barre chords, try drop-d tuning. All that means is you drop the lowest pitch string (standard: E) to a (D).
Once you do that, the first 3 strings (played open) are DAD. If you strum the guitar open then, you get a power chord (A+D is a fifth and "sounds good" together).
Now move your finger up and down the neck. If you barre the 1st fret, and strum the first 3 strings, you are playing D#, A#, D#. That's another power chord!
Barre the 2nd fret, you're doing E, B, E, yet another power chord!
It turns out that anywhere you barre on the neck in drop-D tuning gives you a nice sounding power chord.
Playing around in this configuration is good to start with because you have nice sounding chords, and only need to use 1 finger to do your barre chord.
The easiest way to explore Barre chords is playing in an Alternate Tuning. There are many
Open tunings that you can use. This means when you strum all the strings
Open they make a chord. Thus any Barre across all the frets will be a chord as well.
There is also
Drop tunings, which make 3 or more of the Strings a chord when you Barre them all.
Drop Dis a popular one for Blues, Rock and Pop.
Drop Cis popular in all the Metal Genres.
One trick that will make your life easier is to place your barring finger in a way that your joints fall on a string. The fleshy parts of your finger are not your friends! Also try slightly rotating the finger to find the edge with less flesh on it. You will need way less pressure this way. It is true that you need to strengthen your fingers, but brute-force methods have the potential of causing serious injury. One very important thing I learned after many years of studying classical guitar is that if it hurts you are doing something wrong.
Careful positioning of your wrist and fingers (also the position of your thumb is very important) might drastically reduce the amount of pressure you need, and make sure you don't have your wrist too laid back. It should be in a position that allows you to use the strength of your arm to exert pressure and not only your fingers. Many rock and folk players tend to use their guitars too low (you can tell by the thumb almost being able to touch the fretboard), and this demands more effort from your fingers.
Another useful piece of advise is using lower tension strings while you are learning. Usually very thick metal strings in an acoustical guitar is asking for trouble, and among nylon strings there are usually low tension models. They don't usually sound as good but you can switch to higher tension when you master those strings.
There are already a whole load of answers but I thought I'd share some nice videos on the topic - and also to reiterate "everybody struggles with this!" There's no magic 'trick' to barre chords, you just have to practice both the technique and build up some strength. Just like you have to build up calluses on your fingertips over time, you have to build up muscle.
Anyway here's the best video lesson on barre chords I've come across from the ever-friendly Justin Sandercoe, full of technique tips and useful encouragement!
I noticed he also has an older mini-series just on the topic (I haven't watched these myself): http://www.justinguitar.com/en/CH-006-BasicBarres.php
However I wouldn't get too hung up on trying to find more and more videos... spend a few minutes solidly doing barre chords every single day and you will undoubtedly progress quickly. Dedication and stubbornness are important!
What kind of guitar? Playing an F chord is somewhat different on my classical (wider neck but with less string tension) vs my steel string (narrower neck, but much more string tension).
You might try changing to a lighter gauge of strings which would bend easier and hopefully make it easier to do the bar.
Have a think about which part of the F chord you're trying to get across. It may vary for different tunes. It'd be unusual to really need all strings, so concentrate on playing just the strings you need. Leaving the top 2 or bottom 2 out makes it a LOT easier. Leave top 2 out for a nice full strummy feel or leave bottom (thickest) two out for a more tinkly sound.
The ones you're not playing : damp them with a spare fold of finger flesh
If you really need all strings and are finding it difficult, two further ideas : 1) Bit brutal : Try playing a full F on a 12 string guitar (if you have access to one). It's nearly impossible ! but great exercise and your own guitar will feel like a doddle afterwards. Unless your own guitar is a 12 string, in which case.. er... ignore this.
2) Maybe the guitar's nut holds the strings a bit too high ? This isn't uncommon even on some posh guitars. It's just like the bridge really so as you play nearer to it, it gets difficult if the action is too high around there. If you think this is the case, maybe have it sorted so the nut is a little lower ?
you can normally do this yourself by filing the string grooves (take strings out of course) with a folded bit of fine sandpaper, but it's a disaster if you go too far so be very careful !
Play it as much as you can. Testing each string for a brilliant sound.
AND press your finger flat against the table during the day. It will strengthen your finger muscles.
Another tip to cheat barre while you are learning: use your thumb to hit the low string. So you don't need a barre. (only works for thin necked guitars).
I don't know what kind of musician you are, but here's a good way to learn barre chords if you're a songwriter!
When I wanted to learn barre chords, I wrote a song using a barred Gmajor Chord. I could have very easily gotten away with just using the standard Gmajor chord that everyone learns, but I thought that the barred chord had a better sound.
So to learn an Fmajor barred chord, simply keep on playing it. Don't stop until you've got it. Learn a song that uses it a lot, or write a song that relies on a bar chord. I don't know what kind of music you're into, but there are songs that mainly only use barre chords. The verse in"She's a Woman" by The Beatles uses 3 barre chords and is a good way to practice barred chords!
Honestly... It's probably been mentioned given there's so many responses here. But you've got to build finger strength. Start with an open bar without all the other notes and just play each string until you get a clear sound (It's gonna hurt). Than hold that for as long as you can, repeat a few times a day (It takes your muscles awhile to adjust, just like lifting weights). Eventually, add the other notes back in... repeat.
If you play Classical Guitar:
Try raising the footstand a click so your wrist can remain straight. Make sure your arm isn't on anything (like the arm of a chair). Barre Chords are essential. You can ignore the rest of this post.
If You Play on a Steel String Acoustic or Electric:
Assuming you play Rock, Blues, Metal or even Jazz (I am open to be corrected for Jazz), I'm going to say the unthinkable:
The best way to play Barre Chords on a steel string, is to not barre all the strings.
Unless you play in a Ramones cover band, They are an ergonomic nightmare on a steel string, requiring you to bend your wrist and use the strength each individual finger, as opposed to using the strength of the whole hand.
As a kid I was saving up for a guitar, so my friends dad gave me an classical acoustic which had no strings, I unwittingly put steel strings on it, and the action was so high and stiff, it was brutal. That's what I learned barre chords on, I suffered for them and you know what? I haven't played one on a stage since the 1990s.
Making you suffer in the same way isn't helping or teaching; its hazing.
Instead what I think you should learn is what I actually see and hear famous guitarists playing: four note open voiced chords. From my website:
Using the thumb for the root is optional, but it will allow you to do Hendrix style pinky embellishments.
And I am fully aware that the question was how to play them not how to replace them, but **I argue that these are the same thing as the standard 6th string root barre chords ** in Mel Bay etc., the only notes left out are duplicates, and the 4 notes that remain are identical to the barre chord voicing.
Using strength to overpower a steel string especially an acoustic one, leads to tension, and possible injury.