Teaching myself how to play guitar. unfortunately, that means I don't have hands on to help.

When I play chords that have all the strings fretted (like F major) it doesn't make a note, but more like I'm plucking on cheese wire. I've tried pushing harder or looser on the frets; as well as plucking harder or softer.

Am I doing something wrong or is there something wrong with the guitar (it's in no way new)

  • 3
    possible duplicate of Best method to learn to play barre chords?
    – amalgamate
    May 20, 2015 at 16:13
  • How long have you been playing for? Barre chords usually prove problematic in the early stages of guitar. If other chords that aren't barred sound fine, then you just need to find the right pressure to apply to the strings. Again, I'll reiterate that barre chords take a while for beginner guitarists to learn.
    – MrTheBard
    May 20, 2015 at 17:48
  • 1
    Practice makes perfect. I caution against trying to sound perfect every time you play a chord (as a beginner), because that can interfere with some of the training you are trying to give your fingers. Training your muscles to make the right movements and to feel comfortable with the less than comfortable task is more important. This is why teachers are still valid in this age of the internet. They can help you keep on the right path, despite not having immediate results. Getting this will take practice as @MrTheBand states.
    – amalgamate
    May 20, 2015 at 17:58

5 Answers 5


When you fret one string, and have your fretting finger just behind the fret it is easy to make the note ring out, as you are focusing pressure on that fingertip.

When you fret a barre chord, you need to be able to put that same amount of pressure on each string, in the same position, just behind the fret, and this is just difficult at first. It requires strength, control, and in some cases development of slight calluses or tougher skin. We have a range of questions here on barre chords and finger position (such as this one) , so have a look at them - they should help you immensely.


It all depends on holding your hand. I'd really suggest that you let someone show you how to hold a fretted chord. If you insist on trying for yourself, try the following:

  • move your index finger up or down until you dont have any strings in the gaps under your joints, where the pressure on the string is usually weakest.

  • move your finger to the fret, best the position just before it, where you dont have to apply that much pressure.

  • start in higher layers, like A (5th fret), where the strings dont need that much overall pressure at all.

  • check your ellbow, try different angles.

  • check your thumb! It should be opposite to the middle-finger.

  • check single strings after you aplied the chord to see wich one didnt get enough tension.

  • Your 1st point - not every string needs that - on F, 1st fret barre, only strings 6,1 and 2 need to be pressed effectively.
    – Tim
    May 20, 2015 at 11:53
  • 1
    To this good list I add the following, roll your barre finger (first) slightly towards your thumb for a better grip on the strings, and more flexible movement in our fingers.
    – amalgamate
    May 20, 2015 at 16:19
  • Also use your bicep to (help) pull down the strings.
    – amalgamate
    May 20, 2015 at 16:20

RHavin puts it well. I would add this: check your string guage and action too (the distance of the strings from the fretboard). Heavier strings require more effort so using a light string such as .011 can help. If the action is high it will need lowered. And yes, do practice higher up the neck.

Check your hand position is not too bent at the wrist. Keep micro-adjusting fingers and hand position until you get a clear sound for each note, paying attention to the way in which the strings rest on or in the bumps and grooves of your fretting finger.

Remember that you are training the muscles, nerves and brain to learn and remember which is best aided by slow, careful action. Lastly, you might feel a dull pain in the hand 'pincer' muscles that control the thumb/indexfinger, this tends to be a normal muscle cramp/spasm as the muscle complains about the workload! It's perfectly normal. However, if you feel pain in your wrist or forearm you're either overdoing it, the technique needs adjusted or string/action need sorted. Hope this helps.

Best of luck with the playing!



All the answers so far provide good advice.

I would like to emphasize that - while you are building up the needed finger and hand strength to cleanly fret a 5 or 6 string barre chord, it will make it easier and less stressful on your developing muscles if you have a guitar that is optimized for easier playing.

Not all guitars are created equal. But all guitars have certain parameters that can be changed and optimized for easier playing. Let's look at a few of the things that can be adjusted.

  1. String gauge. The lighter the strings, the easier it will be to play barre chords. As you develop more strength, you can graduate to a heavier gauge - which will give you more volume from an acoustic guitar. You might consider extra light or super light gauge until you begin to develop the ability to play barre chords better. Here is an article with more detail on string selection Best strings to get

  2. Action. The action is the distance from the strings to the frets. The lower the action, the easier it is to play barre chords in particular. An action that is too low however, will allow the vibrating strings to contact the frets - resulting in fret buzz.

There are actually several ways to adjust the action. The first thing you will want to do is check the relief in the neck. You should have a slight concave curve (farther away from the frets in the center of the neck than at the ends of the neck) or at the most a flat neck. The amount of the curve or relief is controlled by the truss rod (found on most steel string acoustic and electric guitars). If you switch to lighter strings there will be less string tension exerted upon the neck and therefore less relief. Sometimes switching to lighter strings will necessitate loosening the truss rod to allow the strings to cause a slight concave bow in the neck to prevent fret buzz. You do not want a back bow. For more detailed information on how to adjust the relief with the truss rod see this Set up your guitar and adjusting truss rod on Stack Exchange.

Another way to adjust the action (string height) is to lower the bridge or saddle. The saddle is what the strings rest on at the bridge. Many electric and a few acoustic guitars have adjustable bridges. The saddle height on most acoustic guitars must be adjusted by carefully sanding the bottom of the saddle to lower the height. This should be done by an experienced guitar tech.

Another way to adjust the action is by changing the height of the strings at the nut. The nut is where the strings rest near the head stock. A nut that is too high will make the F major chord particularly difficult. Adjusting the nut is another job for an experienced guitar tech. It can be done by replacing the nut with a shorter nut, filing the back of the nut, or deepening the slots.

Finally, some guitars are just made in a way that makes them easier to play. Often, the quality (or fit) of the guitar that a new guitar student uses as they learn to play - can determine the likelihood the student will succeed in getting past the initial pain and frustration inherent in learning guitar. If after optimizing the action for your guitar, it is still difficult to play, you might consider shopping for a guitar that is easier for you to play. This means going to places that sell many guitars and trying out all of the ones that are in your budget.

Everyone experiences the same difficulty that you are discovering when they first learn barre chords. It will take some time and a dedicated effort to build the strength you need to make them sound out. Meanwhile, the suggestions above should help minimize the stress and make learning barre chords less frustrating. The rewards you will reap after the initial pain and suffering will pay dividends for a lifetime. It may take longer than you might like - but you WILL get it. So hang in there and don't give up! Good luck.


It's very hard to tell without being there, seeing how your hand is positioned and hearing the sound.

When I was learning, barre chords (those where you need to fret more than one string with one finger) were always the most difficult. Unless you can press firmly with the full length of your finger then some strings will sound deadened. This comes with practise, but you can strengthen that first finger over time. Try holding that chord for a while and trying each individual string, make sure it rings out before moving to the next one.

It's unlikely to be a problem with the guitar itself, if those notes ring out when you just fret the one string, then they would as part of a barre chord.

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