I'm a bass player, and I just started to learn to play guitar.

I decided to learn barre chords because I find it the most intuitive. However, I have a few problems with holding the chords.

First problem is that my 2nd and/or 3rd finger goes over the D strings, unintentionally muting it.

I try solving it by bending my 2nd and 3rd fingers more and pressing harder. But this causes my first finger to bend and I can't press down on the strings.

I can't seem to play without some form of muting or buzzing.

I also do not know where to position my thumb. Some player seem to hold their thumb almost parallel to the neck, while some hold it perpendicular.

Any advice will be helpful. Thanks.

  • Which barre shapes in particular? There are several, and it's not clear from the wording.
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 7:34
  • 1
    I would learn open chords first and just work on F until you have it, THEN move on. Starting with barre chords seems like a bad move.
    – user42882
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 19:09
  • I hold my thumb between where I barre the chord and the other fingers.
    – user30646
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 22:55
  • There is a ton of coverage for this on YouTube, which has the advantage of visual communication. Ben Eller's style may or may not be to your liking, but he has a lot of goodness on hand positioning and such: youtube.com/watch?v=DrlF4Tc8qC8 . Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 18:36

2 Answers 2


You're not being overly specific (could you perhaps post a photo of your left hand in some of the problematic fingerings, preferably as viwed from the top? That could make it easy for others to point out what's wrong.), so I can just give some general advice:

  1. I think that starting with barre's is a poor idea. Try to get the left-hand position right on some simple 2- or 3-finger shapes with lots of empty strings. It's possible even to accompany a whole lot of songs with them (since all songs are in fact Pachelbel's canon in D :—)).
  2. (The main thing:) Whenever you put any left hand fingers onto the strings, they should be always perpendicular* to the neck. All of them. You seem to be having problems with this one, and it's definitely far easier to get this sorted out on the easy chords.
  3. If you, by any chance, have nails on the left hand, this is the time to get rid of them (except for thumb, the thumbnail can remain however long you want), because, of course, your fingers won't be perpendicular to the neck if the nails are in the way.
  4. Maybe the muting and buzzing you describe is caused by your index finger not pressing hard enough? (See 1, please take the time to sort out the issues one by one! It's far easier and less frustrating than trying to tackle them all at once. Barre's are a big chapter all for themselves, and not an easy one.)

*: As correctly pointed out in a comment, horizontal slanting of fingers is harmless and often done. What makes the buzzes and mutes is vertical slanting, which should be avoided.

  • Fretting fingers do need to be close to "perpendicular" to the fingerboard on the floor to ceiling axis. But in most chord formations some fingers will slant towards the headstock. It's the slanting towards the floor that causes muting. The fingernail trim is a good point. Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 16:30
  • 1
    @RockinCowboy — That is certainly true, thanks for pointing it out. I must admit that the "left hand fingers always perpendicular" is something like a classical guitar mantra which I just repeated verbatim :—).
    – Ramillies
    Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 18:49
  • In getting fingers 'perpendicular to the fingerboard', there's a great tendency to move the whole hand out, thus putting the thumb is a not so good position. Just checked my fingers, and for most chords, they're not far off 45 degrees - nowhere near perpendicular! Except for the barring finger, which I can't get anything other than flattish!
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 13:05
  • @Tim — I guess it's different for everybody. I just checked too, and my fingers are indeed quite perpendicular to the neck most of the time, let's say > 80 °. No problems with thumb position though. And the barring finger is an obvious exception :—). I think that the rule can help you out in the start even if you drop it later on.
    – Ramillies
    Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 19:26

Many beginning players find barre chords difficult to play cleanly in the beginning. You must build enough grip strength to cleanly fret all of the barred chords.

It also helps to have a properly set up guitar with lower action and lighter strings.

Depending on the anatomy and length of your fingers, you must discover the optimal way to position your barring finger for each type barre chord.

I play some barre chord formations with my thumb perpendicular to the neck while others require me to place my thumb closer to parallel to the neck. With my short fingers, I must rotate my wrist towards the headstock such that the outside edge of my fretting finger is contacting the strings and my thumb is slanted as well.

Any chord formation that is played in open position can also be played as a barre chord. Barre chords are basically open chord formations using the barre finger like a capo to change the pitch of the chord. The most common barre chords are the "A shaped" and "E shaped" barre chords. I would strive to learn those first. Between those two chords you can cover the entire range of chords from A to G.

I find the E shaped barre chord the easiest to play. When I play it my thumb is pointing towards the headstock more than towards the ceiling (parallel to neck).

To play the A shaped Barre chord you must form a "mini barre" with your middle finger to fret the d, g and b string. To Play a B chord or B flat chord, you will use the A shaped barre chord if you are playing in first position. When I play an A shaped major barre chord, my thumb is pointed towards the ceiling (perpendicular).

There are some excellent answers to describe effective ways to form the "A Shaped" Barre Chord under This Question

After you master the basic E and A shaped barre chord formations you can try the "C Shape" and the "D shape". The A and C and D shape involve playing only 4 or 5 strings - just like the corresponding open chord. If you find it easier - you can extend the barre finger all the way to the top of the fingerboard, but only strum the appropriate strings or slightly lift the barre finger so that the low E is muted if it is not a part of the chord.

You will find that playing a D shaped chord as a barre will end up being a 4 string version of the C shaped barre chord for the same chord. For example if you play an F major by barring the 5th fret and playing a C shape with the non barring fingers the top four strings (e,b,g and d) are fretted in the same place (but with different fingers) as if you play an F major by barring the 3rd fret and playing a D shape with the non barring fingers. The version that you use might depend on what you intend to do either immediately before or after playing the chord. Often the transition works better with one version or the other.

Barre chords are very useful for guitar players and it's worth putting in the practice time and strength building exercises to be able to effectively play at least the E and A shaped versions. Keep working at it and you will find what works effectively for you.

  • Disagree with 'grip strength'. When one can play barre chords properly, one doesn't even need to have the thumb touching behind the neck - try it. Pulling in with the fretting arm, against the other upper arm on the guitar body is better. Squeezing the neck isn't necessary for any chord, once the fingers are in the correct position. And, don't forget the lovely sounding G shape barre chord.
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 13:19
  • @Tim - Yes I've heard the argument that you don't need grip strength and I've tried the opposing force see saw guitar trick. I know in the beginning for me it seemed that I just couldn't get the strings pushed down and it seemed that after gaining some grip strength I had an easier time. But I will allow that it was better technique and not greater strength that contributed to my eventual success with barre chords. So I edited my answer in case improvement in technique was the real reason my barre chords improved with practice. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 1:43
  • @Tim I left out G shaped Barre chord because I can't stretch far enough to play a barre on one fret and fret the other notes three frets over. I like the A shape and E shape because it's the barre finger and the adjoining two frets (if you count Am and A7 shape). I can't skip over two full frets from the barre finger to play a G shape as a barre chord (even if I only fret the high and low e in addition to the barre). Most folks I know can't either. I am not sure I have noticed anyone use a G shape as part of a Barre Chord. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 1:50
  • I don't use it much below playing Bb (3rd fret barre), but it's easier towards the dusty end. It's a much more pleasant sound, with a 6th between the top two strings. I can barely stretch an octave on piano, so my fingers are probably not far short of yours, so to speak...
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 7:30
  • @Tim Just tried the Bb 3rd fret barre G Shape and it does sound nice. Definitely different than the 1st fret A shaped Bb barre. It's quite stressful for me to stretch that far though. I need to go take an ibuprofen now - I think I pulled a muscle in my fretting hand. Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 6:02

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