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I'm a guitar beginner who knows the basic, non-barre chords and is now learning some barre chords.

I've noticed that, usually, barre chord shapes are just like non-barre chords but shifted. For example, the B major chord is exactly the same as A major chord shifted by 2 frets (+ using the index finger for barre).

The thing is, I've learned to play the A major chord using my 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers to push the three strings needed:

A major chords

While the B major chord has a barre so I need to push the three strings using my 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers.

B

Now I begin to wonder: should I try to get my fingers used to the barre chords by avoiding use of the index finger for non-barre chords, so for example doing the A major chord using my 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers instead?

A major using fingers 2, 3 & 4

Would doing that facilitate switching from chords like A major to B major, E major to F major, C major to C# major, and so on...?

9

There is (and should be) no general rule. Try several fingerings for each chord, and see what works best for any specific situation / chord progression. Most advanced guitar players use several fingerings for the same chord shape, depending on the situation. It's good to have a choice.

Two more specific suggestions related to your question:

  1. also try to play the open A chord barring your first finger on the d, g, and b-strings. Note that you can mute the high e string, no need to let it ring open because you already play the note e on the d-string.

  2. try to play shifted versions of the open A chord (barre versions) using that same idea: first finger on the A string (no barre), and third (or fourth) finger barring the d, g, and b-strings. This makes it a lot easier to quickly shift between different chords of that shape. The 4-finger version shown in your question is almost impossible to play in higher positions (the limit obviously depends on the size of your fingers).

  • While one is learning to successfully mute certain strings for your suggestion, wouldn't it be more productive to learn to play full barre chords? – Tim Jun 24 '18 at 12:36
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    @Tim: By "full barre" you mean the one shown in the OP (A shape barre with 4 fingers)? – Matt L. Jun 24 '18 at 12:37
  • Yes, pressing down 5 (or in my case, usually 6) strings, instead of the suggestion to mute all but the three on 2,3 and 4. – Tim Jun 24 '18 at 12:45
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    @Tim: My suggestions was actually to play 4 strings: A to b (index on A and third finger on d,g,b); in that way you play a full barre chord, which is very useful in practice. Of course it also makes sense to learn the 5-string version (with 4 fingers), but I personally think that the other one is more practical, especially in the higher positions. – Matt L. Jun 24 '18 at 13:03
  • Yes, have to say, up to about frets5/6, it's either two/three fingers on 2,3,4, after which it's a two finger barre for me, one for 6,5,1, the other for 2,3,4. Mainly, as you say, lack of space. – Tim Jun 24 '18 at 13:07
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It's a cunning idea, and will, to a degree, work quite well. One of the main considerations is where you came from, and where you're going next. That's actually one of the main considerations for all chord fingering.

If you were playing the Spanish sequence in Dm, then you may well start with an Am shape on 5th fret barred, go down to C, A shape barred on 3rd fret, down to Bb on 1st fret, and keep middle, ring and pinky on strings 4,3 and 2 for an open A.

However, if your open A chord was sandwiched between say E and D, then a better fingering would work. I would still play A like that after an E. Mainly because middle and ring fingers can move across a string each, and pinky goes on 2nd string, 2nd fret.

Moving on to the E shape, which I usually play with middle, ring and index. I do that for a couple of good reasons. If B7 follows, my middle stays where it is. If A follows, see previous para.

C shape also gets barred, but because of the previous and next chords' likelihood of being F or G, with open type chords (how can F be open?!) then I'd use pinky on 5, ring on 6, middle on 4, index on 2.That's not transferrable as index is already occupied, so needing to put index as the barre finger means everything has to be swapped round.

Same idea happens with an open G shape, which lends itself nicely to moving up and being barred.

EDIT: as an aside, people with larger fingers find A easier using middle, ring and pinky, as they take up less room than the first pictured version. it's also easier then to get to open E. Give it a try.

3

Yes, and you should also learn the same chords using your first finger.

As you say, there may be times you want to switch quickly between a barre chord and an open chord of the same shape. In those cases, it is helpful to play the open chord without using your first finger.

But there are also cases where you will want to play two chords close together where using your first finger will make it easier to change quickly. So you will want to know how to finger the same chord using your first finger.

So you should learn it both ways.

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Both of your A chord forms are legitimate. It is good that you see the pattern between barre chords and open string chords.

Some guitarists prefer to play the open string chords using the barre chord fingering with the index finger behind the nut. But this is not a rule of any sort, just a preference. It may interest you to know that many guitarists play the open string A chord with an index finger barre on the second fret (D, G, B, E) strings, plucking or picking only the middle four strings. Plucking the barred high e string would create an A6 chord, and your other fingers are free to create A7, A maj7 etc.

For more advanced guitarists the choice of fingering would be driven by the context, e.g. what chords come before or after the particular chord in question. So both methods of fingering are valid and worth practicing.

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I'm trying to think of a barre chord that ISN'T "just like non-barre chords but shifted"!

"Would doing that facilitate switching from chords like A major to B major, E major to F major, C major to C# major, and so on...?"

Yes, it would. But there are other chords that it WOULDN'T facilitate. Choose your shapes according to context - according to what comes before and after.

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For some chords, it can be very convenient to have the index finger available.

I learned to play the open G chord with the 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers:

enter image description here

and the G7 chord with the same fingers:

enter image description here

If you want to switch from one chord to the other, you have to twist your hand fast and move 3 fingers.

But if you play the open G chord this way:

enter image description here

All you have to do is lift your pinky to switch from G to G7.

Here's the motion on video (not mine).

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    A similar situation arises with D and D7. It can be an easy change if you use the pinky to fret the B string on the D chord, and the index finger to fret that string on the D7. – supercat Jun 25 '18 at 22:27
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    I don't use Standard tuning much, since when I was starting guitar I found it frustrating and decided to invent a tuning that would make chords more convenient, and even though I've subsequently learned Standard, I still like Flat Finger Tuning better. On the other hand, I find it curious that materials teaching Standard Tuning so often suggest chord fingerings that don't transition at all smoothly. Even using better fingerings, Standard tuning doesn't support many transitions that are as easy as those in Flat Finger, but that's no reason to use clumsy fingerings. – supercat Jun 26 '18 at 14:43

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