The Trick To Perfect Barre Chords

Weekly Newsletter #51

July 28, 2022

How long can you hold a barre chord? 

Does your hand begin to hurt if you’re holding that barre too long? 

Is each note crystal clear when holding that barre chord? 

Learning how to play barre chords can be a huge challenge for all guitarists. It definitely was for me when I was learning how to play them. 

As a teenager, it was such a problem area for me that I thought I’d never be able to do it. 

It turns out that I was doing it wrong the whole time, and once I changed my technique the door to barre chords opened up for me. 

If you’re having trouble playing consistent barre chords, there’s a good chance you’re technique is off. The great news is that you can fix it with one small adjustment. 

Analyze Your Barre Chords 

We all know the feeling of sucking at guitar; it’s part of the process of improvement. However, not getting a consistently good barre chord can be one of the most infuriating parts of learning this instrument. 

There are hundreds, if not thousands of songs that require barre chords, so there is no way around learning them. If you want to play, it’s just something you’re going to have to get good at. 

The reason most people have problems playing barre chords is that they’re using the wrong technique. 

Take a look at how you make a G major barre chord. 

Most likely your thumb is directly behind your index finger and you’re using a pinching motion to make that barre with your index finger. Right? 

If you make a minor barre chord, there’s a good chance you’re using your free middle finger to help push down the index finger barre. 

If you can make a barre chord, does each string ring clearly? Or do you get dead notes somewhere within all six strings? 

If these apply to you, then sorry, but you’ve got bad barre technique. 

Not to worry, you’ll have it fixed in the next 10 minutes! 

But first, why is your technique bad? 

Why Do Your Barre Chords Suck? 

Well for starters, you’re using a ton of muscle energy if you’re “pinching” your index and thumb in order to make the barre. 

This is the main reason you have a hard time playing barre chords consistently; and especially why you can’t play them for a long period of time. 

When you pinch your index and thumb together your index finger ends up laying flat across all six strings. 

The palm-side of your index finger is soft and fleshy, and when this is the part that makes contact with the strings, that soft flesh wraps around the strings and smothers some of them, creating dead notes. 

If you can pinch hard enough maybe you can get those dead notes to go away, but now you’re using so much muscle energy that you’ll never be able to sustain that chord long enough to play a whole song. 

Pros don’t do that. If you watch professionals play, we look fairly effortless while playing. It’s because we are using something other than brute strength to fret notes. 

This is especially true of barre chords. 

Instead of muscle energy and strength, we’re using leverage. 

Fixing Your Barre Chords 

Leverage is the key to making things easy on guitar. 

Instead of trying to build up finger strength or hand muscles, using leverage allows you to use minimal effort. 

Let’s look at your barre chord again. 

Your thumb is behind your index finger, creating that “pinch” we talked about. 

If you slide your thumb toward the body of the guitar while keeping the chord in place you’ll notice that your forearm and hand begin to rotate. 

For an example of this technique and a VIDEO on how to fix your barre chords, click here. 

Instead of pinching and using a ton of muscle energy (which will prevent you from playing an entire song comfortably), use the leverage that comes from your thumb being positioned farther towards the body. 

Moving your thumb in this direction even slightly forces your forearm to rotate and pushes your index finger into the fretboard. 

This rotation can be very slight, but enough of it will basically do all the hard work of pressing down the strings so that you can stay relaxed and play easily. 

There is an added benefit to this method as well. 

When pinching, you use the soft palm-side pads of your index finger to fret the strings. This allows the soft flesh to wrap around some of the strings rather than press them down into the fretwire. 

This is a cause for many of the dead notes and incomplete barre chords players end up getting. 

By rotating from the forearm, as a result of moving your thumb towards the body, your index finger naturally moves to a more side-facing position. 

The thumb side of your index is much harder and won’t smother the strings the way the pad of your finger will. It will function much more like a capo, with the hard side of the finger easily fretting all six strings. 

If you’re having trouble getting great sounding barre chords that are easy and comfortable to play, simply make this small adjustment in your thumb position and you’ll notice a world of difference. 

It will improve your consistency, tone and comfort level so you can enjoy playing those songs that might be giving you trouble. 

-Max Rich

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