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Lesson 23 - Barre Chords

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Previous page: Lesson 22 - Technique from Hell Next page: Lesson 24 - The Minor Scale

Lessons of The Week was a series of guitar lessons circulated in "News", in the pre-web days of the Internet. 29 lessons were written before it died out, and I happende to write the first three. They represent a little bit of internet history, as they may have been the first guitar lessons written for the internet.

The lessons were all written in txt format - they were written around the same time as Tim Berners Lee were sitting in Switzerland specifing the first version of html. I have converted them to html, and may have added a few links from the lessons.

Lesson: 23
Title: Barre Chords
Level: Beginner (Advanced) / Intermediate
Style: Technique - Barre Chords
Instructor: Denny Straussfogel

For those guitarists that have been stuck playing "easy guitar" versions of songs or not playing certain songs at all I guarantee that learning barre chords will be the single biggest leap you will ever make in playing ability, and it's no where near as difficult as some folks think. (I'm REALLY not overstating this! By learning a few basic forms, you'll be able to play any song in any key. So when you see all those C#m7, you'll think "no problem" rather than "I can't play that.")

The key to playing barre chords is developing the ability to "barre" (fret) all six strings of the guitar with your index finger. Of course, you have to do this "cleanly" and get a good tone out of all six strings. I suggest you start by holding the guitar in the "classical" position with the body of the guitar on the LEFT knee (I'll assume you're playing a right-handed guitar) and the neck held up at a 45 degree angle. This puts your left hand in a much better position for everything. (You'll be amazed at how much more speed and "reach" you'll have and you can always return to playing with the guitar in some old familiar position once you've mastered this technique.) Since everyone's index finger is shaped a little differently, you may have to experiment a little to get a good tone. Usually contact is made towards the side of the index finger rather than right on the flat part. You have to have your thumb pushing against the back of the neck, not wrapped around it. Just pinch the neck between thumb and index finger, with your finger covering all six strings (at the fret of your choice) and work until you get a passable tone from all the strings. This might not happen all at once; you need to build up a little strength, and toughness on your finger. (I've never developed a callous there, as on the fingertips, but it has gotten a little tougher.) Anyway, this is usually the most frustrating part of learning barre chords. Don't give up if it doesn't sound great at first, it will with practice.

Now to the chord forms. The only theory you need to know is that the frets on a guitar are analogous to the keys on a piano. Since you'll be fretting all six strings you can move the entire chord for an F chord up one fret and you'll be playing an F# chord. One more fret and you'll be playing a G chord, one more a G# chord, and so on until you run out of fretboard. So you can see, by learning a single form, you can play as many chords as you have frets. There are two basic forms, and they can be converted into minors and/or sevenths by simply raising a finger. One form requires a finger rearrangement to do the minor, so you could call it a different form. Okay, so there are three forms. By learning these three forms, you can play any, yes ANY major chord, seventh chord, minor chord, or minor seventh chord. (B-flat minor seventh? No problem!) Major sevenths and major ninths are easy too once you get the barring down. So here are the forms. Let's barre the 3rd fret and look at the form for a G chord there ("i" indicates fretting with index finger, "m" with middle finger, "r" with ring finger, and "p" with pinky. This might be an unusual diagram format, but it's what you see when looking over the top of the neck)

e||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
B||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
G||---|---|-i-|-m-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---        G chord 
D||---|---|-i-|---|-p-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
A||---|---|-i-|---|-r-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
E||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---

to form a seventh, simply lift your pinky

e||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
B||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
G||---|---|-i-|-m-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---        G7 chord 
D||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
A||---|---|-i-|---|-r-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
E||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---

to form the minor, put back your pinky, and lift your middle finger (You can use your middle finger to help with the barre until your strength increases.)

e||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|--- B||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|--- G||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|--- Gm chord D||---|---|-i-|---|-p-|---|---|---|---|---|---|--- A||---|---|-i-|---|-r-|---|---|---|---|---|---|--- E||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---

to get a minor seventh, raise both middle and pinky fingers

e||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
B||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
G||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---        Gm7  chord
D||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
A||---|---|-i-|---|-r-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
E||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---

Now remember the utility in this is that if you slide everything up one fret you'll be playing a G#, G#7, G#m, and G#m7, respectively. Slide up another fret and you've got A, A7, Am, and Am7, and so on right up the fret board. In the opposite direction if you slide everything down one fret from the "G" position, you'll have F#, F#7, F#m, and F#m7. One more, fret down and you'll have something that should be somewhat familiar, at least on the four high strings, an F, F7, Fm, and Fm7. Actually, if you slide one more fret down, using the nut of the guitar as your barre, you're back to an E, E7, Em, and Em7, which you probably already know, using different fingers.

Okay, now the second form. Again, barre the 3rd fret and a C chord is played as

e||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
B||---|---|-i-|---|-p-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
G||---|---|-i-|---|-r-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---        C chord
D||---|---|-i-|---|-m-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
A||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
E||---|---|-x-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---

to get the seventh, raise you ring finger

e||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
B||---|---|-i-|---|-p-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
G||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---        C7 chord
D||---|---|-i-|---|-m-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
A||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
E||---|---|-x-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---

[Ed. Note: The sixth string (E) is not fretted or played. The fifth string (A) is the root note of the chord.]

The minor is the same basic form with the second string dropped a fret, but the fingering needs to be rearranged, hence, a third form which is really an extension of the second. Also, you'll notice this is similar to the "G" form given above, with the fingers all moved up a string.

e||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
B||---|---|-i-|-m-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
G||---|---|-i-|---|-p-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---        Cm chord
D||---|---|-i-|---|-r-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
A||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
E||---|---|-x-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---

and the minor seventh by raising your pinky

e||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
B||---|---|-i-|-m-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
G||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---        Cm7 chord
D||---|---|-i-|---|-r-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
A||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
E||---|---|-x-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---

And finally, major seventh, and major ninths played out of this form as

e||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
B||---|---|-i-|---|-p-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
G||---|---|-i-|-m-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---        Cmaj7 chord
D||---|---|-i-|---|-r-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
A||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
E||---|---|-x-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
e||---|---|-i-|---|-p-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
B||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
G||---|---|-i-|-m-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---        Cmaj9 chord
D||---|---|-i-|---|-r-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
A||---|---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
E||---|---|-x-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---

As in the first form, by moving the whole thing up or down the fretboard you can play as many different chords as you have frets.

One last word. Persevere. It may be a little frustrating at first, but if you force yourself to practice and play using the barre chords, your strength will increase, your hand will stop cramping, and you'll be able to play all songs in the book. Good luck.

Denny Straussfogel

Postscript for the adventurous:

To play a ninth chord (not a major ninth, just a ninth) you need to barre the three high strings with your RING finger. These chords are found in a lot of mellow jazz pieces. The form for a C9 is

e||---|---|-r-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
B||---|---|-r-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
G||---|---|-r-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---        C9 chord
D||---|-i-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
A||---|---|-m-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---
E||---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---

The first (bass) string is muted (not played). As usual, move it up or down the fret board and you've got any ninth you want.

Previous page: Previous page: Lesson 22 - Technique from HellNext page: Lesson 24 - The Minor Scale Next page:

Previous page: Next page:
Previous page: Lesson 22 - Technique from Hell Next page: Lesson 24 - The Minor Scale