How To Play Bar Chords

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Learn To Play Bar Chords on Guitar!

Bar Chords Guitar LessonBar Chords! This is a topic that beginners fear and experienced players can’t do without. If you are a beginner you might be intimidated by bar chords because they require a lot of strength in your left hand. Don’t worry, we will get you up to speed. First, we will help you build your strength by teaching you a simple exercise for your index finger on your left hand. Once you learn how to get your hand in shape, we will learn two bar chord shapes that you will use all of the time. Finally, we will make some real music by taking these two bar chord shapes and applying them to a simple chord progression.

Let’s start by learning an exercise to strengthen our index finger on our left hand. Take your index finger and lay it across all six strings on the 1st fret. Push down until all six strings are down all the way to the first fret. Make sure that your finger (bar) is right behind the fret or as close as you can get it. This will help you to get a clear sound. Now strum all six strings. Every note should be clean and clear with no buzzing. If your are having trouble pushing down hard enough you can lay your second finger on top of your first finger to help push. Once you have your bar in place, take it completely off and move up one fret. Do the exact same thing with your index finger on the second fret. Take that bar off and move to the third fret. You can repeat this guitar exercise all the way up and back down the fretboard. After a few days or weeks of this, you will have enough strength in your left hand to make some really great sounding bar chords.

The most common bar chord shapes that you will probably see on the guitar are the E and A shapes. If you know your open E and A chords you already know how to make your E and A bar chords. Make a regular open E chord. Now, instead of making this shape with your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fingers, try making it with your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers. Your 3rd finger should be on the 2nd fret of the A string. Your 4th finger should be on the 2nd fret of the D string and your 2nd finger should be on the 1st fret of your G string. Move that entire shape up one fret. Now your 3rd finger should be on the 3rd fret of the A string. Your 4th finger should be on the 3rd fret of your D string and your 2nd finger should be on the 2nd fret of your G string. Now lay your index finger down across all six strings on the 1st fret and push. Give all six strings a strum. This is a F bar chord using the E shape. If you just made your first bar chord, congratulations!

Now we are going to take our open A chord and use it in the same way that we just used our open E chord. Make an open A chord, but instead of using your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fingers, try using your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers. Your 2nd finger should be on the 2nd fret of the D string. Your third finger should be on the 2nd fret of the G string and our 4th finger should be on the 2nd fret of the B string. Now move that shape up one fret just like you did with the E chord shape. Drop your bar down on the 1st fret across all of the strings, except for the low E string. Now, give all five strings a strum. That is a B flat bar chord using the A shape.

Something that is really great about bar chords is that they are “movable.” That means you can move these shapes anywhere on the fretboard and they will work! You just learned only two chord shapes, but you can use these two shapes anywhere on the guitar to make a ton of useful chords. When moved, the name of the shape stays the same but the actual name of the chord changes. For example, you could be using an E shape bar chord but if you place your bar on the 3rd fret and play the shape there it is actually a G chord. Don’t worry about this too much right now, just experiment with these two shapes, move them all around, and use them in your music.

So, now that we know these 2 shapes, lets use them to play a G, C, and D chord progression. Take you 1st finger and make your bar across all 6 strings on the 3rd fret of your guitar. Now make the E chord shape with your other fingers. This is a G bar chord using the E shape. You can tell this because the lowest note that you are playing is a G on the 6th string. Keep your bar on the 3rd fret, but leave out the low E string. Just bar the first five strings. Now, make an A shape on the 5th fret with your other fingers. This is a C bar chord using the A shape. You can tell this because the lowest note that you are playing is a C on the 3rd fret of the 5th string. Take this C bar chord that you just played and slide it up 2 frets. If you have done this properly your bar should be on the 5th fret and your A chord shape should be on the 7th fret. This is a D bar chord using the same A shape. Great! You just played a G, C, and D chord using bar chords. These chords are great substitutions for open chords. Experiment with them and start using them in your playing.

Learn more guitar chords using the ‘Guitar Chord’ section of GuitarLessons.com!

This Lesson Has 29 Comments

  • tom berry says:

    hey Nate. if you remember last time i wrote you i told you i was in a wheelchair and was having trouble with my posture. you suggested i use my strap and get it real tight. well that helped some but i am still having problems.i thought maybe you know somebody in a wheelchair or you could talk to somebody and see if they have any tips. i really,really want to learn how to play. thanks for all your help, tom

  • Nate Savage says:

    Hmmm. . . I don’t know anyone that is both in a wheel chair and plays guitar. One thing that I did think about was the body style of your guitar. Certain body styles are smaller than others. What kind of guitar do you play? If you had a guitar with a smaller body style it might be easier to hold/strap on the guitar! Travel guitars have very small bodies, that might work very well for you.

    Anyone else out there have any suggestions for Tom’s situation?

  • joshua seymour says:

    Hey tom my friend paul has muscular distrophy and he has the same problem. He uses a strap and also he sits on a high stool. He doesn’t have the strength to stand but when he locks his knees and scoots to the edge of the stool. Its a bit of a balenceing act but in 6yrs he’s never taken a tumble. It almost like he uses his stoll to prop him up. Height seems to be the key. Get your legs as perpendicular to the ground as you can and good luck dude.

  • Shay says:

    Hi Nate!
    Just to ask you HOW DOU YOU PLAY THOSE BAR CHORDS SOO NATURALLY?
    Lol
    Shay.

  • prantik nath says:

    its like nate is not putting his index finger on all srings, his index finger is curved!!! why man??

  • Shay says:

    That’s it!!!I finally found the trick!!!You have to turn your index figer sideway instead of pressing it flat!!!!Thanks for your videos,I can now play BAR CHORDS YAYYY!!!
    Shay.

  • frank says:

    Heres a silly question. Does this lesson apply only to the electric guitar or can bar and power chords be played on the acoustic? Im learning on the acoustic. Just got through the beginner quick start series. Excellent work Nate!!

  • Dennis Ang says:

    Once again Nate thank you for your effort I know you want to share your talent and many person will learn from you and I’am one of them…I want to learn more so that i could play well in our church this for the glory of God who gave us this talent..I hope you can email me a guitar chords.God bless you and to your companions.

  • Benjamin says:

    Yes Frank, bar chords and power chords can be played on the acoustic guitar. You do not see a lot of power chords on acoustic just because they sound much better on an electric. Hope this helps.

    • frank says:

      Thanks Benjamin. I kinda left power chords for a while and had a look at scales. Guess i better start practicing them. thanks again

  • Trebob Eekram says:

    Don’t hesitant to “improvise”. My hands are so small, that I can’t put fingers 2,3,4 a whole step up while using finger 1 to bar. I have learned to use finger 3 to bar a whole step up from the 1st finger bar, while not not playing the 6th(high E) string. Not perfect, but gets the job done. Nate is so much better than Jamie Andrias.

  • Adrianna says:

    Dear Nate,
    Im 12 years old and my fingers arent big enough to be playing a bar chord. I am also wondering if you have any other exersise ideas for me to try on my left hand. Im able to use my thumb to play all 6 strings but the rest of my fingers arent strong enough. Can I use my thumb instead?
    Sincerely,
    Adrianna Marchese
    P.S- Im a huge Green Day fan- can you tell me what power chords are used in Basket Case? Thank You

  • David says:

    Hi Nate
    I can make the A shape without the bar – but as you move up the neck the frets are closer and I can’t squish my fingers in to hold my fingers down on the chord. Is there a trick to this?

    • Gitara says:

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  • residentsads says:

    thank you

  • Craig says:

    In regards to Tom berrys comment and Nates comment for a smaller guitar there is a mini Maton which is an excellent Australian guitar. It comes in 6 And 12 strings. I would loveto have a go at. He 12 but have the 6. It is a unique and incredible sound that I heard was created for Diesel and have seen the Brewster brothers who are The Angels without Doc. Both are amazing and it is mid range in price. I think I paid approx 800 new Aussie dollars
    I am a mid range guitar player and thank you for the tips it’s improving my chords with the tips on strength work

  • [...] the FChord:( Extremely hard! Well, no pain no gain. Gonna go practise some more. Bar chord lesson(http://www.guitarlessons.com/guitar-lessons/guitar-chords/how-to-play-bar-chords/) Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Tags: bar chord, [...]

  • monique says:

    hi i am monique and i am 11 years old and these chords are comming out perfectly when i play them so i wanted to say thanks

  • ebube says:

    thanks soooooo much!!!!!!!! I mean I’ve been having lessons for a year and dont get me wrong I have an awsome teacher, but I’ve been finding it hard to do bar chords so I’ve put it off for a while and stuck with the easy stuff. But you just gave a an easier way of getting it. AHHHHH!! I CAN PLAY BAR CHORDS NOW!!

  • Megan says:

    Hey Nate, I can’t get these bar chords down. I’m trying to do F# minor to play Hey There Delilah and when I do the bar chord it all sounds muted, not clear like yours did. What am I doing wrong?

    Thank you so much!

  • tinaah says:

    realy um loving this….yu guys keep up the gud job educating us…thanxs once again…

  • Wayne Squillace says:

    should you lay your index finger flat across all six strings or try turning it sideways. When I lay my index finger across all six strings the low E the A and the D sound fine but the G,B and high E sound like duds..when I turn my index finger sideways I can play all six strings clear but it hurts like hell…any suggestions ??

  • Mary says:

    Is there a way to play bar chords on folk guitars with the wide neck? The one I have makes it even hard to wrap the full index finger around, let alone press hard enough to create a solid chord. Is it just a matter of practice or is there a trick to it with wider guitars?

  • nike dunk homme says:

    Merci pour le guide, j’aime votre message

  • casque beats by dre pas cher chine says:

    Salut, bon travail, Merci pour la part

  • Kale Good says:

    This is a good exercise. I think I might start my students pressing higher on the fretboard (maybe starting on the 7th fret) and working their way down, since barring the first fret is so hard. I also found an exercise in a classical guitar technique book (Kitarologus, by Ricardo Iznaola) that does a really great job of strengthening the first finger. I adapted it for beginners and recorded it here: http://youtu.be/nIDibnOP6p8

    Its really improved my ability to teach barre chords. I’ve never seen it online before, so I’m trying to get the word out.

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