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Barre chords can be a pain in the *** – but they hurt our fingers, wrists, thumbs, and even our forearms more than anything else. The weird thing is that most of the discomfort and stress isn’t necessary at all. Poor technique is often the main culprit when barre chords seem unbearably difficult – often so difficult that it deters people who REALLY want to master playing (even some with band ambitions) and then they just quit. Believe me, I know quite a few!
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list (with explanations) of the best improvements/adjustments you can make that should make barre chords a whole lot easier on you – especially if you’re just starting out and getting frustrated!
1) First, you might want to check the position of your index finger (the one you’re using as a barre most times). If you’re using the softer palm side of your finger it will be much harder to execute the firm, evenly distributed pressure required to achieve a nice, buzz-free sound. Instead, try to “roll” your index finger a little on its side (towards the nut) so that you apply pressure using the firmer surface area on the side of your finger. This will greatly reduce the amount of force you have to exert and, consequently, the difficulty in getting a clear sound.
2) Still on the topic of your index finger, you might want to check where it is in relation to the fret wires. Ideally, the closer your index finger is to the next adjacent fret wire (going up the neck) – WITHOUT crossing over into a higher fret – the less energy it will take to execute the barre and the better the resulting sound will be.
3) Next, check your thumb position. The best way to position your thumb when playing barre chords (even if it doesn’t feel that way at first) is to align it with the guitar neck – right down the middle (so that the tip of your thumb is pointing to the middle of the nut). This way, your thumb is behind the the 3rd and 4th strings where it provides maximum leverage for you to apply pressure – reducing the amount of force you need to exert and putting less stress on your fingers. I should point out that this might take a bit of tweaking so that you don’t hurt your thumb instead. Just feel it out!
4) This next tip has a only minimal effect on making it easier to play barre chords – but has a GREAT effect in preventing injury – which is just as important ’cause you can’t practice if you hurt yourself! A common mistake beginners (including me when I first tried) make is to put way too much stress on the wrist when fretting barre chords. This can lead so tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and a host of practice setbacks. Ideally, you should “drop” your wrist so that your thumb supports the back of the neck (as I explained above), and your fingers take care of the fretboard, leaving the guitar neck hovering (more or less) between your thumb and index finger and over the palm of your hand. If your fretting hand position doesn’t resemble this description – or if you still feel too much tension in your wrist – read this again and fix it!
P.S. This will also reduce fatigue and allow you to practice longer – which means you improve faster!
5) Finally, check for little details that can have a huge effect. Make sure that none of the strings happen to fall in between those creases in your index finger (and they shouldn’t if you followed my advice above properly and are using the side of your finger! ).
When you’ve implemented all the tips above, a good way to check for problems in your fingering is to fret a random barre chord and then pick the individual strings to see if they all ring out clearly – and make small adjustments to fix the ones that don’t. I should also point out that barre chords are far easier to play on an electric guitar than on an acoustic (but if you master it on acoustic first – like I did -imagine how easy it will feel playing an electric! ) Also, the action (distance between the strings and the fret wires) matters. The smaller the action (usually corresponds with more expensive guitars) on your guitar, the easier it will be to play barre chords on it.
Hopefully these tips will help you out! You can email me your appreciation at firstname.lastname@example.org! Also, you can show your appreciation even more by sharing this post using one of the little icons below and subscribing to my blog (you can do that in the sidebar).
P.S. Check out the new forums I set up to give more personal advice!