Once you master the basic open guitar chords, it’s time to move onto to something new. You’re welcome to move onto 7th chords, namely the dominant 7th. You’re welcome to go onto 7ths before you go onto barre chords. It’s up to you. Here I’ll be discussing barre chords for guitar though (hence the title of this article).

Take me to the barre chord diagrams.

What Is A Barre Chord On The Guitar?

A barre chord, or sometimes just called a bar chord, is a chord played on guitar where you use your index finger to create a bar across the entire fret bar. In this way, your index finger is acting like the nut of the guitar, fretting all the strings so that you can move chord shapes up and down the neck with ease.

It’s called a barre/bar chord because it comes from the French “barré,” which means “barred.” I prefer the “barre” spelling because I’m an arrogant bastard who likes to remind people that the term is actually the English version of a French word. But honestly, by this point, more people are probably spelling it “bar” rather than “barre.” 

How To Play Barre Chords On Guitar

The chord diagrams for everything are down below, and I’ll walk you through each basic shape, but here’s a quick rundown on how to do barre chords.

Firstly, it takes some practice and finger strength, particularly between your thumb and index finger. Keep practicing and you’ll get it. You may experience a bit of pain and discomfort at first; these are new muscles you’re working with. If that happens, take a break.

Secondly, pretty much all you’re doing is taking open chord shapes and making it so your index finger is pushing against all the strings across the fretboard. Your other fingers then take the place of the original chord.

How To Practice Barre Chords On Guitar

These chords can be played anywhere on the neck. That’s kind of the point. For example, if you’re playing an E shape barre chord on the third fret, you’re playing a G chord. Fifth fret, you’re playing an A chord. 

When practicing barre chords for the first time, I suggest practicing them on the fifth fret. Space on the fifth position isn’t too wide like it is further up the neck, and it’s not too narrow either.

Barre Chord Shapes On Guitar

Show me the chords!

E shape     A shape     D shape

Em shape     Am shape     Dm shape

Assuming you’ve already familiarised yourself with the open guitar chord shapes, you’re probably wondering where the G and the C are. While you can play the G and the C shape as a barre chord, these are slightly more challenging shapes and fall a bit outside of a “how to play barre chords” guitar lesson. If you’re reading this article, I’m assuming you’re relatively new to guitar; the G and the C shape will come in time, but not when you’re just starting out with barre chords.

That being said, by the time you’re up to the G and C shapes for barre chords, you’ll likely be more comfortable throwing in other parts of the scale, inverting the chord, and more; it’s unlikely you’ll ever actually have to tackle a “pure” G or C shape barre chord!

How To Play An E Shape Barre Chord

Guitar chord diagram showing the E shape barre chord.The E shape barre chord is just the standard E shape using your second, third, and fourth fingers.

You’ll have difficulty, at first, getting the 1st, 2nd, and 6th strings to ring out, but you’ll get there. There’s some strength involved here, so if your fingers start to hurt, just take a break for awhile. This is the first barre chord a lot of people learn, so practice this one before moving onto the other ones.

E Shape Barre Chord Tips

As mentioned, this is the first shape you should be learning, so take your time.

  • Concentrate on this shape before moving on the other ones. If you want to practice changes, practice moving from an open E to this shape on the 5th fret.
  • Take a break if your hand hurts and practice something else.

How To Play An A Shape Barre Chord

Chord diagram of an A shape barre chord.Here’s where things start to get a little bit tricky. A lot of people avoid the A shape barre chord because it’s not the friendliest at first. 

The diagram shown here has you doing the normal barre with your first finger and then using your third finger to fret strings two, three, and four. This is tough because it’s hard to make the 1st string ring out like this. If you’re able to do it, it affords a fast chord change than alternatives, but you may not have the strength at first. An alternative fingering is shown below, but it’s not as fast when changing chords. You may want to try the easier version first then work your way up.

A Shape Barre Chord Tips

As mentioned, this one can be a little bit tricky at first.

  • If you practiced your E shape barre chord, the trouble you’re going to have here is with third finger strength. Keep trying and take a break if you need to.
  • Make sure the 1st string rings out. At the very least, make sure you’re not fretting the 1st string with your third finger. 

How To Play A D Shape Barre Chord

Guitar chord diagram showing the D shape barre chord.The D shape barre chord likely won’t come up as much as the E shape or the A shape barre chords, but it is used frequently enough to learn earlier. With that, learning and understanding this shape is a good foundation for more complicated chords that are based on this shape. Learn the D shape barre chord now and you’ll have a lot of fun later!

The challenge you’re going to have with this barre chord shape is twisting your fingers into the right shape. It’s a bit of a stretch getting your fourth finger all the way over there, but you’ll make it!

I’m not going to give any specific tips here. They’re pretty much the same as the other barre chord tips. However, feel free to jump to this shape even if you haven’t mastered the A shape; it’s a good way to give your hand a bit of a break.

How To Play An Em Barre Chord Shape

Guitar chord diagram showing the Em shape barre chord.I’m going to go through this one quickly because, as you can see by the chord diagram, if you can play the E major barre chord shape, you’ll be able to play the Em shape. All you need to do is lift up your 1st finger.

Since you know that the minor shape is just the major shape without the first finger, it just goes to show you should be careful when fretting the major shape. It’s very easy to turn it into a minor by mistake!

How To Play An Am Shape Barre Chord Shape

Guitar chord diagram showing the Am shape barre chord.And we’re finally at the Am barre chord shape. You can see here that if you can hit the E major shape, it’s basically the same thing.

So again, I’m not going to say much about this barre chord shape. Once you’re here in your progression, it’s just a matter of moving your hand a bit.

How To Play A Dm Barre Chord Shape

Guitar chord diagram showing the Dm shape barre chord.Like the D major barre chord shape, the Dm can be a bit of a tangle for your fingers. And that stretch for your fourth finger can be difficult at first.

However, like the D major shape, once you’re comfortable in this shape, you open yourself up to so many other great chords. So practice and get it right.

Barre Chord FAQs

Barre chords can be a challenge when you first try them, but persist with them, practice them, and you’ll have them in no time! If you’re having trouble, here are some barre chord FAQs.

Is There A Way To Get Good At Barre Chord Quickly?

Yes and no. Nothing is going to replace practice. When you first start playing barre chords, it’s likely you won’t have the strength in your hands to easily play these chords. You can probably play them for a bit, but will tire out.

So tip number one: practice for only a little bit at a time. Build up the strength.

Tip number two is more about technique. Make sure to use the side of your index finger to create the bar. This is a firmer part of your finger and will be more effective. Rather than whacking the fleshy part of your finger across the strings, roll it slightly and press with the side as much as possible.

What’s The Easiest Barre Chord To Play?

That would probably be the E shape and the E minor shape barre chords, followed by the A minor shape. These are less “weird” and generally give you some good leverage across the strings. Start with these shapes as you build up your strength and technique.

Why Are Barre Chords So Hard?

The thing is, they’re not. They just take practice. They seem hard because they’re new, but once you put some time into being able to finger them, they’ll become second nature and open up the guitar for you. Keep at it!

And That’s It

Practice these chord shapes, make sure all the notes ring out, and it will vastly open up the songs that you can play on guitar. Even easy guitar songs have a few barre chords here and there, so there’s no avoiding barre chords on guitar!

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