How to Play Bar Chords on Guitar

Your Complete Guide by Erich Andreas

Introduction to Bar Chords / Bar Chords Tips

Welcome - Bar Chords

Hello there, friends! I'm thrilled to welcome you to this bar chords guide. If you've heard people say that bar chords are challenging, don't let that discourage you. I'm here to tell you that bar chords are easy (once you learn the tricks) and incredibly powerful. Once you grasp the technique, especially with the F bar chord we'll explore later, you'll unlock a treasure trove of chords across various keys.

Mastering bar chords is rewarding, not an insurmountable challenge. I'll guide you through it step by step, and I'm confident you'll get the hang of it. Bar chords offer immense musical potential, and I can't wait for us to delve into their intricacies.

I've divided our approach into two main sections to make things more manageable. First, we'll focus on understanding the concept of bar chords, recognizing how to form them, and comprehending their significance. This conceptual understanding is crucial, as it goes beyond just playing the chords; it involves knowing where to position the notes along the neck.

The second section involves physically playing the bar chords. Many might be eager to skip to this part, but I urge you to digest the conceptual foundation. Knowing how bar chords work allows you to extract individual notes for solos, licks, or partial chords up the neck.

I'll elaborate more on these concepts as we progress through this guide. Remember, the initial emphasis is on understanding, followed by the practical application of playing the chords. This dual approach ensures a solid foundation for incorporating bar chords into your guitar playing.

I'm genuinely excited that you're here. Let's get started!

What You Will Learn in this Guide

When learning bar chords, we must separate the understanding of constructing the chords on the neck and playing the chord. A player could have the physical strength and agility to play a bar chord, but to be proficient at bar chords; one must learn to transpose and embellish or use that one shape to create many other chords. On the other hand, a guitar player could perfectly understand how to transpose/embellish those chords and change the fingerings to come up with many new chords while not being able to play the chord physically. So, bifurcating those two is crucial to feeling the momentum of learning.

With all that said, we will learn both here but separately. If you follow this guide precisely, you will not only massively expand your chord vocabulary but also master bar chords in knowledge and physical ability.

Understanding the Forms

Let's explore chord forms and how they apply across the guitar neck. We begin with the open position, where we strum open strings (notes not fretted with our fingers) near the lower part of the neck. Anything we play down here, chords, scales, licks, or riffs, can be replicated further up the neck. If we move any of these shapes up or down the fretboard, we change the root for that shape.

For instance, taking an E-7 chord and moving it up the neck, we essentially transpose it to different keys—like F-7, F#-7, etc. This flexibility allows us to play the same chord shape in all 12 keys without a capo.

The crucial takeaway is that we can replicate anything in the open position higher on the neck. We can even move an open C chord up the neck, though you must free up the first finger. The power lies in understanding this concept, akin to using a capo. Don't worry about grabbing chords just yet; understanding this first part is essential, and you'll grasp it as we progress.
Remember, we might use portions of a chord rather than the whole bar shape, a theme we'll explore more throughout this guide. Additionally, the bass note usually determines the chord's root. Suppose the root note shifts from E to F to F#; the chord shape changes accordingly. Bar chords are built primarily off the sixth and fifth strings, but the concept is universal and is repeatable on any string set.

So, the takeaway for now is that what you do in the open position can be replicated higher on the neck.

Does Your Thumb or Wrist Hurt When Playing Bar Chords?

Here are Two Tips to Prevent It...

Capo Tricks

When it comes to playing bar chords, there are three key elements: forming them, technique, and strength. While strength is essential, technique plays a more significant role. I've witnessed individuals of varying strengths struggle, emphasizing the importance of mastering the proper method.

It's crucial to acknowledge that this is a brand-new technique. No one, including myself, magically grasps bar chords immediately. So, be patient with yourself. The strength versus technique balance will become more apparent as we progress.

If you have a capo, here are some tricks to assist before we begin. You can use a spring-style capo, silly putty, or Play-Doh to exercise and strengthen your fingers while away from the guitar. Press and work these materials to enhance your hand strength. The capo is perfect as a resistance tool for strengthening your hand.

Another capo trick involves using it on the second, third, fourth, or fifth fret. This method pre-presses the strings down, making it easier to play bar chords as it reduces the required strength. While this isn't a permanent solution, it can be a confidence booster in the initial stages. Think of it as training wheels. We plan on taking them off, but they're helpful for now.

So, two takeaways for now: strengthen your fingers off the guitar using putty or a capo, and consider using the capo on the frets 2-5 to make early bar chord attempts more manageable.

Stay encouraged; you'll be playing bar chords sooner than you think!

Are You Discouraged about Bar Chords?

Guitar Set Up

It is important to note that your guitar setup or string action, the distance between the strings and the fretboard, has much to do with your success at playing bar chords. Playing bar chords can seem impossible or very difficult if the strings are set too high. All that said, having another guitar-playing friend try your guitar out to make sure that it's within the boundaries of comfortable playing is highly encouraged. Conversely, bring your guitar to a professional guitar luthier to ensure the strings are at the optimal height to allow ease when playing bar chords. In either case, this is a variable that you want to take care of so that you are not discouraged from playing bar chords.

Bar Chords for Beginners

Introduction to the F Chord

If you can play the F major bar chord, it will unlock nearly 100 chords immediately.  Let's learn to play bar chords on the guitar, focusing on the F chord as our starting point. Mastering this chord opens the door to countless others. I assure you that, with dedication, anyone can achieve it.

Understanding bar chord shapes is one part, while physically manipulating your hand on the fretboard is another. Many beginners approach five or six-string bar chords without preparing. This is akin to practice juggling and starting with 5 or 6 balls. I don't know about you, but I have trouble juggling 3. In that case, more balls won't help me. However, taking some away for sure would. It's less we have to keep up with, right? We will approach bar chords the same way. This secret weapon will finally allow you to get bar chords! We'll break down the F chord into segments, starting with two notes simultaneously. This approach helps identify specific challenges and provides a sense of progress, boosting confidence.  

Using a capo at the second fret (like written about earlier in this guide), we can create a chord that feels like F (because of the shape), although technically, it's a G. It's okay if that does not make sense to you yet. In a short time, it will. By breaking down the chord into two-note segments, we pinpoint areas for improvement. Gradually, we'll progress to three, four, and five-note segments, building dexterity and strength.

The key is to focus on the details. Place your index finger on the first fret of strings 1 and 2, ensuring it's close to the fret wire. If you still need to establish a firm fretting foundation, GO HERE. I have you covered. Play two notes at a time, identifying any issues and making adjustments. Gradually move on to the following two notes, addressing challenges one step at a time.

Our short-term goal is to play these small segments, develop them, and add more strings later. Think of it like learning math—master each level before moving on. Be patient; it's a continuous journey of improvement.

Once you feel confident with each of the two note segments, we keep building. Next will be three note sections, then progress to four notes. Pay attention to hand placement, knuckle curl, and the importance of using fingertips. The process involves observing, listening, and feeling to make precise adjustments.

Remember, difficulties are part of the journey. Initial hand and wrist discomfort is normal. Embrace the challenge; you're not alone. Technique is key, even more so than strength. Don't rush; each step builds the neural pathways essential for effortlessly playing bar chords.

So, if you find three notes challenging, return to two notes, practice, and build up. If four notes feel too difficult, return to three-note segments. This approach serves as a protocol for building bar chords systematically. I don't expect you to nail this immediately, but with perseverance, you'll conquer bar chords and expand your guitar-playing skills.

 Step 1: Master 2 String Forms

2 string F chord option 01
2 string F chord option 02
2 string F chord option 03
2 string F chord option 04
2 string F chord option 05

 Step 2: Master 3 String Forms

3 string F chord option 01
3 string F chord option 02
3 string F chord option 03
3 string F chord option 04

 Step 3: Master 4 String Forms

4 string F chord option 01
4 string F chord option 02
4 string F chord option 03

 Step 4: Master 5 String Forms

5 string F chord option 01
5 string F chord option 02

 Step 5: Master 6 String Form - Full F Chord

6 string F chord

Bar Chord Charts, How to Play Each Chord

6th String Root Bar Chords first 48 chords

Now that we are building our technique and strength by creating bar chords with note segments of two, three, four, etc., at a time, let's look at how to get the most out of the forms. Our first set of 48 chords will be based on forms from the E major and E minor chords. These forms include E (major), E7, E- (minor), and E-7 (minor 7) chords.

Moving any of these forms up or down the fretboard will change the chord's root. Further, by lifting the pinkie, we attain the flat seven, resulting in a seventh chord. This transition involves consistent bar placement across all strings, offering a challenge initially.

Moving on to the E minor and E minor seven chords, we additionally need to lift our second finger to make those chords minor. It cannot be said or emphasized enough that learning to play bar chords requires laser focus, tenacity, and practice. However, you can definitively do it.

If you do get frustrated, remember that every great guitar player who went before you has gone through the same path. You did not see them in the wee hours of the night getting frustrated themselves.

With all that said, I can promise that you can do this. After teaching more than 10,000 one-on-one lessons, the only variable determining whether someone could play bar chords was whether they applied these tips and practiced.

6th string root bar chord 7th chord
6th string root bar chord major chord
6th string root bar chord minor 7th chord
6th string root bar chord minor chord

Create 60 Chords from 1 Bar Chord!

5th String Root Bar Chords 2nd 48 chords

This section introduces the next set of 48 chords based on the fifth string root. Let's focus on major, minor, seventh, and minor seventh chords. These chords are the most essential in various music genres and have their roots on the fifth string.

Starting with the A major chord, the challenge of barring strings four, three, and two at once is real. When I play this form further up the neck, I sometimes mute the high E string; other times, I might play it. For now, don't stress if you mute the high E string.

Moving to the A7 form, derived from the A7 chord, the same approach applies to getting the seventh note by leaving a gap between fingers three and four.

Next are the A—and A-7 chords. The change in fingering here makes the A minor chord easier. When playing fifth-string root bar chords, it's essential to mute the sixth string for a cleaner sound. It's also important to note that the A minor form resembles the F major chord.

For the A-7 chord, we play the same formation as we did for A-, but we lift our pinky, allowing the bar to play that note. You'll have to apply more pressure on the bar at this new note location.

Remember, bar chords are inherently challenging. Developing patience and consistent practice will be the medicine for what ails you.

5th string root bar chord 7th chord
5th string root bar chord major chord
5th string root bar chord minor 7th chord
5th string root bar chord minor chord

Charts versus Stamps

When guitarists often search for "bar chord charts," they are looking for bar chord "stamps." A chord chart is usually a one-page translation of a song that shows what chords are played and when. However, a chord stamp is a fretboard diagram with dots showing the guitar player where to place their fingers.

In either case, I've got you covered with both here.

Bar Chords vs Open Chords / How to Transition

Transitioning between open chords and bar chords

In this discussion, I address the challenge of transitioning between open chords and bar chords. I highlight the common difficulty people face when shifting between the two chord types, emphasizing the need to understand the mental shift required.

Drawing an analogy to shifting gears in four-wheel-drive trucks, moving from an open chord to a bar chord is akin to a mindset change. Demonstrating the impact of thumb position, I emphasize the necessity of dropping the thumb for effective bar chord formation.

To address this challenge, I suggest adopting a practice method similar to chord transitions that I teach in my beginner courses. It's essential to focus only on two chords at a time and perfect their execution before tackling transitions and using the example of transitioning from A minor to a G bar chord, genuinely understanding and focusing on the fingering of the A minor chord, and then focusing on the G bar chord and its fingering before we even attempt to play it. Once we can visualize where each finger will go before we move our fingers, it is the key to this entire concept.

You must master the two chords individually to ensure a smooth transition. I encourage my students to think ahead and visualize the upcoming chord. I liken the process to jumping from rock to rock across a river, emphasizing the importance of trajectory planning.

I advise learners to focus on accuracy first, with speed as a byproduct. Once we have this concept down, we can gradually start incorporating the picking hand.

How to Transition Between Open Chords and Bar Chords

Songs to Practice Bar Chords

Now that you have a much better understanding of bar chords, we must integrate them into our playing. What better way to do that than with classic songs? I've provided several chord charts to songs to help you get bar chords imprinted into your mind and comfortably under your fingers.

If you are you ready to dive deeper into bar chords? Check out Bar Chords Unlocked.

Get Started!