All About Barre Chords Part 1

You don't have to learn to play barre chords. There are quite a few players - particularly those of an acoustic, singer-songwriter kind of bent - who find that open chords give them everything they need to make great music. But for most people, the use of just open chords will quickly start to become limiting. By learning a few barre chord shapes you'll massively increase your musical vocabulary and be able to play new chords that aren't possible to play any other way.

A good way to look at barre chords is to see them as versions of our already familiar open chords that have been turned into moveable shapes that can be played without using open strings. This can be done by re-fingering our open E or E minor chord and using the first finger barre to press down several notes at the same time, acting as a kind of capo. So why not just use a capo and not bother with all this barre chord stuff? There are times when a capo is useful, but generally barre chords are a better and more versatile solution. If a song has lots of different chord and/or key changes then using a capo won't really work anyway, unless you're continually moving your capo about during the course of a song, which would be a bit weird, to say the least. And importantly, barre chords sound great and have a particular character that open chords don't possess. 

I cover some of the technical problems you might run into whilst learning to play barre chords in the video. But I must stress, there are no secrets. You may get lucky and find you're able to play barre chords without too much trouble, but for the majority of players I've come across it takes quite a bit of practice to get the hang of it. Just don't give up. 

There are some neck diagrams below showing how our open E or E minor is made into a barre chord. 

These barre chords take their name from the root notes found on the low E string. It's easy enough to work out these notes. Just count up your musical alphabet (which runs from A through to G, then repeats) starting with F at the first fret. Remember that sharps (#) or flats (b) are found between all of the notes except between E and F and  between B and C (what are known as naturally occurring half steps).

  • 1st fret F
  • 2nd fret F# or Gb
  • 3rd fret G
  • 4th fret G# or Ab
  • 5th fret A
  • 6th fret A# or Bb
  • 7th fret B
  • 8th fret C
  • 9th fret C# or Db
  • 10th fret D
  • 11th fret D# or Eb
  • 12th fret E
  • 13th fret F

Make sure you fully understand how this works and you should be able to figure out and play any major or minor chord. But it's best to get  these notes memorised as soon as you can. 


Next lesson: A Form Barre Chords