How to Play Barre Chords - Kurt Cobain

Learning how to play barre chords can be a challenge for the beginner, so here are some tips to help…

It is an aspect of learning to play that has many beginner guitarists cursing, but learning how to play barre chords will be one of the most important skills you’ll learn.

For the uninitiated, a barre chord is a guitar chord where one finger holds down two or more strings. When you’re just getting to grips with regular, open chords, this can be troublesome. Initially, you’ll have some strings that are muted, or buzzing, and it will feel like an uphill struggle. But it’s really worth it.

Fender Chris Shiflett Telecaster Deluxe

Why? The biggest advantage of barre chords is that those that don’t rely on any open strings can be moved anywhere across the fretboard. This means that transposing songs is incredibly easy, and figuring out chord sequences for your own or other musicians’ work is equally straightforward.

Plus, if you’re a fan of punk, rock, grunge, metal or just about any style of rock, those powerchord sequences will almost certainly be derived from barre chords.

So, how can you improve your barre chord techniques?

The most common barre chords

Let’s start with the most common barre chord shape. Essentially, it’s based around the open ‘E’ shape, but with an index finger barring all of the strings that would usually be open. The numbers represent the finger to be used, from index (1) to pinkie (4), and the curved line across the top indicates that these strings should be barred.


How to Play Barre Chords - Major 'E' shape


How to Play Barre Chords - Minor 'E' shape

Major 7th

How to Play Barre Chords - Major 7th 'E' shape

Minor 7th

How to Play Barre Chords - Minor 7th 'E' shape

The root note is the note of the lowest (thickest) string- so, at the 3rd fret, this will be G, and removing the fingers as shown will allow you to easily find the minor and 7th equivalents. ; This is why they’re such a good thing.


When learning how to play barre chords, your positioning can make a huge difference.

Try sitting down, holding the guitar at a 45-degree (ish) angle, like you might if playing a classical guitar. Yes, it might not be the most ‘rock’ playing position, but you’ll have time for that when you’ve nailed the chords… 😉
This position will hold the neck at a comfortable ‘right angle’ to your index finger.

To get your barre chords perfect, you’ll need to get your thumb behind the neck. This will enable you to get plenty of purchase to get your index finger anchored down.

How to Play Barre Chords - Correct Hand Position

Building finger strength

Exercise 1

The key to how to play barre chords is gaining strength in your barring finger. The simplest way to do this is to barre all six strings, and slowly strum them so that you can easily hear any that are muted.

Don’t think that gripping the neck tightly will help- it won’t. Position your finger close to the fret, and don’t make your finger too rigid.

Start at the 1st fret, as this is the most difficult, and then move up the fretboard once you’ve got it nailed.

Exercise 2

When you’re confident, start adding the other fingers in the chord boxes above, and repeat. Move major chords up and down the fretboard, then minors then 7ths etc. When you’re more confident start alternating between them.

Exercise 3

Starting at the thinnest strings, try barring 2 strings, and playing four beats, then 3, and playing four beats, then 4… until you’ve barred all 6. Then head back up, barring 5, then 4, then 3 etc.

This can be a great way of improving your finger positioning. Plus, when you come to play chords that only barre some strings, you’ll have the technique down already.


Yes, like everything else, there are no quick, easy fixes when learning how to play barre chords- practice is everything. Follow the hints above should help you to make speedy progress, however. Once you have them nailed, the world is your oyster…. 😉

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