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Barre Chords: the Foundations
In my last article, Learning Guitar: Beginner’s Chords I discussed open chords (also referred to as beginner’s chords). In this article we will take a look at barre chords, also called movable chords, because the same form can be moved up and down the neck. At first, barre chords can seem like really hard work, or plain impossible to fret, but they are well worth learning if you really want to rock. Barre chords give you access to the full range of the neck. Patience and persistence are key.
The CAGED Approach to Learning Barre Chords
As a result of the guitar’s unique tuning, there are five basic chord forms: C-A-G-E-D. From the open position, these forms can be systematically moved up the neck by using the first finger of the fretting hand to form a barre. This approach connects one form to another, essentially providing a map for finding your way around the fretboard and letting you play these chords in five different places on the neck. It will become clearer when you look at the diagram below showing how the forms are connected. At the 12th fret, the sequence starts again. I have come across this approach to unlocking the fretboard on a number of sites and in a few books but in my opinion, the most valuable resource has been Fretboard Logic by Bill Edwards. His book is listed below in the Amazon ads and I highly recommend it.
CAGED Chord Forms
C Major in Five CAGED Positions
Using and Naming Barre Chords
As you probably know by now, the tuning of a guitar is (from the bass E string) E, A, D, G, B, E. To name barre chords you should become familiar with the notes of the E (6th sting) and A string (5th string) as you move up the neck. Count from the first fret from the open position and remember that there are no sharps or flats between B and C and E and F. To begin with, practice by starting with the A and E forms (the easiest to play) and moving them up the neck and naming the chord and form as you go. For example: A form, 3rd position, C chord. The chart below shows the root note for the E form and A form barre chords.
Root Notes for E and A Form Barre Chords
Playing Barre Chords
A lot of players get stuck with the E and A forms, being the easiest to play. Practicing with the CAGED method should help to get out of this habit. It’s worth the time and effort, because the same chord played in different positions sounds a little different and may be more conveniently placed from one chord to the next in the progression. Because of the higher string tension at the top of the neck, the chords forms on the first few frets are harder to play – I remember trying to fret a F barre chord cleanly for days when I started play many moons ago. The G, D, and C forms are a bit tricky, especially if you have small hands so I have included a chart with partial forms that are easier to play.
Minor and Dominant 7th Barre Chords
Minor chords based on the E form (6th string root) and A form (5th string root) follow naturally from having learned the CAGED sequence and I have attached a chart showing how a major becomes a minor for the E and A forms.
Dominant 7th barre chords with 6th string and 5th string roots follow in the same way and again there is a chart attached showing how to play these chords.
Minor Barre Chords
Read More From Spinditty
Dominant Seventh Barre Chords
Barre Chords and Technique
You can see how barre chords are built from the open position and moved up fret by fret. Don’t expect to play barre chords cleanly at first – you won’t. Try to roll the first finger that forms the barre a little, rather than it lying flat across the fretboard, and apply just enough pressure to get a clean sound. If you push too hard you will just be wasting energy. It is more about repetition and your fingers learning to fine-tune their position. Keep practicing until you can move between different barre chords smoothly and your fingers instinctively from the correct positions. Keep your nails short, your strings clean and practice with a metronome or drum machine starting with slow tempos, graduating to faster beats by 5 BPM.
Playing Arpeggiated Chords
When the notes of a chord are played one at a time rather than strummed together, they are called arpeggios. Try improvising arpeggiated patterns over different chord progressions. Arpeggios add interest to musical phrases. Songs like ‘Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi’ by Radiohead and Babe I’m Gonna Leave You by Led Zeppelin are good examples of songs using arpeggios beautifully.
To form arpeggio patterns, a good exercise is to look at each chord that is strummed by the rhythm guitar and match it with the scale that fits the chord using the CAGED approach to chord and scale forms. Be mindful of the root note of each pattern while playing – this can be regarded as a target note or home base note.
In this article, the most commonly used barre chords have been presented and in no way represent the totality of the different variations that exist. Many popular songs are built on these forms alone and are an excellent starting point. Good luck, have fun and practice every day! To learn easy scales, start playing licks and improvising solos read Learning Guitar: Pentatonic Scales and Lead Patterns. Don’t be too shy to start now – it is not as hard as you might think!
Great Guitar Books
Amandinha on January 14, 2015:
Hey brother can u plz help me out???? altlacuy i m a great fan of music and i have a habit of playing a chord with my finger no. 1, 2 and 4 . but according to ur video i have to use 1,3 and 5 . what should i do??? should i continue doing or change my habit????? plz do reply me ..
Smiley on January 12, 2015:
Great ingiths! That's the answer we've been looking for.
Scott M (author) on May 27, 2010:
Hope you find it useful Angela - start with the article on open chords if you are a beginner and when you have become comfortable using them start to learn barre chords. The partial fingerings for G and D are far easier than the full forms which require quite a bit of work at first. Have fun!
Angela Michelle Schultz from United States on May 27, 2010:
Wow, this is very thorough, and I see you have many more articles on this topic. I have been wanting to learn, but haven't figured out a good book to teach me. I never thought about looking at hubs. I am going to pull out my guitar and see if i can figure things out. Thanks. :)