I’ve decided to start sprinkling tips among my longer tutorials and articles. Here’s the first…

Barre chords are the scourge of the beginning guitarist. Like a bum knee, a prison record, the inability of matter to exceed the speed of light; barre chords hold us back. The next time an F minor chord messes with you, mess back with this:

  • Check your thumb placement. Your thumb should be pressing against the back of the neck, on the fattest part, behind the area where the 2nd finger’s hanging out.
  • Check your first finger placement. It should be parallel with the fret wire, so close it’s just barely touching the side. Roll your finger a bit toward the nut, so that the bony side of the finger is digging into the strings instead of the strings digging into what my student Casey calls the “chub.”
  • Stop pressing so hard. That first finger’s only responsible for fretting some of the strings, so don’t try to press down on each string with equal force. For example, when playing a standard barred F chord, press hard with the tip of your finger on the 6th string, and dig your knuckle into the 1st and 2nd strings, but let the finger rest lightly over the other strings.
  • Take heart. Often you can transpose a song to avoid barre chords. Also, some great guitarists never play barre chords–BB King, for example, played his way to greatness pretty much one note at a time. As he said in the U2 documentary “Rattle and Hum,” “I don’t do chords.”

Please comment if you’d like to add your own tips for playing barre chords. And if you’d like to submit a tip about some other aspect of guitar playing, email me.