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Home : Basics : Bar Chords
Most guitarists learn to play open chord shapes during the first months of study.  Eventually, every guitarist comes across chord names that are not part of this collection.  To play every other chord, you must learn how to use "bar" shapes.  Bar chords are created by sliding open chord shapes up the neck, while the index finger holds down all of the strings. Each of the open chord shapes are turned into movable bar chords by the process below:

  • Refinger each open chord so that your index finger is free (i.e., use your middle, ring, and pinky fingers to make the chord).
  • Lay your index finger across the strings, on top of the nut (the "bar" technique is defined as the index finger covering all of the strings).
  • Move the new shape up the fretboard to the first fret. The index finger reaches across the fretboard as the shape is slid up the neck (taking the place of the nut), so there are no open strings in the shape
Below is a collection of common bar chord shapes used in most styles of music.  All of these shapes are created from the open chords you know, using the process above.  The first fret in every shape is covered by the index finger.  These shapes can be slid to any fret on the guitar:






Other shapes used in popular music:




Bar chords allow you to do two things:
  • play chords that you cannot play with open shapes.  Any chord with a sharp (#) or flat (b) symbol in the name will need to be played as a bar chord.
  • play chords in several different ways on the fretboard.
When you see a chord such as "G#7" or "Bbm", you need to play it as a bar chord.  In order to play these types of chords, you need to know how they are labeled.  Bar chords are named by combining the sonority of the open chord shape (major, minor, 7th, etc.) with the letter name, which changes depending on where you slide it on the neck. Each shape has the same basic sound, or "sonority" at every fret (major, minor, 7th, etc.), just at a higher or lower pitch.   The sonority (type) of a movable shape always stays the same, wherever you put it on the fretboard.  Every major, minor, and 7th shape stays major, minor and 7th, wherever you slide it on the neck. Only the letter name of the chord changes when it is moved to a different fret.  The letter, or "root" note changes, depending on which fret a shape is moved to.  In most chord diagrams, root notes are enclosed by squares, marked by the letter "R", or otherwise emphasized. When you move a bar shape to a particular fret on the guitar, the root note ends up on a specific letter (i.e., G#, Bb, C, etc.). The note you put the root on becomes the new letter name of the chord.  To name a bar chord, combine the sonority (major, minor, 7th) with the letter name of the shape.  A minor shape moved up to the letter "C" is a Cm chord.  A major shape moved up to "C#" is called C# major.  A 7th chord with the square on "B" is called B7, etc. 

Below are some example bar chord progressions using the open chord shapes you know, so that you understand how to name and play these types of chords:

E  G#m  A  F#m  B  G#7  C#m   A

A  F#7  Bm  E7

Eb  Cm  Fm  Bb7

Ab  Cm  Db  Eb7  Ab   Bbm   Db  Ab

Making Bar Chords Sound Clearer:

Bar chords, and movable shapes in general, are perhaps the most important patterns to understand on the guitar.  Understanding movable shapes and the concept of root notes is fundamental to playing any type of guitar music.  Unfortunately, the technique required to play bar chords is difficult. When first confronted with bar chords, most players find it hard to imagine they will ever be easy to play.  Don't get discouraged, it typically takes several months to develop the strength and coordination needed to play clear sounding bar shapes. As with everything you practice, once you learn to do it, it's like riding a bike - you'll be able to do it forever, and it will continue to get easier. If you want to develop as a guitarist beyond the beginning stages of ability, you'll have to work on bar chords. Here are some tips that will help make bar technique a bit easier:

  • Press down the strings directly over the fret and then ROLL the finger over onto the side of the finger closest to the thumb. There is a harder surface on this side of the finger than on the front pad. This hard surface will allow you to press down on the strings more securely. In order to roll the finger over far enough, you need to really push your hand towards the headstock of the guitar. Rolling your finger in this way will help the sound of your bar more than any other guideline.
  • Move the tip of the index finger up and down along the height of the neck so that none of the strings lie within the crease of a finger joint. Strings which sit inside a crease have more room to vibrate, and are more likely to buzz and deaden.
  • Lay the index finger down on the fretboard using a hinging motion from the base of the finger. Then, using the weight of your left hand, pull down slightly on the strings. The pressure added to the strings by a slight downward pull is helpful in eliminating buzzes.
  • Keep the bar as close to the fret as possible, without actually sitting on top of the fret. This will allow for the optimum amount of leverage against the fret.
  • Try curving your index finger to various degrees. Depending on finger size and shape, some players need to keep bars completely straight, while others need a tight curve to produce clean sounding notes.
  • Don't lay the middle finger on top of the index finger. To form the majority of bar chords, you need the 2nd finger to play other notes.
  • Pluck each of the strings in the bar chord individually to see which ones are buzzing or not sounding.  Repeat the above steps to help remedy the problem.
Knowing the preceding information will allow you to play virtually every chord progression you see.  A further knowledge of advanced chord types is covered in music theory lessons.

Copyright 2004-2013 Nick Antonaccio, all rights reserved.