Tips for Playing Barre Chords

BARRE CHORDS! Everyone seems to dread them when they first start learning to play the different barre chord shapes.  With a few simple tweaks in your technique, you’ll be on your way to forming barre chords with ease.

If you are having trouble getting your bars to sound clear and clean, or if you think your fingers are too small or that your hands just not strong enough to get a good bar, then try this:

Forget about your hands and use your ARMS instead
Here’s how you do that . . .   To hold down a bar, pull the guitar hard against your chest with both arms, almost as if you were trying to break the guitar in half.

Don’t use your thumb and fingers to squeeze the guitar neck.  Those thumb muscles are relatively weak and will get fatigued pretty quick.  But your arm muscles are strong and won’t tire easily.  You’re also using shoulder and trunk muscles with your body weight.

So your thumb is just there to stabilize the left hand. It’s there to merely channel or direct the brute strength of the arms to the hand and fingers.  You should almost be able to play the barre chord without your thumb at all.

Note there that I said ALMOST. Yes, the thumb is necessary in playing the barre chord, but if you practice it without using your thumb then you’ll really get the concept of using your arm strength ….

…. which means once you start using your thumb in the limited way I’m talking about then your barre chord playing will become stronger and more accurate.

The thumb is essentially a PASSIVE, NOT ACTIVE participant in playing the guitar — especially with barre chords.

Another way to look at it is that you are using LEVERAGE. This is one of those key concepts that can help your guitar playing immensely.

To summarize:

Use your arm strength to hold the bar. Try to break the guitar in half against your chest by pulling with both arms. If you are doing it right, you will feel it in your forearms, elbows, and/or shoulders and you will feel the guitar dig into your chest.

Here are some other tips for playing barre chords:

Keep your elbow (of your fret arm) close to your bodyWhen you keep your elbow close to your body, you again enable more leverage and you won’t be fighting yourself as much. Take advantage of the physics!
Lower the action on your guitar. You can get this done at a guitar shop. The “action” on your guitar strings is the amount of space between the strings and the guitar neck. The lower the strings, the less you’ll have to push down on them. If you use my “arm strength” tip above, you shouldn’t need to do this, but it’s an option you should know about.

Consider using lighter strings. Lighter strings are easier to manipulate and this makes barre chords easier. So if you’re using medium gauge strings, consider going to a light or extra light gauge.

 Practice on an electric guitar if you’re using acoustic. The strings are easier to move around on a electric guitar.

Try putting down your bar first, THEN make the shape with your other fingers — and then try it the other way around. In other words, Once you find a preference, practice it as much as you can to develop muscle memory.

Still having trouble? has some fantastic videos on helping you with your barre chords.  Click the banner below