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Nail Guitar Barre Chords in Shortest Possible Time

Guitar barre chords are a type of movable chord form. These are chords you can position anywhere on the fretboard in their fixed formation (known as a "chord shape" or "chord form"). This allows you to use the same familiar fingerings at any fret.

photo of an E shape guitar barre chord

The barre (sometimes spelled bar) refers to positioning one of your fret hand fingers (most often your index finger) flat across more than one string. The barre becomes a kind of nut or capo, the base of the chord shape, allowing you to move it up the neck.

One huge benefit of learning barre chords is the freedom to play a chord in several places on the neck. You're no longer tied to one spot (e.g. as with open position chords), since there are several different shapes and positions you can use for a given chord. It also allows you to play chords inaccessible in open positions (F, C♯, A♭ etc.).

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Basic Guitar Barre Chord Shapes

Before we learn how to physically play barre chords, we ought to first understand how they're built so we can put them into the context of our own music. We can identify several barre chord shapes as follows...

E Shape

Time and time again, I hear people refer to the E shape/form barre chord as the dreaded "F chord". It's seen as a key milestone after learning your first chords and will likely have a huge impact on your chord/rhythm playing.

So, what makes it the "E shape"? The sequence below starts off with the E major open position chord, with which I'm sure you're familiar. With it's related barre chord, this E major shape (the finger formation on the fretboard) simply gets moved up to the 1st fret (and beyond), meaning we have to barre our index finger to represent where the nut (or capo) would be in relation to the fretted strings.

Don't try and play anything right now - just observe...

E shape barre chord in relation to open Emaj shape

So the barre covers the low E, B and high e strings, whereas the A, D and G strings represent that familiar open E major formation.

That shape can be positioned anywhere up the fretboard depending on the chord you want to play (1st fret = Fmaj, 2nd fret = F♯maj, 3rd fret = Gmaj etc.).

Now take a look at a similar diagram below...

E shape major barre chord diagram with marked root note
photo of E shape major barre chord from guitarist's POV

The lowest root note of the E form barre chord (the fretted red square) is always on the 6th string, so if (for example) that root note was positioned at the 5th fret, it would be an A major chord, since the root note would be A. If it was at the 1st fret, it would be F major.

There are higher root notes in the shape, positioned on the 4th and 1st strings, but at this stage it's easiest to identify the root of barre chords by looking at their lowest root note (the bass note if you like), as the rest of the shape is built from that point.

There is also a minor E shape based on the open E minor shape we're already familiar with.  All we do is lift off our 2nd finger from the major shape to get a minor chord.

minor E form barre chord diagram
photo of E shape minor barre chord from guitarist's POV

A Shape

Exactly the same principle as above, but this time the barre chord is based on the open A major/minor shapes.

A shape barre chord in relation to open Amaj shape

So this time, the bass root is on the A string. It's the A string root that determines the note we use in naming the chord.

Note: As shown in the photo below, for the major A shape, it's easiest to barre the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings using your 3rd/ring finger and leave out the 1st string.

major A shape barre chord diagram with marked root
photo showing fingering for the A barre chord with barred 3rd finger

Again, we have a minor A shape based on open A minor. This time we use the index finger barre as usual...

minor A shape barre chord diagram with marked root
photo of the minor A form barre chord

C Shape (not as important)

Not as commonly used, and more difficult to finger, but still good to know.

You can probably guess where C shape barre chords come from. That's right... the open C major chord we learn as beginners.

C shape barre chord diagram with marked root
photo of C shape barre chord being fingered

This shape provides us with a slightly different voicing to the A shape, even though it's rooted on the same (5th) string. Unlike the A shape which ascends from the root position, the C shape descends from the root.

Because of the formation of our fingers in this shape, there is no convenient minor C shape to learn. 

Other Shapes (least important)

Some guitar teachers/players make reference to two further barre chord shapes - D and G. I personally wouldn't spend much time on these.

The full G shape is a mammoth chord to finger in a barre position (maybe even impossible for players with small hands), and most often ends up being cut down to the following variation of the A shape (notice the familiar in-line formation of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings). In this shape the root is positioned on the 3rd string.

cut down G shape barre chord diagram
photo of cut down G shape barre chord

As for the D shape, it's not strictly a barre chord, since there are only four strings in the shape, and therefore one finger per string and no barre required.

major D shape barre chord diagram
photo of major D shape chord

However, it might be useful to barre your index with the D shape (as shown in the diagram) if you want to use techniques such as hammer ons and pull offs in the chord shape and "catch" the string with your barre finger. More on that in another lesson!

And the minor shape...

minor D shape barre chord diagram
photo of minor D form chord

Once you're confident with how these shapes are formed on the fretboard, it's time to get physically confident with fingering them and changing between them and other chords.

Bookmark and reference this page as you go through the next lesson on building finger strength with barre chords.

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