Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Barre Chords Are a B*tch!

“I’ve been trying to play bar cords for about 2 years But I have arthritis in my hands and I cant straighten my index finger so all the strings don’t get pushed down. Do you know of anything I can do about this? I was thinking about taping something to my finger to make it straight but I don’t know what that would be. I’m 70 years old and I would like to be able to play bar cords. Thanks. I bought a lot of your stuff, I think is very good If I could only do it.”

There are a few things you can do to help with playing guitar barre chords.

The first thing is to work with partial shapes. Experiment with just fretting and playing pieces of the chord instead of the whole thing. For example, with barre chords along string 6 you could just finger strings 6, 5 and 4 and play power chords. Or you could just finger strings 5, 4 and 3 (this would be a fifth, root and third which makes a full chord). Be sure to only strum the strings you’re fretting on.

Another partial example is the common “F” chord played in the first position. It’s actually just part of a full barre chord with strings 5 and 6 omitted. You can move this shape around the neck and use it in place of full barre chords (just be sure to only strum the strings you’re fretting on). Jimi Hendrix was famous for using this partial shape and then wrapping his thumb around the neck to fret the root on string 6. For many players, including me, this fingering is not so hard and quite comfortable.

With an "A form" barre chord you don't really need to barre. You can just grab the root on string 5 with your index finger and then flatten your ring finger out for the rest. Just be sure to avoid strumming the first string.

Here are a handful of pictures that demonstrate some fingering possibilities.

I have found that there is no perfect barre chord fingering. I end up using them all depending on what kind of sound I want and what makes my hand comfortable. If I have to play barre chords through an entire song with little or no breaks, then I change up my fingerings just to prevent my hand from cramping.

Be patient, start with simplified shapes, and give yourself time to get comfortable with something before you try to take on more. For example, in lesson I used to make students play through every song they knew just using the “F” shape and moving it around the neck. Sometimes it would take weeks for them to play through everything. By then they were pretty good at it and were ready to move on and try more.

Partial chord shapes for common barre chords plus the entire CAGED chord system with arpeggio patterns is taught in my book Fretboard Theory Chapter 3 and also my DVD entitled CAGED Template Chord System. Click the links and sign up for free previews.

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Play Until Yer Fingers Bleed!
Mr. Desi Serna

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