How to Play Bar Chords
When you first embark on your journey towards mastering the guitar, the first major hurdle is getting your open chords down. Many popular songs can be played effectively with just the basic knowledge of the standard open chords. However, what happens when you run into a song that calls for a B major? Or what about an F minor? These chords can be difficult to pull off without implementing the use of the "bar".
Essentially, a bar chord is a chord in which one finger is used to bar across all or most of the strings on one fret, while the rest of the fingers are positioned beneath it in the appropriate locations. The barred finger acts similar to a capo, a device which is used to clamp on the neck and bar across all six strings for the same purpose (while freeing up the use of that finger).
When a novice guitarist first attempts to form a bar chord, it usually feels awkward or uncomfortable. The primary reason for this is that the muscles in your hand have not been exercised enough to comfortably be able to hold in that position effectively for very long. Not unlike when you first learned how to form open chords, this awkwardness will soon fade as you practice forming the chord and sounding it out completely.
Types of Bar Chords
There are two main formations of a bar chord, and some other less common variations. The first type is when you bar across all six strings with your index finger. Depending on whether you are forming a major or minor chord, the positioning will be slightly different. Let's say you are trying to form a G major bar chord. You would then bar across the entire third fret with your index finger. Next, you would place your middle finger on the fourth fret of the third string. Your ring finger would be placed on the fifth fret of the second string, and your pinky would come to rest on the fifth fret of the fourth string. If you can sound that chord out completely, congratulations, you've successfully played a bar chord! To convert that G major to a G minor, simply lift your middle finger and allow the third fret of the third string to be sounded by your barred index finger.
The second primary type of bar chord involves using only five strings of the guitar, omitting the sixth string entirely (in most cases). For this formation, you will actually be barring with your ring finger as well as your index finger. As an example, we'll use a C major chord, barred on the third and fifth fret. Take your index finger and bar it across the first through fifth strings on the third fret. Then, with your ring finger, you will bar the second, third, and fourth strings across the fourth fret. When you sound out this chord, remember to omit the six string and begin strumming from the fifth (A) string. To switch it to a C minor, you will abandon the fifth fret bar altogether. With your index finger in the same location, place your middle finger on the fourth fret on the second string. Next, you'll place your third finger on the fourth string on the fifth fret. Finally, place your pinky finger on the third string on the fifth fret. Sound it out completely (from the fifth string to the first), and you will have successfully played a C minor bar chord.
The beauty of bar chords is that they can be moved anywhere up and down the neck, as long as the positions of your fingers stay relevant to one another. For instance, moving the G major chord formation starting on the third fret up to the fifth fret would make it become an A major chord, the seventh fret a B major chord, and so forth.
Several factors will determine how difficult it is to properly form your bar chords, including:
- Action of the guitar (distance between the strings and the fretboard). The action tends to vary by manufacturer. For instance, you may find the action of Taylor acoustic guitars to be more forgiving than that of Martin acoustic guitars.
- Gauge of the strings (lighter strings are recommended for beginners)
- Type of guitar (Electric guitars are usually much easier to form chords on that acoustic guitars)
- Strength of your hands
If you find it to be very difficult at first, don't give up! Bar chords don't come to anyone naturally, they take time and dedication to perfect. Spend as much time as you can practicing them and you'll be seamlessly changing between bar chords and strumming away in no time.