LESSON: Free yourself from painful barre chords

Y’know what’s always kinda baffled me? The emphasis placed on barre chords for beginners. They hurt, they’re hard and the majority of pro players only use partial versions anyway – letting other instruments share part of the chord – so players who learn those songs with full barre chords could be playing them wrong! I’m not saying they’re not important, because duh, but I think they needlessly stress out a lot of beginners.

So what can you do if you’re struggling with barre chords but you really, really want to play a particular song? Well here’s a helpful method which will:

a) Get you playing the song in a recognisable, listenable fashion;

b) Increase your confidence and finger strength so that when you actually do want to play a full six-string barre chord, you’ll be in better shape to do so; and

c) Make you really cool.

To start with, here are four common barre chord shapes, presented here in the key of A.

Some of these can be real fingerbusters for the beginner. Just move them elsewhere on the neck to play different chords – up two frets to play B, down two frets to play G, etc. Need a quick refresher on the note/chord names? Here!

Want to make it a lot easier on yourself? Still visualise the chords as the are above, but take your mind off those pesky lowest two notes and fret them thusly:

All are still playing off the fifth fret like the regular barre chords. You’ll still get the character and defining notes of each chord, but they’ll no longer be so damn hard to fret. And if you look close you’ll notice something: every single one of these chords involved an index finger barred over the fifth fret, and either one, two or zero fingers pressed down at a specific fret. Start with the A major shape (the first one). Want to make it Am? Remove the second finger. Want to make it A7? Remove the third finger instead. Want to play an Am7? Take them all off, leaving just the barred fifth fret. Easy!

If you’re playing in a band, these partial versions of the chords may actually make you sound better by spreading out the notes of the chord between the guitar and bass, and they’ll even free up a finger for adding little melodies on top of the notes, like those connecting notes in the verses of “Under The Bridge” by Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Granted, if you’re playing a song all by yourself you might loose a little of the low end, but these versions of the chords should increase your finger strength and musical confidence and soon you’ll be ready to tackle the full six-note versions.

Happy shredding!