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Barre Chord Advice For Beginners

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Active Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 10
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I don't post much but have read some good things on this site so I figued I'd give something back. I've been playing for right at 3 years now and feel like I am a solid intermediate player and right or wrong I pride myself on being completely "self-taught".

To the point, I'm positive that somewhere along the line I read that when formng barre chords, your thumb should be perpendicular to the neck of the guitar, or pointing up toward the ceiling or sky, whatever the case may be. For whatever reason, I've been playing barre chords for three years with my thumb cocked way to the left, almost parrallel with the neck. It has worked for awhile and sounds o.k., but I recently discovered how much cleaner and truer my chords ring out when I force myself to play with my thumb in the proper position. The difference is night and day, especially on the A based major and minor barres.

When I quit thinking and just play, I always find my thumb in the improper postion and my playing suffers accordingly. I am basically having to take many steps back and practice the proper way, when I could have made myself do it right from the beginning. So beginners, please keep this in mind.

Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 4472

Thumb position is something that almost everyone, it seems, struggles with at some point or another. One thing that seems to help is to try to not even think about your thumb. That may seem hard, but try this experiment:

Put something flat, like a CD sleeve or a 3X5 index card on your desk or a table. Pick it up without thinking and hold it so that your fingers are facing you. Now, without moving your fingers, turn it around and see where your thumb is. In all likelihood it will be somewhere between your index and middle finger (and if you use an index card you'll be able to see exactly where it is in relationship with your fingers). That's just where, for the majority of people, your thumb naturally goes.

Likewise with playing guitar and especially playing barre chords. If you can get so you allow your thumb to follow its natural tendencies and not do things you think are right, chances are you're going to be fine.

Different teachers teach barre chords in different ways. Some have the students start by laying the index across the frets forming the barre. This is good so that you can get the feel of what you need to do to get your index finger's sweet spots in place. By that I mean that everyone's fingers are different. Some have deep creases and some are smooth and what works for one may not work for you. So place your index finger across and find a position where you can sound each of the six strings cleanly. For most people this involves slightly rolling the index finger to one side (usually toward the body of the guitar). Others find that being able to slightly feel the edge of the fret against the edge of the finger works best.

Then start in reverse. Form an open position E chord, but do so while leaving your index finger free. That will mean using your pinky where your ring finger usually is, the ring finger where the middle fingers normally plays and your middle finger in place of your index finger.

Take the whole chord and move it up to the middle of the neck, say so that your middle finger's on the eighth fret and the other fingers on the ninth. Now lay your index finger across as you did in the last exercise. If you're allowing your thumb to "do it's thing" it should simply follow along with the index finger when you complete the barre chord.

Even though this seems natural after doing it, it does take time and effort. Most people dwell on the thumb because, in their heads, they're thinking they need a lot of pressure to make a barre chord work. That's simply not true. But thinking that way makes people go crazy with the thumb. Try to go natural.

By the bye, I've got a whole article on "Barre Chords for Beginners" coming up in the next issue of Play Guitar! Magazine, which I believe is out around July 15. If you don't live somewhere where you can pick it up, you can get it online at their site when it comes out.

Hope this helps.


Noble Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 1259

Well theres not alot I can add to what David said, but just remember that you should do what works for you.

I'm all about barre chords, I'm a big acoustic fan, Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews Band, an the like, so I use barre chords alot. I put alot of effort into them when I was starting. I use different posistions for my thumb. Typically for E or Em shapes I have my thumb on about a 45 degree angle to the headstock. A shapes, and similar variations, I point almost staight up. If I'm playing a song thats only barre chords, I swith it up, to ease the stress of my wrist.

Just try what works best for you. Play them for a long time, several minutes straight, and your brain and hand will work something out.

Vacate is the word...Vengance has no place on me or her...Cannot find a comfort in this world.

Trusted Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 55

Thank you for the insights....I was noodling around with a barre chord today (A) and was all over the place LOL

Life pushes hard. Push back.

Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 152

This thread seems to have wrapped us, so I wonder if I might ask a related question.

Every time I play an e-minor shape barre chord, I can't get the G string fretted properly. I can get it held down enough that it doesn't rattle while playing, but if I pick it individually, I can feel it vibrating under my index finger, and it sounds weaker than the other strings. I've tried moving my finger around, and rolling it in different directions, but had no luck. Is it like this for most people? A listener probably wouldn't notice unless I let the strings rattle.

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Reputable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 393

Make sure the G string is not in the crease of your index finger. Pay close attention to how your finger lays across all six strings. I've had that problem before and a string was hitting that crease in my finger. once i moved it, it was better. Also, now this works for me, the way i do barres is when I lay my index across the strings, I'm right at the fret on the high e and almost at the fret behind on the low E. so my index lays at an angle between the fret.

kinda like this... || Do you get the ideal? maybe try that and see if it helps.

Reputable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 371

I also struggled with barre chords. In fact I still am :x but when I first started, I couldn't get all the strings to sound out until I read (probably on this website) that sometimes the crease in your index finger matches up with one of the strings and the string doesn't get pushed down all the way. I moved my index finger up, meaning towards the sky, and I was able to get all the strings to play :D

As a bonus, I had more leverage on the neck and I was able to apply more pressure to every string with my index finger with less effort!!!

Reputable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 273

When I started learning barre chords, I had exactly the same problem: my E maj shapes sounded fine, but when I took of that middle finger to make the E min shape, it buzzed like crazy. Here's what eventually helped me fix it. Since the Emin shape didn't require my middle finger, one of my friends showed me how to put it to good use. You can lay it on top of your index finger (which is doing the barring) to give your bar some reinforcement. It takes a little bit longer to fret, but with some practice it's not too bad. This let me play the Emin shape well enough that I actually used it in my playing. This increased use of it increased my barring strength to the point that now I can do it without needing my middle finger for back up (though if I'm in the middle of a song using a lot of barres, I still go to it sometimes to give my index finger a bit of help/rest). Hope this helps.

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Reputable Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 375

I read somewhere, and I swear it was here (GN) somewhere. The suggestion was to use your shoulders and pull back and not really apply the pressure with your fingers but really with your shoulders? I tried it a long time ago and forgot about it.

The problem is: there are all kinds of BARRE chords. ROOT 6 (E shaped?) ROOT 5 (A shaped I'm sure), etc.
The "B" chord (A shaped BARRE) for example - it's almost impossble for me to BARRE the 3 strings with the ring finger? But, I'm just hoping that will come in time. I always wondered why play the "B" this way and not the "E" shaped chord and I realized that you need to try and play most chords as far (down?) the neck as you can - if you know what I mean.

It's funny, when trying to play BARRE chords and there is buzzing I increase the pressure (with the thumb also) and it's the opposite of what I should be doing.....

Bob Jessie