Learn and Master Guitar – How to Play Bar Chords

When a guitarist can play bar chords it opens a whole new world of possibilities.

Bar chords (also written as barre chords) require a certain amount of physical strength and endurance. There is also quite a bit of mystery surrounding this type of chord.

In many guitar courses the ability to play bar chords was highly revered as the player who knew how to play bar chords was considered to have reached a new plateau in their guitar playing.

So what's all the fuss? Are these special chords that only the chosen few can play? You might think so if you where to ask a lot of players, but as it turns out bar chords are simply another style of chord that will give your guitar playing added variety and interest.

On a basic level there are two main types of chords played on the guitar:

(a) Open chords – these are the type of chords most guitarists learn first. Open chords are simply any chords that have open strings.

Generally open chords are played using formations on the first three frets of the guitar, of course it is possible to play chord formations anywhere on the guitar and include open strings.

(b) Bar chords – in contrast to the open chords, bar chords do not have any open strings as part of the chord. The term bar (or barre) is derived from the way the chord is formed.

When any single finger is used to cover two or more strings this is referred to as a bar formation. Any finger can be used to create the bar formation.

The first finger is used for covering the six strings for the basic bar chord formations.

How do bar chords work?

Essentially bar chords are simply moveable versions of open chord shapes.

Let's take the open "E" major chord as an example of converting an open chord to a bar chord shape.

As you know the open "E" major chord consists of six strings, if we moved this E chord formation up one fret, three of the notes would be raised in pitch while the other three strings (the open strings) would remain at their original pitch.

The concept behind playing bar chords is to be able to close off the open strings so that when you move any chord shape over the entire fretboard all the notes of the chord will be raised or lowered equally.

Back to our original "E" major chord, if we where to close off the open strings (the first, second and sixth strings) with our index finger and use our remaining three fingers to create the original "E" major shape one fret higher we would now be playing our first bar chord.

Our bar chord shape would be as follows:

(1) Index finger covering all six strings
(2) 2nd finger playing third string, second fret
(3) 3rd finger playing fifth string, third fret
(4) 4th finger playing fourth string, third fret

Obviously, with our second, third and fourth fingers on the third, fourth and fifth strings only the notes on the first, second and sixth strings will sound from the bar formation created by our index finger.

The neat thing is that because no open strings are being played with this formation we are free to move the chord shape all over the guitar.

Because we have derived our bar chord shape from a open 'major' chord our new bar chord shape will be a 'major' chord wherever we move it.

The bar chord will remain a 'major' chord because mathematically we are keeping the same distance between all the notes, we have simply transposed them to a different pitch.

How do we know what to call our new bar chord?

That's simple … our original chord was called "E" major, the sixth string open is also named "E" (remember the "E" major chord was an open chord) hence all new moveable bar chord shapes based on the open " E "major chord will have their chord name identified by whatever note is under the index finger.

For example:

The "E" major chord shape played as a bar chord on the …

1st fret produces an "F" major chord
2nd fret produces an "F # / Gb" major chord
3rd fret produces an "G" major chord
4th fret produces an "G # / Ab" major chord
5th fret produces an "A" major chord
6th fret produces an "A # / Bb" major chord
7th fret produces an "B" major chord
8th fret produces an "C" major chord
9th fret produces an "C # / Db" major chord
10th fret produces an "D" major chord etc, etc

You can apply the same concept to minor, dominant seventh and minor seventh open "E" chord shapes and use the exact same reference chart.