Read an Excerpt
Teach Yourself VISUALLY Guitar
By maranGraphics Development
John Wiley & Sons
Copyright © 2003
All right reserved.
Playing Barre Chords and Power Chords
In this Chapter ...
Introduction to Barre Chords
The E-based Major Barre Chord
Other E-based Barre Chords
The A-based Major Barre Chord
Other A-based Barre Chords
Open-Position Power Chords
Movable Power Chords
Songs for Practice
After learning basic chords,
you can play barre chords
and power chords to add
flair to your music. This chapter
discusses E-based and A-based
barre chords, which are the most
popular types of barre chords, as
well as open-position and movable
power chords. Some sample songs
are also included to help you
Barre (pronounced "bar") chords are chords that
require you to use a barre. To form a barre, you press
down on multiple strings with a single finger, usually
your index finger. You also position the rest of your
fingers on specific strings to form a chord. You can
then move this finger shape to any location on the
fingerboard to allow you to play many different
chords. The finger shape you use to form a chord
and the fret your index finger is positioned at
determine which chord you willplay.
Barre chords that use the same finger shape as
the open-position E chord and the open-position A
chord are the most common types of barre chords.
Open-position chords are chords you play near the
nut that use strings that do not have a finger pressing
down on them.
Since barre chords allow you to play chords at
different locations on the fingerboard, these chords
are often referred to as movable chords. Using
movable chords allows you to play chords away
from the nut of the guitar and gives you more
versatility in your playing.
Learning to play barre chords can be difficult. You
may find playing barre chords painful at first because
you need to hold your fingers in an awkward position
and exert enough pressure to get all the strings to
ring properly. This discomfort will subside with
What do barre chord
diagrams look like?
Chord diagrams for barre chords look slightly
different from regular chord diagrams. The
following chord diagram is color coded to show
the three main parts of a barre chord diagram.
This part of the barre chord diagram represents
the barre. The (1) which represents your index
finger, only appears on the strings that do not
have another finger pressing down on them.
Your index finger should be pressing down on
all the strings under the ?? symbol.
Open-Position Chord Shape
While your index finger forms the barre, you use
your middle, ring and pinky fingers to form the
chord shape for the chord.
Most barre chord diagrams indicate at which fret
to position your index finger by displaying the fret
number followed by the letters "fr". If a barre
chord is to be played close to the nut, the fret
indicator is not included.
What are the benefits of playing
Learning barre chords can give you more options
when playing the guitar. For example, barre chords
allow you to play in all of the twelve keys, whereas
you can only play in five or six keys when you are
just using open-position chords. A key determines
the notes and chords you play in a song. Moreover,
certain chords cannot even be played as open-position
chords, and therefore you need to play
them as barre chords.
Less Memory Work
Another advantage to using barre chords instead of
open-position chords is that you only have to learn
one finger shape to play twelve different chords.
The finger shape you use and the location of your
fingers on the fingerboard determine the chord you
will play. If you played every chord as an open-position
chord, you would need to learn a different
finger shape for each chord. The reason why barre
chords allow you to play so many chords with one
finger shape is that your index finger acts as a new
nut, allowing you to play chords at any fret on the
Easier to Switch Between Chords
Barre chords can make playing the guitar easier.
The location of a barre chord on the fingerboard
can sometimes be closer to other chords you want
to play than if you were playing open-position
chords. This way you do not have to move your
hand as much to switch between chords.
Barre chords give you more control over the
sounds your guitar makes. For example, when
you play a barre chord and you want a string
to stop ringing, you simply release the pressure
of your finger from the string slightly. When you
play an open-position chord, which contains
strings that do not have a finger pressing down
on them, you cannot easily stop a string from
ringing. The ability to control how long strings
ring when playing barre chords can give your
playing a cleaner sound.
How can I improve my sound
when playing a barre chord?
Position Your Fingers Correctly
When you form a barre chord, try to apply equal
pressure with your index finger across all the
strings. You should also bend your index finger
very slightly and roll this finger slightly onto
its side toward the nut. Using the side of your
finger rather than the flat surface of your finger
will help you achieve the best tone.
When you position your other fingers to form the
chord, make sure you are using the tips of your
fingers to press down on the strings. You should
also ensure that each finger is just behind the fret
and not accidentally touching other strings. Be
careful that you do not pull your index finger
out of place when you position your other fingers.
You may want to try picking each string individually
to make sure they ring clearly. If you hear buzzing
or muted sounds, check your fingers to make sure
they are positioned correctly.
Position Your Hand Correctly
If you find that any of the notes in the chord
are not sounding when you play a barre chord,
try moving your palm more in front of the
fingerboard. You may also want to try moving
your elbow closer to your body to change the
angle that your hand approaches the strings
on the fingerboard.
Position Your Thumb Correctly
The placement of your thumb is also important.
Make sure you position your thumb between
your index and middle finger on the back of
the neck, which will allow you to add pressure
to the strings. Even though the pressure should
be firm, try to keep your wrist and hand as relaxed
What can I do to make playing
barre chords easier?
To become more comfortable forming a barre
with your index finger, you may want to try the
following exercise. Hold down the 1st and 2nd
strings with your index finger. When this feels
comfortable, try holding down the 1st, 2nd and
3rd strings. Keep increasing the number of
strings until you are holding down all six strings.
Try to determine whether it is easier for you to
form the barre first and then form the chord with
your other fingers, or to form the chord first and
then form the barre.
Try practicing barre chords on the frets closer to
the body of the guitar. Since the frets are closer
together in this area, your fingers do not have to
stretch as far.
If possible, practice on an electric guitar because
the strings on an electric guitar are easier to
press down than on an acoustic guitar.
Try to keep your hand relaxed, making sure your
fingers are not stiff.
You can perform finger exercises, such as the
exercises shown on page 37, before you practice
Is there a different strumming
technique I can use to make
barre chords more interesting?
Once you are comfortable playing barre chords,
you may want to play arpeggios, instead of
strumming all the strings for chords. To play
an arpeggio, you simply pick individual strings
rather than strumming them all at once. For
more information on playing arpeggios, see
the E-based major
E-based barre chords are the most common types
of barre chords. The E-based major barre chord is
based on the finger positioning of the E major chord.
For information on the E major chord, see page 64.
To form the E-based major barre chord, you use your
middle, ring and pinky fingers to form an E major
chord. Keeping the E major chord formation, you
then slide your fingers along the fingerboard toward
the bridge by one fret and form a barre by using
your index finger to press down all the strings one
fret behind. You can keep your fingers in the same
formation and slide your fingers along the fingerboard
to another fret to play a different chord.
The name of each chord you play using the E-based
major barre formation is determined by the note your
index finger plays on the 6th string. For example,
when your index finger is behind the first fret, you
play an F major chord because the note played by
the 6th string at the first fret is F.
Once you are familiar with the E-based major barre
chord, you can learn the E-based minor, minor 7th
and dominant 7th chords using the same method of
barring strings with your index finger. Minor 7th chords
have a mellower, jazzier sound than minor chords and
dominant 7th chords produce a more complex sound
than major chords.
To form one of these E-based barre chords, you use
different combinations of your middle, ring and pinky
fingers to form the chord. You then form the barre by
placing your index finger across all six strings.
The name of each chord you play using these E-based
barre chord formations is determined by the note
your index finger plays on the 6th string. For example,
when your index finger is behind the tenth fret and
you are using the minor fingering, you play a D minor
chord because the note played by the 6th string at
the tenth fret is D. For more information on the names
of the notes on the 6th string, see the top of page 87.
the A-based major
The A-based major barre chord is one of the most
common types of barre chords. You can use the finger
position for the A-based major barre chord on any
fret on the fingerboard to play many different major
An easy way to learn the A-based major barre chord
is to first form the A major chord using your middle,
ring and pinky fingers. For information on the A major
chord, see page 64. Then slide your fingers down one
fret, keeping the same position of your fingers. You
then need to form a barre by pressing down on the
first five strings with your index finger just behind
the first fret. Even though you do not need to barre
the 6th string, you can barre the 6th string if it feels
To practice A-based major barre chords, you can
practice the exercises on pages 63 and 65, substituting
the A-based major barre chords for the major chords.
When you are familiar with the A-based major barre
chord, you can learn the A-based minor and minor 7th
barre chords using the same method of barring strings.
To form an A-based minor or minor 7th barre chord,
you use a combination of your middle, ring and pinky
fingers to form an A minor or minor 7th chord. Then
form a barre with your index finger across the first
five strings. For information on the A minor chord,
see page 66. For information on the A minor 7th
chord, see page 74.
You can use the finger positions for these barre chords
at any fret on the fingerboard to play many different
minor and minor 7th chords. Like the A-based major
barre chords, the note played on the 5th string by your
index finger determines the name of each A-based
minor and minor 7th barre chord. For information
on the notes played on the 5th string, see the top of
For practice, play a chord progression that uses
A-based major, minor and minor 7th barre chords.
An open-position chord is a chord that is played by
strumming the strings of a guitar without fretting, or
pressing down, some of the strings. Open-position power
chords also have at least one string not pressed down.
An open-position power chord is composed of the
two or three lowest notes of its corresponding major
chord. The open-position power chords are A5, which
is based on the A major chord, E5, which is based
on the E major chord, and D5, which is based on
the D major chord. For information on the A, E and
D major chords, see pages 63 to 65.
Power chords are often referred to as "5" chords because
the second note of the chord is always five steps higher
than the root note. For example, when playing the A5
power chord, the root note is A and the second note
of the chord is E, which is five steps higher than A.
Due to their lower pitch and stripped down sound,
power chords are popular in hard rock and heavy metal
songs. You can hear power chords in older songs, such
as "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath, and also in modern
songs by bands such as Green Day and Blink 182.
Movable power chords are power chords you can play
on any fret on the fingerboard. This allows you to play
12 different chords using the same hand position.
Movable power chords are composed of the two or
three lowest notes of either the E-based or A-based
major barre chords. For more information on E-based
and A-based major barre chords, see pages 86 and 90.
When playing the E-based movable power chord, the
chord you play depends on the name of the note
played on the 6th string. When playing the A-based
movable power chord, the chord you play depends
on the name of the note played on the 5th string.
Power chords are considered neither major nor minor
and are often referred to as 5 chords since the two
notes that make up a power chord are five steps apart.
Excerpted from Teach Yourself VISUALLY Guitar
by maranGraphics Development
Copyright © 2003 by maranGraphics Development.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.