Let’s face it, there are so many chords to be learned, and it would seem like so little time to learn them! I’ll combat that mindset by saying that there is a really great way to get crackin’ on an awesome set of guitar chords.
If you have already learned some basic open guitar chords like G major, C major, D major, E minor, A minor, then you are completely ready for the next step.
The next set of chords to learn are called barre chords, because you will literally be barring a single fret across all six strings. This is done with the index finger, and you’ll need to put a lot of focus into the index finger, in order to ensure that you have the frets firmly pressed down.
The great thing about barre chords is that you can create major, minor, major 7th, and minor 7th chords from this formation. Barre chords are also exceptional in the sense that the fingering doesn’t change. There is a certainly formula for the major, minor, 7th, and minor 7th chords and it doesn’t change. If you want to create a new chord out of a new key, then you simply slide the formation up or down on your fret board.
1. All the barre chords
We’ll start with a G major barre chord, and build all of our other barre chords along the way.
Take your index finger and lay it across the 3rd fret on all six strings. You’ll have to press down a little hard at first, and you should go ahead and strum all the strings to make sure that all the third frets ring loud and clear.
Now take your ring finger and place it on the 5th fret of the A string. If you strum this right now, you will have a G minor 7th barre chord! its that simple and you can slide this chord into different areas of the fret board to create a new minor 7th barre chord. If you slide it up two frets you will have the A minor 7th barre chord, but we still need to finish the major barre chord!
By now you should have your index finger barring all the third frets across all six strings, and you should also have your ring finger placed on the fifth fret of the A string.
Once you have this down, place your pinkie finger on the 5th fret of the D string.
If you strum this right now, you will have yourself a G minor barre chord. Again, if you maintain this exact fingering you can slide this chord around to produce other minor barre chord sounds.
How do we make it major? you simply add one more finger. You’re going to take your middle finger and place it on the 4th fret of the G string. If you strum this now, you’ll have a G major barre chord.
The last chord formation left is the major 7th barre chord formation. This is very simply, because all you have to do is start with the major barre chord formation. Let’s take a look at that formation one more time, just to make sure we’ve got it down.
Your index finger should be “barring” all the 3rd frets across all six strings. You should have your ring finger on the 5th fret of the A string, your pinkie finger on the 5th fret of the D string, and your middle finger on the 4th fret of the G string. Now, take your pinkie finger out of the equation. Go ahead and lift it off of the 3rd fret on the D string.
If you strum this new formation now, you’ll have the G major 7th barre chord. Just like all the other barre chord formations, you can slide it around to create barre chords in other keys.
2. Tips for practicing
The best way to practice barre chords in order to get them down, is to practice the major, minor, major 7th, and minor 7th barre chords, in that specific order.
Start with the major barre chord formation on the 1st fret (F), move to the 2nd fret (F#), then to the 3rd fret (G), and so on.
Take this chord formation up the neck, as high as you can go. When you have completed a round of major barre chords, do the same with the minor barre chords, starting on the 1st fret. Once you have completed a round of those, work on the minor 7th barre chords and then the major 7th barre chords.
When you’re practicing your barre chords, you might as well incorporate a little strumming practice as well.
The best way to do this is to keep it simple. Strum down through the strings once, and then strum up through the strings, and try to do this at a slow and even tempo. This would be called “alternate strumming”, because much like alternate picking, you are alternating your strumming.
Keep repeating this, because it will pay off in the long run. After you have practiced alternate strumming for a while, your picking hand will get very comfortable with alternate strumming. Eventually you’ll be able to alternate strum fast or slow, and at some point you’ll reach a level where you can include variations of the alternate strumming movement.
A good example of this would be Latin music. Latin guitar work uses a lot of minor and major 7th chords, and the barre chord versions of these chord structures work beautifully.
Latin music also has amazing rhythms, and by practicing alternate strumming, you’ll really be able to take advantage of this.
Best of luck, and here’s to many years of enjoyable playing!