Open chords are a great way to get started on the guitar and cover some basics of playing. However, these simple shapes can be limiting if you want higher pitched sounds or if you need to play in lots of different keys.
Barre chords are movable shapes that let you play anywhere on the neck and in any key. These chords are used in virtually every style of music, so it’s worth getting them nailed.
1. Play E but don't use your first finger
Play an open e chord using this fingering that leaves your first finger free. notice that three strings are open.
2. Slide the shape up one fret
We want to turn this e into an F chord. F is one note higher than e, so move this shape one fret higher.
3. Turning E into an F barre chord
Strumming the chord will tell you something’s not right – the three open strings stayed at the same pitch when you moved the rest of the chord. simply place your first finger across all six strings at the 1st fret to move the open strings up a fret.
4. F, F7 and FM chords
Repeat this process with E7 and Em chords too. In fact, barres work with any open shape (try major 7ths and minor 7ths) and can be moved around the fretboard.
5. Barre Chords using the open A shape
Here we’re using the same barre process as we did with E and F, just starting with A and Am chords and all their variations. These shapes have their root note on the fifth string so keep the sixth string silent.
6. Less common voicings
Some chords that look and sound like they rely on open strings for their character can be converted into movable barre chords as this moody madd9 shape shows. Now would be a good time to experiment with other open chords you know.
Barre like The Ramones
The Ramones used simple powerchords and barre chords almost exclusively, influencing loads of punk bands who followed them. These punk-inspired chords sound great delivered with weighty downstrokes.
Notice that the first chord is played using only three strings – so you don’t need to use a full barre shape.
Barre like Ed Sheeran
Ed doesn’t shy away from barre chords and will often combine them with open chords. If you’re feeling creative, why not try developing the chord progression higher up the fretboard?
Obviously, you’ll find some chords won’t sound right, but it’s easy to keep moving the shapes around until you find one that fits.