Introduction to Barre Chords
When you’re first learning how to play guitar, barre chords will seem like an intimidating step up from the easier open chords you’ve been playing. With a little bit of practice, though, you’ll be playing them with ease.
The beauty of barre chords is that you only have to learn one shape to play every chord of a certain quality. For example, if you learn how to play an F Major chord, you can slide it down the neck to play an F# Major, G Major, G# Major, and so on, all without altering the shape.
We’ve compiled a list of the four most important barre chords for guitarists. These are, by far, the most common shapes you’ll run across in popular music.
If you learn all of these , you’ll be well on your way to becoming an intermediate-level guitarist.
For every different barre chord shape we’ll look at songs that make use of them, and we’ll also provide shortcuts to figure out what specific chord is being played.
What is a barre chord?
Before we look at the best shapes, it’s important to understand what makes a chord a “barre chord.”
Since a guitar has six strings to your five off-hand fingers, you can’t fret every string individually. You can, however, press down multiple strings with one finger. This technique is called “barring.”
Barre chords are just guitar chords that make use of this method. The vast majority of these chords utilize the index finger to create the barre, although any shape that barres with any finger is technically a barre chord (such as the example below).
How to play a barre chord
Almost all barre shapes use the index finger as the barre. For this reason, we’ll be focusing on how to play index-finger barres in this article.
To play a barre chord, press down all strings of the same fret firmly with your index finger. It’s especially easy to mute the first (High E) string, so take special care to ensure your finger is completely flat against the fretboard.
It’s easiest to slide your index finger all the way to the edge of the fret so that your other fingers don’t have to stretch as far. For instance, if you’re barring the fifth fret, you want your index finger to be as close to the sixth fret as possible while maintaining a clean sound.
Next, place your other fingers on their respective strings, while still keeping your index finger in place. In the image below, an E-shaped barre chord is shown.
If you’re not sure where you’re supposed to place your fingers for different barre shapes, don’t worry. In the next section we’ll cover the most common ones.
Tips for playing barre chords
It is by no means easy to play barre chords. There are some ways to make it a bit easier, though.
1. Tuck your thumb under the neck
If you’re having trouble barring the full length of the fret, try shifting the position of your hand so that your wrist is slightly arched and your thumb is under the neck. This will give you greater reach, and will help you play the barre more cleanly and consistently.
2. Try using your thumb
Alternatively, you can try using your thumb as part of the barre. Instead of using your index finger to barre the entire fret, use your thumb for the top one or two strings (depending on the shape).
Many guitarists find this to be significantly easier because your index finger doesn’t have to stretch nearly as far. For instance, if you play an E Major barre shape the traditional way, your index finger has to span all six strings. Using your thumb, however, it only has to fret two (and your thumb only presses one).
3. Try an electric guitar
If you have access to an electric guitar, it’s immensely beneficial to practice barre chords on these before moving to acoustic. Electric guitars can be played cleanly with a lot less pressure than most acoustics require.
This allows you to practice in “easy mode.” Once you’ve become confident playing barre chords on electric, you’ll probably find that you can do it on acoustic as well.
4. Move further down the fretboard
Admittedly, many musicians only own an acoustic guitar. Don’t worry if this is the case; you can also make barre chords easier by moving down the fretboard.
The frets become increasingly narrow as you move further down the neck, which means you won’t have to stretch your hand as far to play barre chords. Start out on the seventh fret or higher and slowly work your way down as you become more comfortable.
The 4 Most Useful Barre Chord Shapes
E Major Shape Barre
The E Major-shaped barre chord is used most commonly in the standard F Major chord. It’s frequently used by musicians all over the fretboard.
E Major Barre in Music
You’ll see it used in many songs. Purple Haze utilizes the E Major barre shape to play a G and A Major chord (on the 3rd and 5th frets, respectively).
The outro to The Ocean also relies on this shape, using it to play portions of D Major and E Major chords by barring the 10th and 12th frets.
How to identify which chord you’re playing
When using the E Major barre shape you’ll always be playing a major chord, regardless of which fret you’re on. To find out which major chord you’re playing, simply identify which note is in the bass. This is the chord you’re playing.
Let’s take an example: You play an E shape barre down on the 8th fret. The bass note (Low E string) is a C, so you’re playing a C Major chord. Likewise, if you were barring the fifth fret with this shape, you’d be playing A Major (the bass note would be an A).
If you have trouble identifying the guitar string names, you may find it easier to memorize the chords listed in the next section.
List of E Major-Shape Barre Chords:
- 1st Fret: F Major
- 2nd Fret: F# Major
- 3rd Fret: G Major
- 4th Fret: G# Major
- 5th Fret: A Major
- 6th Fret: A# Major
- 7th Fret: B Major
- 8th Fret: C Major
- 9th Fret: C# Major
- 10th Fret: D Major
- 11th Fret: D# Major
- 12th Fret: E Major
A Major Shape Barre
The A Major barre chord shape is best-known for its use in the typical B Major chord.
While a true A Major shape is played using the shape above, many guitarists use a “double barre” shape that sounds nearly identical and is much easier to play, especially higher up on the guitar where the frets are close together.
To play the “double barre” shape, barre with your index finger as you normally would. Instead of using your third, fourth, and fifth fingers to individually fret strings, use only your fourth finger to barre two frets down from your index.
Drape your index finger across the bottom string so that it’s muted, or simply don’t strum this string. This creates a five-note A-shape barre that’s incredibly easy to play. It should look like this:
A Major Barre in Music
The A Major barre shape, especially the double-barre described above, is used in all genres of music.
Sublime’s Santeria opens with an arpeggiated 7th-fret A double-barre (an E Major chord), and continues to use this as the root for its chord progression throughout the song.
Cocaine’s famous riff uses an A Major barre to slide between an E Major and D Major by barring the 7th and 5th frets, respectively.
Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On opens with the same A-shaped E Major barre as Santeria, down on the 7th fret.
How to identify which chord you’re playing
With this barre shape, you can easily identify what chord you’re playing anywhere on the fretboard by finding out what note you’re playing on the A string (fifth string).
When barring the seventh fret with an A Major barre you’re playing an E on the fifth string, which tells you that it’s an E Major chord.
On a third-fret barre the A string is fretted to play C, so you’re playing a C Major barre chord.
List of A Major-Shape Barre Chords
- 1st Fret: A# Major
- 2nd Fret: B Major
- 3rd Fret: C Major
- 4th Fret: C# Major
- 5th Fret: D Major
- 6th Fret: D# Major
- 7th Fret: E Major
- 8th Fret: F Major
- 9th Fret: F# Major
- 10th Fret: G Major
- 11th Fret: G# Major
- 12th Fret: A Major
E Minor Shape Barre
The E minor barre shape is most often seen used in the F minor chord, however it’s used in many other ways.
E Minor Barre in Music
The E minor barre shape has been used in thousands of popular songs.
Hotel California’s famous intro employs a 7th-fret E minor barre, creating a B minor chord.
In the Allman Brothers’ Melissa, the rhythm guitar’s chord progression includes a second-fret E minor shape, creating an F# minor chord.
How to identify the chord you’re playing
An E minor-shaped barre chord can be easily identified. The technique is the same as with an E Major shape, except for the fact that the chord is minor.
A third-fret barre, then, would produce a G minor chord. Barring the 12th fret would give you an E minor, and so on.
List of E Minor-Shape Barre Chords
- 1st Fret: F Minor
- 2nd Fret: F# Minor
- 3rd Fret: G Minor
- 4th Fret: G# Minor
- 5th Fret: A Minor
- 6th Fret: A# Minor
- 7th Fret: B Minor
- 8th Fret: C Minor
- 9th Fret: C# Minor
- 10th Fret: D Minor
- 11th Fret: D# Minor
- 12th Fret: E Minor
A Minor Shape Barre
Last but not least, we have the A minor-shaped barre chord. This shape is most popularly used in the B minor chord.
A Minor Barre in Music
The A minor shape can be found in nearly every genre.
Jimmy Buffett’s Cheeseburger in Paradise makes use of an A minor shape in the rhythm guitar. In this instance, it’s used on the 2nd fret as a B minor chord.
Likewise, Weezer’s Say It Ain’t So features a fourth-fret A minor barre shape in its main riff to create a C# minor chord.
How to identify the chord you’re playing
As with the A Major barre shape, you’ll use the A-string to identify the name of the chord you’re playing when using an A minor barre shape. The only difference is that in this instance the chord will be minor.
On the 8th fret, then, you’ll be playing an F minor chord, and on the 11th fret it would be a G# minor.
List of A Minor-Shape Barre Chords
- 1st Fret: A# Minor
- 2nd Fret: B Minor
- 3rd Fret: C Minor
- 4th Fret: C# Minor
- 5th Fret: D Minor
- 6th Fret: D# Minor
- 7th Fret: E Minor
- 8th Fret: F Minor
- 9th Fret: F# Minor
- 10th Fret: G Minor
- 11th Fret: G# Minor
- 12th Fret: A Minor
Barre chords can be tricky, but don’t give up on them. They’re an integral part of any decent guitarist’s repertoire, and they’ll open the door to play even more of your favorite songs.
While there are many other barre chord shapes, E Major, A Major, E minor, and A minor are by far the most common.
Also keep in mind that even if a song calls for a different-shaped major or minor barre chord, you can always transpose it to one of these four shapes.