Breaking The Bar Chord Barrier

Are you a guitarist who is comfortable playing open string chords but when it comes to bar chords they are a barrier to playing certain songs? The key to breaking the bar chord barrier on guitar is building hand strength and placing your hand in the correct position on the guitar neck. In comparison to open string chords such as G C and D bar chords are much more difficult to play as they require extra pressure for the strings ring out clearly.

To help build the hand strength necessary for a clear bar chord sound try this exercise. Using just your first finger bar it across all the strings at the 5th fret. Ensure that the finger is perfectly parallel with the fret and placed up against it as close as possible.

Bar Chord Parallel Palm

To help keep the finger straight keep the palm up and close to the bottom of the guitar neck.

Also ensure that your thumb is placed behind the fifth fret spot on the neck and pointing upwards.

Bar Chord Thumb

If your hand is placed correctly there should be a gap under the guitar neck so that you palm doesn’t actually touch the bottom of the neck.

Bar Chord Palm Gap

The thumb will act as a vice helping to apply pressure to the first finger. While you are doing this pluck each string individually checking that each one is ringing out clearly. If any strings are muted try moving your finger up or down slightly in relation to the floor. If some strings are still muted you may simply need to apply more pressure. As I say to my students it should be slightly painful 😉 Like the tips of your fingers your first finger will also develop calluses from playing bar chords. Once this callus has developed playing bar chords won’t be as painful.

A Major Bar ChordAfter you have your first finger working with all strings ringing out clearly we will add the other fingers. Here at the 5th fret we will play an A major chord using the 6 string major bar chord shape. Add finger 3 to the 7th fret on the 5th string, finger 4 to the 7th fret on the 4th string and finger 2 to the 6th fret on the 3rd string. Now pluck each string individually checking each one rings out clearly.


I recommend to first practice bar chords on the 5th fret as it requires less pressure and finger stretching than playing further down the neck such as at fret 1 for the F bar chord. Once you have each string of your A chord ringing clearly try the same shape at fret 4 for Ab, fret 3 for G, fret 2 for F# and finally fret 1 for F. Of course check that all the string rings out clearly for each chord.

For the next bar chord lesson we will look at the six main bar chord shapes and how to use them to all the main chords on the guitar.

Leave a Reply