Are you a guitarist looking for a simple, clear guide on how to play bar chords? Well here you go! Let’s dive right in. 

What Are Bar Chords?

They are movable open chords played further up the neck of the guitar, where you use your first finger as the ‘bar’, mimicking the open fret. 

Open chords can only be played in a limited number of keys; Bar chords on the other hand can play in any key because we can shift the chords up or down the neck. 

For instance, a singer has a song to share, but only sings in a certain key. Because bar chords can be moved to change their root note, you can shift your chord patterns to fit in that key. 

Neat huh?!

Learn How To Play Bar Chords

Let’s start with the E Major bar chord. We start with the E chord because we’re playing it on the 7th fret, and the closer we play to the open strings, the harder it is to fret chords. Bar chords are hard enough at the start, without that added difficulty!

E Major bar chord:

Follow these steps: 

  1. place your 1st finger down on all the strings of the 7th fret
  2. place fingers 3 and 4 on the 9th fret
  3. place 2nd finger on 8th fret

Here are some more bar chords we can play:

how to play bar chords

Let’s try out the following exercise, changing between the different bar chords we’ve learned;

Exercise: Playing With A Metronome

First, we play once with a metronome at 60bpm. 

One strum for the 1st beat, then pausing for the next 3 beats to change to the next chord. 

Do this for the next 3 chords, and repeat.

(For more guidance on playing with a metronome, check out this post

With bar chords, it’s a matter of practising little and often. They demand a lot of strength, and use parts of your fingers that you’ve not likely used for playing guitar before – namely, the side of your 1st finger. 

Let’s say you practised them all day for a week; By the end of day 2 you would be finished. 

It’s like working out; you need an effective practise routine so you can build muscle, and not damage yourself in the process. Try lifting too much weight at once – or in this case, pressing too much – can lead to serious injuries, lots of frustration, and a lack of enjoyment in your playing. 

Check out this video for an effective bar chord warm up routine;

Main points:

  1. Choose 3 chords to practise
  2. Press down on one chord, hold it for 5 seconds, then release for 5 seconds. 
  3. Repeat 3 times
  4. Move onto the next chord and do the same thing.
  5. Repeat the whole thing 3 times once you’ve reached the last chord
  6. Break for 2 – 5 minutes
  7. Repeat from step one, playing each chord once when you fret it
how to play bar chords strength training

Extra things to take note of:

  1. The position of your wrist. Is it sticking out? Or is the wrist near the same level as your forearm? It should be no more than a 45 degree angle, and you shouldn’t feel any tension when it’s bent.
  2. Are you fretting all the notes within the first finger?
  3. Be aware of how you fret the notes. Are you using the fingertips for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers?
  4. Notice how you sit when you play. Sitting scrunched up with a hunched back is going to make you feel like a hag. Sitting comfortably will feel more pleasant. Be aware of how you’re feeling when you play; soften your body to sit more comfortably. It will probably feel more tense at first, but this is because you are easing into your discomfort, so you can release the tension in the long run. This will make it easier to fret notes with less effort. 

Bar chords take a while to get to grips with. Once you’ve got them down your fingers only take a little maintenance to stay in shape.

Wondering where to go next? Check out this post on 7th bar chords to add colour to your playing. 

This part of the journey can turn a lot of people off, and so I would love to know your experience so I can help you with the process, troubleshooting any problems. If you feel like it, go to the Facebook group ‘JimJam Guitar Study Group’ and share how you’re getting on, how well you’re crushing it or if you’re struggling in a certain area.

Let’s do this together, fellow travellers. 

Categories: Songwriting


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