Thursday, September 11, 2014

Barre Chords - What am I doing wrong??

I wanted to do a quick post to help beginning players address probably their most asked question of their teachers: "How do I do a barre chord! These are impossible!!".

No they are not... they are surprisingly quite easy with some work.

Finger Placement
First up, let's talk briefly about the proper fretting hand placement. The way the guitar works is that when you press down on a string at any fret, the string makes contact with the steel fret wire at the front edge of the fret (closer to the body of the guitar not the neck). This essentially makes the string shorter and the contact point is exactly on the crest of the steel fret wire. Why this matters: no matter where in the fret you press down with your finger, the contact point remains the fret wire itself.

Take a look at this photo below, most importantly where I am fretting the note. This is bad finger placement - too far from the front fret itself. More strength is required to push the string down in this position. I have made a small red dot where the finger should be for optimal technique.

This (below) is correct placement. Notice where in the fret, the finger makes contact - right behind the fret wire itself. This placement allows you to use the least possible strength. The less strength you need to press down the faster your playing and the clearer the notes.

This (below) is what a good barre chord should look like. I have circled the finger placement so you can see how on top of the fret wires I am.

Let's talk about the thumb
The most overlooked aspect of a good barre chord is the placement of the thumb. The thumb provides the strength and counter balance for the fingers.

In this photo you can see bad thumb placement. I am using the side of my thumb and it is too far towards the headstock of the guitar to provide strength to the pinky side of my hand. The index finger is the only finger getting any assistance here.

Here is another bad example. With your palm touching the neck, the thumb is too high to properly spread your fingers. When you grab the guitar with what can be referred to as a "Baseball bat grip", the structure of your hand is such that when the thumb is in a grabbing type position, your fingers will not be free to spread apart.

Here is proper placement - Thumb behind the second finger, in the middle of the height of the neck. This position allows even strength and the ability for the fingers to spread. Which can be critical in chording.

Let's put it all together
Here is a picture of a correctly executed barre chord. With a hand position like this it gives you the best positioning to create a chord with no buzzing or fretted out notes.

Best player in the world X doesn't do it that way!
It should be said that once you get good at an instrument, often times your technique can get sloppy. I can use almost any hand placement now and still get a clean barre chord after all these years. But I sure couldn't at first! It was hell - but that was many years ago. The great players can use odd fingers and all kinds of other technically "wrong" hand positions. They can get away with it. Because all the hours of doing it right has given their hands the strength and flexibility to achieve this.

Will I ever get this?
Topics like this are odd because once you master this - you will never need to think of it again. It becomes second nature. One day these chords will be so easy you will wonder why I wasted the time writing an article about them. So stay with it, focus on your thumb and finger placement and you will have these mastered before you know it.

Best of luck!

1 comment:

  1. excellent advice, thank you for your insights and thoughts !