Easier Barre Chords, with Selective Pressure

Barre chords can be hard on the hands. We can fatigue quickly playing them. And tired fingers can lead to mistakes and fumbles.

But barre chords don’t always have to be so strenuous. We can make them easier some of the time. It just takes a close look at what needs to happen…

Take Stock: Which Notes Sound?

For many barre chords, the other left-hand fingers also play. This means that we don’t need to barre all the strings. Just the ones that need to sound.

So we can look at which notes of the barre need to ring, and which don’t. Then, we can put full pressure on only those that need it.

We can ease the pressure on the strings that don’t sound. And this can save loads of energy.

As a result, we can barre longer, and we can stay more agile just after the barre, when we may otherwise be worn out.

Practice pressing each point on the finger

It takes practice to use selective pressure and only press some of the strings.

Here’s one way to practice selective pressure:

  1. Lay a loose barre across the strings. Touch every string, but don’t press.
  2. Practice pressing just the lowest-sounding (6th) string with the fingertip. Keep the other strings unpressed, with the finger laying over them.
  3. Next, practice pressing just the 5th string. This will be the meat of the tip joint.
  4. Then the 4th string. This requires pressing down on the tip joint. We don’t need to flex the tip and play the 6th string. The joint can bow.
  5. The 3rd string may feel like a full barre. But we don’t need to press the lower or higher strings. The adjacent strings may press, but the lowest and highest don’t need to. We can think of the finger as a downward curve, coming up slightly at the ends.
  6. Moving to the 2nd string, we press on the middle joint.
  7. And for the first string, we use the meat between the middle and big knuckles. This is almost a hand pressure, as we can lean the hand into the side of the guitar to press the string.

With practice, we can isolate each string within the barre.

Then, we can practice combining two or more strings. This is most often how we’ll play them in pieces of music.

Common Mistake: Too Much Pressure in One or More Places

To play with selective pressure takes control and practice. There is little (if anything) in normal life that requires such nitpicky finger work.

So it’s normal to over-press. Even for advanced players, pressure can build to higher levels than needed for the chord.

For any spot in a piece of music where we get tired, we can explore each barre chord. We can see if we’re using appropriate tension for each note played.

Only Barre When You Need To

To save strength and stay nimble, it helps to barre only where we need to. And then with only the required pressure for the given chord.

We can sometimes barre a chord that needs no barre. This is because it may feel more secure, such as after a shift. We may be able to use more accuracy in our finger placement instead of barring.

It is especially useful to examine long-memorized pieces to make sure all the barres are clean and organized. Over time, we may develop habits of barring that lead to more or unnecessary pressure.

Learn more about barre chords in the full course, All About Barre Chords.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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