Getting to grips with bar chords is the gauntlet for all beginner guitarists. There’s no way around it – you just have to grit your teeth and persevere.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts or this one, but there are some ways to make the process a little less frustrating.

In this article, we’ll

  • Explain the best way to learn bar chords
  • Provide some bar chord diagrams
  • Give you some songs to practice

What is a bar chord?

Bar chords, or ‘barre’ chords, are a fundamental technique in guitar playing. We use them for a variety of reasons – different tonal qualities, easier chord changes, different voicings, etc.

  • Open chords utilize a combination of fretted and open strings.
  • With bar chords we use our index finger to hold down multiple strings along one fret.
  • It’s easiest to think of the index finger as a moveable nut
  • This allows us to take open chord shapes and move them up the neck.

Why do we use bar chords?

The guitar is the perfect instrument for transposing – meaning we can take a single chord shape or scale pattern and move it anywhere on the neck to change its key.

For example, if you take an F major chord and move it up two frets it becomes a G major.

This basic principle is what makes bar chords so useful. When you realize that all the open chord shapes you know can be moved around, your options expand instantly!

Best bar-chord technique

Before we learn some chord shapes, let’s make sure we know how to play them as efficiently and comfortably as possible.

  • Bar chords are one of the most physically-demanding techniques
  • Using excessive force over a long period can lead to injury – so pay attention to how your hand feels.
  • If at any point you start to feel pain, take a break and come back to it later.

Here are a few pointers from Pickup Music co-founder Sam Blakelock – he knows his stuff.

Key points:

  • Get your guitar set up by a pro – a good action makes a world of difference.
  • Be energy efficient! Use just enough force to get each note ringing clearly.
  • Be mindful of where you put your thumb on the back of the neck.
  • Use the side of your index finger for the bar – not the fleshy part.

Best bar chords for beginner guitarists

Okay, it’s time to grab your guitar and try out some chords.

We’re assuming you already know your basic open chord shapes – C, A, G, E, D. If not, check out this article for a quick overview.

You may have noticed there are two musical letters missing in this group – F and B.

There are no full open chords for F and B, so to complete the set, we need to use bar chords!

These five shapes are actually all moveable – it’s the foundation of the magnificent CAGED system.

F major bar chord

Here’s our first bar chord. Before you start, use this finger stretching routine to warm up your hands and avoid injury.

  • For the Fmaj chord, we just need to take our Emaj shape and slide it up one fret.
  • You’ll need to change your fingering for the main shape as your index finger is used to create the bar.

The numbers indicate which fingers to use on each fret.

B major bar chord

The Bmaj bar chord is the same as our Amaj open chord – we just slide it up two frets.

You can get a lot of mileage from these two chords, and of course, any variations of these shapes will transfer to a bar chord too. For example, Em and Am, or even 7th chords!

How to build finger strength for bar chords

Before considering strength, first make sure you have covered hand warm-ups and proper technique – often these two factors are more important than finger/forearm strength alone.

  • Like any new exercise it will be more difficult at first – practice makes perfect.
  • Over time your muscles will strengthen and learn the perfect amount of pressure to apply for a clean-sounding bar chord.
  • Remember that with most bar chords, your index finger is only responsible for holding down three strings.
  • Make a point of only applying pressure where it’s needed.

If you don’t get much time to practice, there are grip-strengthening devices you can buy. Whenever you have a few minutes free you can take it out of your bag and do a mini hand workout.

Best songs for practicing bar chords

Creep (Acoustic) – Radiohead

Here's a familiar song that’s a great starting point for playing bar chords. There are four chords in total – two bar chords, and two open chords.

The chords are:

  • Open G
  • B bar chord
  • Open C
  • Cmin bar chord (Am shape)

Valerie – Amy Winehouse

This one has a slightly faster tempo with three bar chords, and two open chords

The chords are:

  • Open E
  • F#m bar chord
  • Open A
  • G#m bar chord
  • B bar chord

Why can’t I play bar chords?

This is probably the biggest hurdle in a beginner guitarist's journey.

Just know this: Every. Single. Guitarist has gone through what you’re going through. There’s no trick to mastering bar chords, it’s a matter of persistence.

We promise it’s worth it. Once you can confidently play a handful of bar chords, practically every song becomes accessible to you.

That’s got to be enough motivation, right?!

Try the mini bar🍾

No, unfortunately we’re not talking about racking up a massive hotel bill on tiny beverages.

A ‘mini’ bar chord is when we use fewer strings in a chord voicing – it can be easier on the hands when first starting out, or just a nice way to change up the sound of a chord.

  • Major and minor chords only require three notes – the 1, 3, and 5.
  • These are also known as triads.
  • They sound less full but still carry the same harmonic information.

Here you can see the mini version of the A shape (left), and also a mini version of the E shape (right).

Note: The numbers on these diagrams indicate the intervals - not fingers.

“Wait… that doesn’t look like the E shape!” 🤔

There are two different ways to play the E shape bar chord, one of which is a little unorthodox.

Honorable mention: The thumb chord

The thumb chord was a favorite of a little-known guitar player from the 1960s called Jimi Hendrix. We’ve never heard of him either, but apparently, he was pretty good.

He would almost always substitute this shape in place of the normal E shape bar chord.

The diagram below shows the thumb chord on the 3rd fret, making this a Gmaj chord.

  • Some people find this more comfortable than the standard E bar chord shape.
  • Once you get used to bringing your thumb over the top of the neck it’s actually pretty comfy.
  • There’s also an added benefit to this shape – it makes chord embellishments much easier.

You can use your pinky finger to add the 4th, 6th, or 9th to your major chord for some added flavor.

If you want to learn more about how to play like this Jimi Hendrix guy, check out this awesome course.


Bar chords are an essential tool for every guitarist. As tough as they might seem now, it won’t be long before you break through the wall and open up a whole new world of chord options.

The main takeaways from this article are:

  • Be gentle on your hands – warm up and build strength before pushing too hard
  • Analyse your posture, hand position, and amount of force – make small adjustments until it feels right.
  • Pick some songs you like and find the chords online – it’s almost guaranteed there’ll be a couple of bar chords in there.

You don’t have to go it alone! Starting your guitar journey without any help can be tough.

Besides all our amazing courses, we’ve also got a great team of pro guitarists ready to give you support and feedback on your playing.

Try out our Beginner Learning Pathway with this 14-day free trial! 🎁