How to Conquer Barre Chords on Guitar | 3 Secrets

how beginner guitarists can conquer barre chords

Most guitarists start off by learning simple open-string chords (C, G, D, Am, etc.), then transition into strumming through their favorite songs. Before long, however, everyone hits a major roadblock: barre chords.

We might have encountered a barre chord early on, such as F major, and avoided it like the plague. However, the further we go along, the more we realize that barring is an essential technique for advancement.

If you’re someone who isn’t comfortable with barre chords, fear not! Like any other aspect of guitar playing, your barring will improve with time and effort. Follow the advice below, and you’ll be well on the way to mastering this important skill.

1) Barre Constantly

the secret to barre chords on guitar is to practice them frequently

We tend to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. Considering that barre chords are often quite painful for new players, it’s not surprising that they’re rarely practiced. Yet, as you might guess, the more you barre, the less it hurts.

You might have adjusted to callouses forming on your fingertips (especially for steel-string guitarists), but barre chords will callous the whole length of your index finger! I’m not here to tell you that barring doesn’t hurt—it does—but the painful period is only temporary.

Once you develop your skill and strength, barring will be no more painful than fretting a single string. Trust me on this. If you can just force yourself to practice day in and out, you’ll get through the difficult first period.

No More Barre-Free Sessions & No Excuses


If you’re bad at barre chords, my advice to you is to work on them every time you sit down to practice.

I don’t care if your practice session is mostly about learning a new song; I don’t care if it’s Saturday night and you just want to relax. Set aside some time to make those barres, even if it’s only a few minutes. If your hand or finger hurts, practice making barre shapes without applying pressure.

Your days of barre-free practice are over, I’m afraid. Time to embrace the pain!

I know this all may sound a little intense. But I promise that your effort will be rewarded threefold if you just have the tenacity to face barres head-on.

Think of it this way: they say the best defense is a great offense. Instead of neglecting barre chords, you should take the fight straight to the enemy.

After all, aren’t you sick and tired of barre chords holding you back? If you barre during every session, they’ll become second-nature in no time at all. Then, you’ll never worry about barre chords again.

Not sure how to get started? Check out my favorite barre chord exercise. Even if you just do that exercise once a day, I guarantee you’ll be happy with the results.

2) Study Barre Technique

barre chords require perfect technique to execute

Learning barre chords is challenging no matter how you swing it. But learning them with sloppy technique is near impossible.

Although none of us are particularly interested in technique for its own sake, a brief overview of the best barring practices will give you an enormous head start, as well as ensuring that your practice time won’t be in vain.

I’m going to give you my technique tips below, but I also encourage you to do your own research. The more you know about guitar technique, the better. Here’s an excellent free resource to get you started (from the world of classical guitar, but equally applicable to steel-string players).

If you have a guitar teacher, you might think it’s their job to fix your technique. Not so! Although a good teacher can be a big help, remember that over 95% of your practice time will be unsupervised. You must be your own teacher if you want to get better.

Technique Tips


  • Lower your thumb. Not only should your thumb not be hanging over the top of the fretboard, it should be well below the center line on the back of the neck. This positioning will provide easy strength and facilitate good hand and wrist positioning.
  • Keep your barre finger straight. The entire length of your finger should be hugging the metal of a fret. Be as close to the fret as you can without muting notes. Don’t curve the middle of your finger away.
  • Consider which strings need to be barred. In many cases, you don’t need to slap down a barre on all 6 strings. Pay attention to what your index finger needs to press in any given chord, and apply pressure accordingly.
  • Pull back with your right arm. Apply pressure where your picking forearm meets the body of the guitar. This will create a push/pull effect, which further squeezes the neck against your barring finger.
  • Roll your barring finger slightly toward the headstock. This will allow you to use the bonier side of your finger, which more closely approximates a capo. Remember: a great barre is indistinguishable from a capo. Be the capo!
  • Apply no more tension than needed. Some players (especially muscular ones) tend to see barring as a kind of strongman exercise. But barre chords are a matter of skill more than strength. Study what force it takes to make good music, and never put in more effort than needed. Your hands and wrists will thank you.
  • Experiment. There’s some wiggle room within the parameters of good technique. Try barring in different ways if you feel stuck. Move your finger up or down. Roll it one way or the other. You may come across a small adjustment that works wonders for you. Listen to your hands and fingers.

3) Watch Your Perspective

Your mental game plays a huge role in learning barre chords

When I started out with barre chords, they felt impossible. They hurt my hand, they felt awkward, and they sounded bad. I really couldn’t work on them for more than a few minutes without getting frustrated. Most of those sessions left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

I’ve since noticed that whenever any given part of my guitar playing feels bad, ALL of my playing suffers as a result. One tough barring session, left unchecked, can spoil a week’s worth of practice. It’s very easy for, “I’ll never get the hang of barre chords,” to turn into, “I’ll never be a good guitarist.”

Observing this logic from a distance, we can clearly see the slippery-slope fallacy at work. Yet, when you’re suffering from your own spiraling negative thoughts, you might just believe this kind of nonsense.

I would go so far as to see that the true obstacles to guitar progress are mental, not physical. The shortest road to mastery is through the mind.

Consider Your Mental Game


Increasingly, professional tennis players are adding sports psychologists to their coaching staff. These athletes realize that there’s more to tennis than simply hitting the ball well. They also need help with the mental side of the game. After all, even the greatest shotmaker in the world won’t be successful if they fold under pressure.

You should treat guitar playing in much the same way. Without a strong mental game, you’ll be more likely to make mistakes, practice too fast, skip practice sessions, avoid difficulty, and, worst of all, you might even quit playing guitar altogether.

I mentioned earlier that you need to be your own teacher. Well, you need to be your own music therapist as well.

I find it important in my own playing to cultivate a sense of inner peace. Just as it’s easier for nations to be at war than to coexist peacefully, so it’s easier for you to be in a state of inner conflict than harmony.

This isn’t to advocate for emotionless playing. Rather, you should learn to control your emotions, expressing their power and beauty through your music.

Psychological Strategies for Success


First off, whenever you feel totally out of control, whether angry or frustrated or hopeless, you should step away from the guitar. Try to protect the emotional integrity of your practice time.

If you begin to associate guitar playing with bad feelings, it will only be a matter of time before you quit. When you get mad at yourself, remember that you’re playing with fire. Always cool down before you come back to the guitar. Take lots of breaks, especially as a beginner.

Another psychological strategy I use involves selective memory. I make a point to remember the high points of practice sessions and forget the low ones. Obviously, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn from your low moments, only that you should forgive yourself for them and move on.

Too many guitarists remember the bad and forget the good, which distorts (for the worse) their memory of playing. Never underestimate the power of belief, and in our case, the belief that barre chords are fun and worthwhile as opposed to insufferable and worthless.

Use Your Imagination


Finally, it may help you to add an imaginative element to learning barre chords. This sort of approach has helped me learn a number of new things quickly, even as an adult.

You might pretend that you were accepted into a prestigious guitar academy, and that you’re expected to play 100 barre chords every day before breakfast as part of your training.

If you’re a science fiction fanatic, you might come up with a narrative about how barre chords fight off space invaders. The more creative you get, the better! See if you can reframe the technique in a way that motivates you.

Try to fuse other things you love with guitar playing.

If you’re into dance, you might enjoy thinking of your fretting fingers as dancers learning a new routine. Or if you love to lift weights, you might think of barring as an upper-body workout, organizing practice sessions in terms of sets and reps. Maybe you’re a yoga enthusiast, and you think of each barre as a new pose to master. The possibilities are endless!


Barre chords may seem hard to you right now, but if you start practicing them religiously, you’ll find them relatively easy in no time.

Remember that your level of comfort with them is directly proportional to how often you play them. Once they become second-nature (and they will, trust me!), you might even wonder why you struggled with them in the first place.

I remember what it was like when I couldn’t get any of my barre chords to sound right. It drove me crazy, and it was hard to believe that I’d ever get the hang of them.

Trust me that regardless of your current barring ability, if you put in consistent work and have faith in yourself, you’ll be on the road to mastery. Do your best to enjoy the journey!

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