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Guitar Article: learn to play guitar

Guitar Instruction: Bar Chords

Bar chords are a type of guitar chord where one or more fingers are used to press down multiple strings across the guitar fingerboard (like a bar pressing down the strings.
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Barring the strings enables the guitarist to play a chord not restricted by the tones of the guitar's open strings. Barre chords are often referred to as "moveable" chords, as they can be moved up and down the neck as needed. They are commonly used in most popular and classical music and are frequently used in combination with "open" or standard guitar chords. Frequently referred to as "jazz" chords, they are typically used for more complex chord voicings and playing in keys not suitable for the more basic open chords of the first position of a standard-tuned guitar.

Fretting a barre chord is the same as retuning the guitar a number of half-steps higher, playing the original open chord, and then tuning the guitar back down. Its primary purpose is to shift any of the open string chords an arbitrary number of half steps up the neck of the guitar. For example, playing the E major chord with a bar across the fifth fret is equivalent to playing an A major chord, five half steps higher than E.

Tonality is affected by a barre chord. Because the strings are no longer open, they do not resonate as brightly or long as an open chord. The sound is arbitrarily muted by the pressure placed on the bar--heavy pressure in the center of the frets produces less muting. Therefore, when playing barre chords, it is important to practice maintaining adequate pressure, as the technique is tiring for beginners.

Technique and Application

Note: chords are listed in order from the bottom string to the top (EADGBE).

The two most commonly barred notes are variations of A and E. These barre chords are most common in classic rock, blues and country music, since newer rock music features the much simpler power chords. The E barre chord is made of an E chord shape (022100) moved up and down the frets and being barred, changing the note. For example, the E chord, barred one fret up becomes an F chord (133211). The next fret up is F#, followed by G,G#,A,A#,B,C,C#,D,D#, and then back to E (1 octave up) at fret twelve.

              E               A

Guitar tablature of an open E chord and an E-shape A barre chord.

The A barre chord, commonly called the "double barre" is made by sliding the A chord shape (X02220) up and down the frets. When the A chord is barred, the index finger lays across the bottom five strings, touching the 6th string (E) to deaden it. Either the ring finger is then barred across the 2nd (B), 3rd (G), and 4th (D) strings two frets down, or one finger frets each string. For instance, if barred at the second fret, the A chord becomes B (X24442). From fret one to twelve, the barred A becomes A#,B,C,C#,D,D#,E,F,F#,G,G#, and at the twelfth fret (that is, one octave up), it is A again.

              A               D
Guitar tablature of an open A chord and an A-shape D barre chord.

All variations of these two chords can be barred-- dominant 7ths, minors, minor 7ths, etc. Any major chord on the guitar can be played with A and E barre chords.

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