Barre chords are the most valuable weapon to have in any guitarists arsenal. This is because they are moveable, which means you only have to learn a few positions and you can move them around the entire fretboard. Of course, it is absolutely essential that you know the notes on all the strings, and at the very least, the notes on the E, A and D strings. This is an excellent guide on learning your notes. Be sure to read it first before you tackle barre chords. First of all know the notes of the open strings: from the 6th string (thickest string to the 1st string (thinnest string) they are: E A D G B E, also know that the notes repeat themselves at the 12th fret, so the notes on the 12 fret are also E A D G B E. Next know that the order of string notes from the open E (on both the 1st and 6 string) is E F F# G G# A A# B C C# D D# E etc. There are sharps between every note except E and F and B and C. Also know the notes on the A string: A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G# A etc. Also note the fret markings on the guitar fretboard, these are here to help you visualise the note positions. There’s usually a marking on the 3rd fret, 5th fret, 7th fret, 9th fret and two markings on the 12th fret. Remember that for the E strings, the 3rd fret is always G, the 5th fret is always A, the 7th fret is always B, the 9th fret is always C# and the 12th fret is always E. Sometimes there is a fret marking on the first fret, this would be F on the E strings.
There are three main barre chord positions, the E position, the A position and the D position, these are all related to their respective open chords:
The O’s represent open notes while the X’s are notes you don’t play. Think of the nut as being a permanent barre. This is why if you were to move these ‘open’ chords up a fret you would need to make an artificial nut by barring strings with your finger. If you play the E open chord up one fret, then you would need to barre all the strings on the 1st fret, seeing as how this is an E barre chord position, the root rests on the E string, making the chord an F barre chord.
Here are all the barre chords for the most common and useful chords, each is shown in their E form, A form and D form. Learn them all, and use them well. Along with each chord type I will also display the formula used in creating them. Every major and minor chord are created out of taking three notes (called a triad) from the major scale, and isolating those notes to create a chord. The two main triads are the major triad (1-3-5) and the minor triad (1-b3-5). 7th chords simply add a 7th note to these triads, so a major 7 becomes 1-3-5-7, while a minor 7 becomes 1-b3-5-7.
If you like, you can download a print friendly word document version of this post.
Major Triad 1-3-5
Minor Triad 1-b3-5
Major 7 1-3-5-7
Minor 7 1-b3-5-b7
Dominant 7 1-3-5-b7
Half Diminished 1-b3-b5-b7
Note: the red notes are the root notes, as you can no doubt see, the E position chords have a root on the E string, the A position chords have the root on the A string and the D position chords have the root on the D string. Use these chords along with my guide on chord progressions to properly master them. Here’s a quick rundown of the chord numbers and their function:
I – Major (Maj7)
ii – Minor (Min7)
iii – Minor (Min7)
IV – Major (Maj7)
V – Major (Dom7)
vi – Minor (Min7)
vii – Half Diminished (Min7b5)
Try messing around with the I-IV-V or the ii-V-I chord progressions. In the key of C they are:
I-IV-V = Cmaj7 – Fmaj7 – G7 (or C – F – G)
ii-V-I = Dm7 – G7 – Cmaj7 (or Dm – G – C)
Remember, the reason why there are three different positions for the barre chords (E,A,D) is to eliminate the need to play chord progressions all over the fretboard. For example, if we were to play the ii-V-I chord progression only using E shape barre chords we would have to play:
Jumping from the 10th fret to the 3rd fret then back to the 8th fret is a lot of work (and on top of that, the chords won’t sound as good together due to the gap in octaves). Which is why if we were to implement some A barre shapes in there we could play the exact same progression like this:
Now we’re only playing chords on the 5th and 3rd frets, much better! Another benefit of having different shapes, is it gives our chords different voicings thus adding more tones of colour to our chord repetoire. If you learn all the open chords in my open chord guide and learn all of the moveable barre shape patterns, you will know more chords than the majority of guitar players out there, only jazz guitarists will have better chord knowledge than you! And at this rate, you aren’t that far off from reaching that standard! Keep playing, don’t forget to constantly remind yourself why you play music in the first place, and have fun with this!
Be sure to check out the other guitar guides scattered throughout the site!
- Chord Guide: Pt I – Open Chords
- Chord Guide: Pt III – Chord Progressions
- Song Lesson: The Girl From Ipanema
- The Mother of All Music Theory – The Major Scale
- Modes of the Major Scale
- Jazz Guitar – Bebop Scales
- Natural, Harmonic, and Melodic Minor Scales
- Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale