Do You Have To Learn To Play Barre Chords On Acoustic Guitar?

by Maurice Richard
Senior Instructor at Halifax Guitar Lessons

You’ve learned to play guitar to a decent level and are happy with what you have accomplished so far. However, you know there is more.

Maybe you have a solid grip on all of your open chords and can play many songs you like but there are some other ones that are out of your reach because you are not able to play barre chords yet.

If you know how to use a capo you probably figured out that it is possible to eliminate barre chords for some of those songs but it’s likely you were not able to do that for all of them.

It’s frustrating for many people because it seems so close but yet when you try to play those barre chords you can’t quite get it for whatever reason.

It seems you will never be able to play those songs. Unless there was another way.

acoustic guitar barre chords

Barre Chords Are Difficult For You

If you are like most of us, barre chords are difficult to learn and to execute.

Learning the shape of them is not really the typical problem.

The main problem I see people have with barre chords is making them sound good. That’s the hardest part.

Another typical problem I have seen with barre chords is that most people struggle to get to them properly from other chords.

I’ve been there. I know how it feels. After you know how to play other things well it feels like you are a total beginner.

Finally, some people just can’t physically form them. It causes pain or discomfort or they have some physical issue that keeps them from being able to do it.

This could simply be a technical problem but it could be an actual physical condition. If it is the latter there is a solution which I get to at the end.

Your Barre Finger Needs To Be Trained

Barre chords require new skills to be developed. They are not the same as open chords and they also happen to be more difficult.

What most people do not understand is that it takes time, patience and effort to learn to use a barre finger properly.

Barring several frets with one finger is the main skill that requires development but it also has to be coordinated with the other fingers.

It works exactly like your other fingers. Until you get a callous on your index finger the notes you push down as you barre a fret will not sound good no matter how much pressure you apply.

Most people tend to worry about the sound instead of proper technique so they push harder and harder and contort the rest of their fingers to attempt to make it sound better.

It is very easy to develop a really poor barring technique that makes it even more difficult to play them properly and can ultimately cause you pain and injury.

You then end up with a real mess that will make it very difficult to transition to and from barre chords.

You Have To Use The Weakest Fretting Finger

There’s more!

Many acoustic guitar players have a very weak pinky finger because they rarely use it. The vast majority of open chords do not need it so it gets neglected, many times for years, but now you need it for barre chords.

This is going to make it much harder to create clean and good sounding chords right off the bat. Not only is that finger weaker but it also has no callous, less dexterity and is harder to properly control.

Add that to a really weak index finger used for the barre that has no callouses either and you can see why most people give up on barre chords after only a short attempt to play them.

You need to have patience and take your time to let your pinky catch up to the rest of your fingers before you can expect things to sound great.

acoustic guitar alternates to barre chords

You Don’t Have To Learn Barre Chords

But what if you do not want to go through all that work to learn them? Or what if you can’t physically play barre chords? What can you do?

In the end you really do not have to learn to play barre chords because there are alternatives to playing them. They are not always going to be easy and you will have to learn to transition between them and your open chords but it can be done.

For example, a popular barre chord is Bm. It also happens to be one of the easiest to play without a barre and many people use it.

All you have to do is start with a regular Am chord but instead of using your first 3 fingers, use fingers 2, 3, 4. Then you slide it up 2 frets and drop finger 1 down on the high “e” string at the 2nd fret.

If you only play the fretted strings, which are 1 to 4, you have yourself a Bm chord without requiring a barre.

That’s only one example and there are a lot more. You can seek them out yourself or better yet, find yourself a guitar teacher to help you learn not only the shapes but the best ways to play them.

You never know, they may be able to help you find a way to play actual barre chords and show you other cool ways to improve your guitar playing.