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Thread: Bar chords - never sounding perfect?

  1. #1
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    Bar chords - never sounding perfect?

    Hi everyone

    I found (and read) a couple of existing threads on bar chords, and they said fairly similar things: playing bar chords is strenuous, and work well after training, a reasonable amount of warming up, and generally when used in moderation.

    However, when taking all of those into account, can any of you actually play bar chords that sound perfect? I.e. you put the right amount of pressure on every string so they all sound good, and not just like "noise", or muted?

    I get by, but index fingers not being flat because of the way bones and joins are shaped, I never get even pressure on my strings. Even if I half-bend my finger to compensate. It feels like the best I can do is prioritise some strings (the majority of the 6); for the ones left, I can only "limit the (sound) damage" and not just "hit them right". Even after 3-4 years of fairly regular playing.

    Any thoughts, suggestions?

    Thanks.
    Last edited by Mr JJB; 02-06-2009 at 05:34 PM.

  2. #2
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Yes many of us can, but why would you want to when there are so many more interesting options? Barre chord are big fat and bloated sounding except in specific instances. 4-note chord voicings are much more flexible.

    cheers,

  3. #3
    He's dark. He's a man. Darkman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr JJB
    I get by, but index fingers not being flat because of the way bones and joins are shaped, I never get even pressure on my strings. Even if I half-bend my finger to compensate. It feels like the best I can do is prioritise some strings (the majority of the 6); for the ones left, I can only "limit the (sound) damage" and not just "hit them right". Even after 3-4 years of fairly regular playing.

    Any thoughts, suggestions?

    Thanks.
    I don't keep my barring finger straight and flat. I curve it and lay all fingers at a slight angle to the fretboard. That's the easiest way I can make all the notes sound clearly. And it's pretty easy to do after practice.

    If something's not working for you, slow it right down and examine exactly where the faults lay. You won't fail.

  4. #4
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr JJB
    Hi everyone

    I found (and read) a couple of existing threads on bar chords, and they said fairly similar things: playing bar chords is strenuous, and work well after training, a reasonable amount of warming up, and generally when used in moderation.

    However, when taking all of those into account, can any of you actually play bar chords that sound perfect? I.e. you put the right amount of pressure on every string so they all sound good, and not just like "noise", or muted?

    I get by, but index fingers not being flat because of the way bones and joins are shaped, I never get even pressure on my strings. Even if I half-bend my finger to compensate. It feels like the best I can do is prioritise some strings (the majority of the 6); for the ones left, I can only "limit the (sound) damage" and not just "hit them right". Even after 3-4 years of fairly regular playing.

    Any thoughts, suggestions?

    Thanks.
    You don't need to press all 6 strings down. Your other fingers are on some of them, right? With the common "E" shape,your index needs to hold down strings 6, 2 and 1, that's all. I find I can position the bony joint of my finger to hold 2 and 1, while the tip holds 6.
    However, sometimes string 4 needs to sound as well (with a 7th shape), but I find I can do that with a little more pressure. (On occasions where I do need all 6 to sound - eg in open tunings - I can exert a little more pressure if needed by pressing the middle finger on to the index. The heavier the strings and the higher the action, the more difficult it is, of course - but then that's what practice is for, to build strength. Or just use lighter strings... )
    A curve works for Darkman, but I find a dead straight index works for me - there's no one correct method.
    Make sure, btw, your thumb is on back of the neck opposite where your index finger is pressing (parallel with the finger) - this makes most efficient use of muscle power.

    There's also the option of wrapping your thumb around to fret the 6th. And with other barre shapes (eg the "A" shape), you don't need the 6th, so it doesn't matter if the index mutes it.

    And as Jed says, 6-string barres are rarely necessary. In jazz, the top 3 or 4 strings (or the middle 4) tend to be used, and in rock the bottom 3 or 4 (in a barre) may be all you need.

  5. #5
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    It'll come after time, of course. I can recall when I got the "knack" of playing all 6 notes cleanly on full barres. I stopped trying to use the tip of my index finger. When I play a 6-string barre now, I lay the index across all 6 strings with most of the last section of my finger shooting past the edge of the fretboard, and simply put my thumb on the opposite side of the neck. I can get all 6 clean with just the barre before fingering any other notes. Of course, I am a Yeti and can crack open Brazil nuts the same way...

    Like Jon says, you'll not be needing to cleanly barre all 6 with one finger anyway (unless you're going to pull, hammer, or otherwise let your index serve as a new nut... a common enough thing now that I think about it...).

    Like Jed says, barre chords are for unlearned swine who refuse to learn more and better fingerings of chords (well, he doesn't actually say that, but it is easy to live with E and A shaped barre chords to the point of robbing yourself of a wealth of flexibility and freedom of expression).

    Try the thing about ignoring the index tip. Treat your index like a metal bar.
    "If a child learns which is jay and which is sparrow, he'll no longer see birds nor hear them sing."

  6. #6
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blutwulf
    It'll come after time, of course. I can recall when I got the "knack" of playing all 6 notes cleanly on full barres. I stopped trying to use the tip of my index finger. When I play a 6-string barre now, I lay the index across all 6 strings with most of the last section of my finger shooting past the edge of the fretboard
    Yes, I occasionally do this myself. It's a matter of lining up the boniest parts of the finger with the strings that actually need fretting, allowing the fleshier parts of the finger (the less reliable fretting areas) to fall on the strings the other fingers are fretting.

    I actually use my index finger in 2 or 3 different ways depending on the type of barre chord.
    (The ways I use my index finger when not playing guitar are neither here nor there... well, sometimes there I guess... )

  7. #7
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blutwulf
    Like Jed says, barre chords are for unlearned swine who refuse to learn more and better fingerings of chords (well, he doesn't actually say that, but it is easy to live with E and A shaped barre chords to the point of robbing yourself of a wealth of flexibility and freedom of expression).
    Let's run with this sentiment for a moment. . What is it you are trying to express / project when you choose to play a barre chord? If all you are trying to do is satisfy the chord symbol on some lead sheet or tab then you have figuratively "shown up to a gun fight with a knife". By this I mean that you have chosen as your weapon or tool an object that is grossly out-classed for the potential task at hand.

    Just as everything starts to look like a nail when the only tool you know is a hammer, every chord is thought of as a barre chord when barre chords are all you know.

    Typical triad voicings can be classified by three main "classes" that we call inversions: Root Position (with the root in the bass), 1st Inversion (with the 3rd in the bass) or 2nd inversion (with the 5th in the bass). These three classes / inversions can be further distinguished by the note in the highest voice - either the root, 3rd or 5th. Exploring just these two variations of bass note and highest voice - we can find nine different voicings for any particular triad. There are of course even more ways to modify voicings. The potential variations and choices aren't infinite but they are significant enough to make barre chords look like blunt objects in comparison.

    Attached is a pdf of a study that will give you a quick tour of some of these variations. Cheers,
    Attached Files Attached Files

  8. #8
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    I find it's how you press and not how hard you press that equals ease with barre chords. Learning how to get the most out of your anatomy is key. For example, when playing an E-form chord I tend to roll my index finger onto its side somewhat; not only does this help me hold the barre more securely, but it allows my other three fingers better positioning so that they don't indavertently mute the strings behind them. The fingers themselves don't exert all that much pressure; I get the force I need from a combination of my wrist, elbow, shoulder and my thumb, which presses firmly against the back of the neck. On a guitar with a comfortable set-up I can play barre chords indefinately without fatigue.

    As to the chord shapes, I tend to use full barres quite a bit. Sure, I've mapped-out the drop 2 and drop 2 & 3 voicings in all their inversions, but unless I'm playing chord melody -- which doesn't happen all that often -- I keep those voicings in the back of my mind and favor the old traditional E- and A-forms. Guess that makes me "unlearned swine." Oink oink!!!

  9. #9
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    Guess that makes me "unlearned swine."
    I was making a joke, of course. 99% of my chording is E and A shaped barres except for various triads. It limits me to freely playing rock, though. I can't improvise jazz via chording - I have to plan it all out ahead of time (or use a Fake Book and play vulgar barres for everything). Generally, I'll just improvise melodies in jazz and hope another guitarist knows all the chord spellings.

    Jed's vistas are a bit wider than most guitarists. He'll urge study quite often. The man hates black dots. The "unlearned swine" comment was my own self-deprecating joke. Not a thing wrong with oinking if one enjoys it and does it well...
    "If a child learns which is jay and which is sparrow, he'll no longer see birds nor hear them sing."

  10. #10
    Registered User heavymental's Avatar
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    I like oinking... since we are talking about bar chords, I'd like to bring up the subject of A-form bar chords and how to fret them correctly. I assume that some of you only use the index and ring fingers, and some of you use the index and then the other 3 fingers two frets up (this is a stretch for me, but that is what I'm trying to do now).
    For a while, I was trying to use the index bar plus the ring and pinky. With this method, I would use the ring on the 4th and 3rd string and the pinky on the 2nd string as not to mute the high E string.
    Any other thoughts on how to finger the A-form?

    Cheers,
    Glen

  11. #11
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    First of all, thanks for all those points. To go back to the most "expressive" view, that of Jed, I've got to say that barre/bar(?) chord, if properly played (even more in acoustic than electric I actually feel...), have a both rich and "surrounding" feel that work well for breaks, the type of strumming where one plays once per bar (I forgot the name of that type of strumming), or simply as a closing chord.
    This can of course be awkward at other moments, but for those reasons, I feel that barre chords have benefits others don't, and thus have their place.

    From reading all that interesting advice, it's clear to me that there's no one method to use one's index finger / pointer to play barre chords, and it not only depends on one's own finger, but also the type of chord. I'll just have to keep experimenting, using all the advice here.

    Thanks again to all.

  12. #12
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    Heavymental: I fret A shaped barre chords with index and pinky.

    high action, a high nut, too much relief, larger fretboard radii's and heavy gauge strings all make barre chords, among other things, harder.
    Having your guitar set up by a guitar tech could help, or follow one of the many online setup tutorials try projectguitar.com.

    PS, avoid music shop 'guitar techs', most are clueless or the work will be contracted out to a proper tech, find that tech and cut out the middle man or find a luthier or other reputable tech.

  13. #13
    Registered User Madaxeman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by borge
    Having your guitar set up by a guitar tech could help, or follow one of the many online setup tutorials try projectguitar.com.
    Setting up a guitar is actually pretty easy once you learn it. Makes a huge difference, as most factory guitars are not set up at all (esp. the $300-500 price range).

    Quote Originally Posted by borge
    PS, avoid music shop 'guitar techs', most are clueless or the work will be contracted out to a proper tech, find that tech and cut out the middle man or find a luthier or other reputable tech.
    I totally agree here! I even install and solder my own pickups now because the local shop kept screwing it up.

    As for barre chords, it is a strain on the hand. Just practice them (don't push your muscles to pain, though) and they will get easier.
    I think they sound great for certain types of music. I like to treat the bottom 3 strings and top 3 strings differently when playing a rhythm part. Down strokes for the low strings, and catch the top ones with an up stroke to accent the rhythm.

  14. #14
    Registered User heavymental's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by borge
    Heavymental: I fret A shaped barre chords with index and pinky.
    Thanks Borge,

    Are you able to play the high E using the pinky technique without it being muted?

    Quote Originally Posted by borge
    high action, a high nut, too much relief, larger fretboard radii's and heavy gauge strings all make barre chords, among other things, harder.
    That's true, but I don't think that my issues are related to high action, etc. My guitar has a low action and is very easy to play. I'm one of those people that has a non uniform index finger which causes a gap in the middle segment of my finger. I think I just need to set aside some time each day to focus on this. I'm almost there. I've got long fingers, and I've also tried the 'hang over' with the index as mentioned previously. I think I'll stick with the standard and I tend to have better luck with a slightly curved finger and on the edge a little. I guess everyone has different anatomy and needs to figure it out somewhat for themselves.

    Once again thanks Borge.

    Cheers,
    Glen

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