Why Bother with Barre Chords?

Why Bother with Barre Chords?

The barre chord will torture you.

Its reputation precedes it. Even non-guitarists are aware of its legend. You don’t want to meet it in a dark alley and you definitely do not want to get on its bad side. It will torture you, make you question everything you thought you knew and drive you to the edge of quitting. It is the barre chord.

Though it’s not really all THAT bad, compare the barre chord to the open chord. The open chord has a nice, jovial personality. It rings with beautiful open strings and only employs a few fingers. The most difficult of open chords utilize four fingers and they all curl to put ample pressure on each string. A few open chords require one finger to hold down two strings, but still no biggie.

The barre chord, however, requires that you turn your hand into some sort of human clamp. One finger is expected to hold down either five or six strings at the same time… while inviting cramps in teeny, tiny hand muscles. Some fingers lay flat, others curl and absolutely no strings are played open. No big, ringy tone here. Every note is fretted by a finger somewhere and most of them sound horrible when starting out.

Why do we even bother with barre chords? Here are a few reasons:

Lots of chords with a few shapes.

Barre chords are built using shapes from first position chords. Because they use no open strings, they are 100% moveable and can climb the fretboard. Most guitarists use two shapes for their barre chords: variations of the E shape and the A shape. Learn the E major shape and you can play F major, F# major, G major, G# major, A major, A# major, etc by just moving one chord up the neck. Building the hand strength and form is difficult, but barre chords make rhythm guitar much easier in the long run.

Some chords are easier as barre chords. Really.

Believe it or not, there are some chords that are easier as barre chords than as open chords. For instance, C#m7 often shows up in songs in the key of E major. This chord is virtually impossible to play in first position, but it is quite simple as a barre chord.

More chords = more fun.

When strumming with other guitarists, it’s fun to layer the guitar parts by using different versions of the same chords. For instance, one guitar may play an open C major while another plays it with an A shape barre chord on the third fret and yet another one plays it with an E shape barre chord on the eighth fret. Though these chords are technically the same, lots of factors cause them to have different voicings. When chords with different voicings are layered, the music has more personality than if every guitar plays the same chord in the same position.

Real guitarists play barre chords.

OK… that totally sounded jerkish. However, that’s how lots of guitar players feel. It’s awesome to see anyone learn to play guitar and strum beautiful songs with open chords. However, when a guitarist starts jamming with some barre chords, other musicians immediately take notice. It’s as if more accomplished guitarists think to themselves, “She’s not just tinkering with the guitar. She’s paying her dues in practice time and wrestling with the hard stuff. She’s legit.”

If you have been playing rhythm guitar for a while, you probably know that you can play more difficult chords and utilize different voicings by using a capo and open chords. Lots of guitar players use open chords and capos to play chords all over the neck. If this gives you the sound that you’re looking for with your guitar, go for it. However, don’t limit yourself to only being able to play with open chords and a capo. Put in the effort and graduate to barre chords. You will never regret it.

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