Are you having a hard time with A shape barre chords? In this guitar lesson, you will learn solutions as well as options that perhaps you didn't know were available.
The A shape barre chords are known as fifth-string-root chords. This means that the name of the chord is found on the fifth string. In other words, we start with the shape of an A chord and move that up the neck by using a bar.
Two Main Approaches
There are two main approaches to doing this. The first one employs a 2-finger bar which is also known as a double bar. The other one is the four finger approach, and uses the index bar and three other fingers.
Both are good, and ideally a player should be able to use either of them depending on the situation. However, that is not always how it is when you’re learning. Over my years of teaching I’ve learned that it is better to be competent in one thing than to be struggling with several. Let's see the pros and cons of each approach.
The 2-Finger Bar
This approach uses a bar across the strings and a second bar for barring the fourth, third and first string. The most common fingering has the ring finger on that second bar, but some like to use the pinky instead.
The advantage to the 2 finger bar approach is that it is easier to get to other chords. I usually bar the chord by placing my index across the six strings. Some people bar only up to the fifth string for A barre chords.
In that case, you don’t even need the first bar at all. Just place your index on the fifth string and your ring finger will take care of the remaining three strings by barring them. The sixth string is muted with a slight touch of the index finger.
The 4-Finger Bar
Here you’re going to make the bar as usual (up to the fifth or sixth string), and then do an A chord with your middle, ring and pinky fingers.
One of the great things about this approach is that you can get that first string to be part of the sound. This approach works better on guitars that have a wider neck, like acoustics or a classical guitar. This form is also more beneficial for fingerpicking patterns where you want to move your pinky finger for variety.
On the other hand, the downside to this approach is that it is more difficult to move from chord to chord. Additionally, it gets more difficult to fit the three fingers into the A shape as you move up on the neck.
Which Should I Use?
I often tell my students to stick with the 2-finger bar approach using the third finger if playing electric or acoustic guitar. This is mainly because it is really useful to move quickly from one chord to another.
In case you have difficulty with that second bar on the third finger, try using your pinky. Naturally, the other option is using the 4-finger bar chord in case that works better for your hands.
If you are just starting out, it is very likely that all of it is going to be uncomfortable and difficult. Give all options a try, for a week or more and see which approach feels more natural or easier to you.
Be patient. It’s likely it will take some time to get good at this. It’s worth it.
“A” Shape Barre Chord Tips
When you start practicing the “A” shape barre chord, go for the middle of the guitar neck. I like to start with the first bar on the fifth fret. This is because there is less tension on the fifth fret than on the first. And try not to worry too much about the high E string sound, it is not worth the trouble.
Here’s something I wish someone had told me starting out: get your guitar action properly adjusted. This will probably cost you some money and time, but it is well worth it. A good action will make your guitar much easier and fun to play. Also, consider putting lighter strings on your guitar.
Every student struggles with barre chords at first, and this is perfectly natural. I know it can be very frustrating, but you will get over the hump if you keep at it. One of the best ways to do this is to practice barre chord exercises. Playing songs that feature bar chords is great, but you need to isolate the problem. That’s the purpose of skillfully designed exercises.
The "A" Shape Barre Prep Exercise
To start this exercise let’s make the A chord shape on the fifth fret. You can do it with your middle, ring and pinky finger, or you could do it with just your ring finger as a partial bar. You could also try it barring with just your pinky, if that works for you. If you use your pinky, try pushing it with your ring finger for some extra help. I’m going to be using my ring finger as the second bar for this exercise.
Pluck the fourth string and release. Repeat that with the third and second string. The idea is to get a good sound and press the partial bar only when you pluck. Once you have that, move on to the sixth fret and repeat the exercise. Go all the way up to the tenth fret and then come back down.
Spend about three minutes doing this, everyday. And if you can, do two or three sessions per day to improve at a faster rate.
You will be able to do this if you put in the time. I know it may take longer than you would like. But in the end, persistence will pay off. If you’d like more help with bar chords, check my Barre Chords For Everyone course.