A Unique And Effective Barre Chord Exercise:
Barre chords can be daunting for new guitar players. They’re the first major challenge of fretting hand strength. So long before I teach barre chords I like to teach a primer exercise.
I found this exercise to be my favorite to develop that hand strength. It works best if you practice it a little bit at a time. Just a few minutes once or twice a day.
Here’s How The Exercise Works:
Take your index finger and barre it across the first fret. When I say “on” the first fret, I mean just behind it. Keep your finger fairly straight and roll it back just a little so it's just slightly on the side.
Don’t push down yet. Just keep your finger on the strings like you’re muting them. If you strummed right now the strings would sound dead. This is the tension you should put on the strings for the "release" part of the exercise.
What we’re going to do is play one note at a time, while pressing down all of the strings. This is going to train your hand on how much pressure to use.
Press down on all of the strings and pick just the sixth (lowest, E) string. Did it ring out? If not, press a little harder. You can use your second finger to help press down for now if you need to. When it rings out clearly release your hand so the string is deadened. Your finger should be in contact with the strings at all times.
Now move onto the fifth (or A) string. Still the first fret. Press down on all six strings but only play the fifth. How did that sound? If it rang, release your hand and move onto the fourth string.
You can adjust your index finger as you need to. But make sure you’re pressing down on all six strings no matter what string you pick. Try to get through all six strings before adjusting your hand.
Once you get through the first fret you’re going to move the whole thing up one fret. Barre the second fret and start from the sixth string. Then the fifth. All the way through the first string. Continue the exercise until you get through the fifth fret. Remember to release the fretting once the note rings clearly.
Think Of It As Pumping
I call this “pumping” because you’re pressing down and releasing every time you hit the string. This will keep your hand from getting too tired. If you held your hand down the entire time it would get too tired too soon.
The full exercise goes through the fifth fret. Once you do that go all the way through it another time or two. That will be enough to add for a practice session. You can use it as a warm up for your practice sessions too. Like I said earlier, do it once or twice a day.
You'll see little by little your left hand barring finger will get stronger and stronger. And you'll learn what pressure it takes to press down the strings.
As you move into more complete barre chords, that part of the playing chord will be easier. You'll be ready to tackle some of the other aspects.
A Couple More Tips
I know from experience when I show students this it’s a little awkward to play at first. That’s OK! New things on guitar will most often feel awkward because you haven’t played it before.
You can also try to start on the fifth fret and work your way down to the first fret. There is a lot less tension on the fifth fret then the first so it’s a little easier.
Actually, let’s try that. Barre the fifth fret, press down, and play the sixth string. Let it ring and then release. Now onto the fifth string. Once you get to the first string move your finger down to the fourth fret. If the notes aren’t ringing clearly you might be too close to the fret. Move your finger back just a touch.
Remember, if the note doesn't sound good try it a few more times with slight adjustments and then move on. Don't get stuck on any one note.
Okay, good work! That's enough for right now. I'll let you take that and work it on your own.
Bye for now.
What part of this exercise do you find the most challenging? Let me know in the comments!