Arlen Roth: To Barre or Not to Barre!
The concept of the “barre chord” is perhaps the most over-used and overrated aspect of the entire guitar kingdom! It has also probably scared off more potential guitar players during their “formative” years, especially if they’re playing bad guitars, with high action!
The truth about what we call “barre chords” is that they are better off known than always played! Keep in mind that it only takes three notes to make a true chord, and that most “full” position barre chords we are shown and taught involve either all 6, or at least 5 strings. I prefer to show students what I call “the thinking man’s barres” which are the kinds of smaller barre chords we need far more often than we do the big, cumbersome ones!
With barre chords such as these, the barring finger, usually the index, actually moves along as the lick or chord position necessitates, thereby getting the name “thinking.” In truth, we really only need to play most barres over 2 or 3 strings, and of course, those become far more shift-able than the big, clumsy barre chords. Also, keep in mind that many times we may look as if we are barring across 6 strings, but we may only be sounding the lowest 2 or 3 notes, while the rest of that barring finger is actually serving to mute the strings we don’t want to hear.
There is also the fact that some of these barre chords, though going across six strings, may only be creating 2 or 3 notes that are actually heard, and our other fingers are playing fretted notes to be heard. This is classically illustrated by the typical E-form barre chord we all know and love! It’s important to keep in mind that all of this also saves the strength of your hands for what really matters. You never want to completely “tie up” your fretting hand’s strength by making it a “vice grip” barring tool that must always press down all the strings. Better to develop a kind of “curl” to the hand that can accommodate both the barre and the notes that are being sounded by the other fingers. Once all of this is in place, and your “muscle memory” is really intact, these barre positions should really flow nice and easily within your lead as well as your rhythm playing.
And one more thing…..please try to not “overuse” second and third finger barres for A-form or D-form chords. It is far better to use as many as the actual fingers that are meant to play these chord forms, as that opens up many more possibilities for you musically. Over-using those types of barres will only serve to limit your abilities as well as your ideas on the guitar!
Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth, affectionately known The King of All Guitar Teachers, is music lesson pioneer and the quintessential guitarist. An accomplished and brilliant musician — and one of the very few who can honestly say he’s done it all — Roth has, over the course of his celebrated 35-year career, played on the world’s grandest stages, accompanied many of the greatest figures in modern music and revolutionized the concept of teaching guitar.