A barre chord is an essential tool that all guitarists tackle some point or another. With just a few barre chord shapes you can literally play any major or minor chord in any key. When you really think about, this is a fascinating aspect of the guitar. That said, a lot of guitarists use barre chords quite often, but a common theme I find across different guitarists is that they don't understand why those barre chords work.
Its one thing to play barre chords, but it's another thing to understand barre chords. The Barre The first step in understanding barre chords is to understand the application of the barre itself. When one finger is used to fret the same fret across 2 or more strings, it is called a barre. Think of it as if you actually laid a bar across your guitar neck. With barre chords, the barre is done with your 1st finger and it is used fret all 6 strings. When done in this manner, you are effectively replacing the nut on the guitar with your barre.
Think about it, if you strum your guitar without fretting you have played each string open, but if you play your guitar with a barre across all 6 strings on the 1st fret you have essentially replaced the use of the nut with your barre. Theoretically, once you have placed your barre down, you don't even need the nut on the guitar because it's not long being used. Once it's understood that the barre replaces the use of the nut, it should be easy to understand that you could use those same open position chords that all beginners first learn and apply them after the barre to make a barre chord.
There are 4 open position chords that work extremely well for this concept, the E major, E minor, A major and A minor chords. The following illustrates this concept using the E major chord as an example. How To Build A Barre Chord Finger the E major chord. Because we need the 1st finger to apply our barre, refinger the chord so the 1st finger is free.
This is how the chord should be fingered; place your 3rd finger on the 2nd fret, 5th string; your 4th finger on the 2nd fret, 4th string and your 2nd finger on the 1st fret, 3rd string. Remember, were using the same chord shape but refingering it to leave the 1st finger free. Once this is done place your 1st finger on the nut of the guitar, visualizing as if your playing the '0th' fret. Now move this entire shape up one fret so your barre is now on the 1st fret. We finally have the barre chord shape; in this case, it's an F major barre chord. If you move the shape up to the 2nd fret it would be a F# major chord, up to the 3rd fret and it's a G major chord, ect.
In other words, were using the same E major chord shape, but were applying this chord shape after a barre which replaces the use of the nut. The result is a major barre chord which can be played anywhere's on the guitar neck to get any major chord in any key.
Jonathan Dykerman is a professional guitar player and instructor. For more information on the barre chords please visit Guitarwarp.com. This article may be reprinted providing the aforementioned link is included. Copyright 2008.