Here are 3 tips you can use to incorporate barre chords more successfully into your guitar curriculum.
Tip 1 – Teach healthy placement, strength train first
Let’s face it: the barre is uncomfortable at first. Teaching healthy barre placement, before involving the other fingers, will help alleviate much of the hand pain — and mental stress!
Hand placement suggestions to overcome common barre mistakes:
Aim for the boney part of the barre finger (fretting hand index finger), instead of the weak, fleshy middle of the finger. Squeezing with the middle of the finger will hurt!
Place the top of the barre on the lowest note of the chord, not necessarily across all strings, and definitely not far beyond the fretboard.
Emphasize clear-sounding barred notes, even if the barre finger is slightly curved.
Barre preparation strength training drill:
One week before playing barre chords, teach the idea of the barre. Have students place the barre finger on strings 1-4 in fret 1 (without pressure)*. On your cue, students apply pressure on the barre and strum once. With consistent pulse, students move to fret 2 and strum, fret 3, up to fret 7 and back down.
*Fret 1, strings 1-4 is an ideal starting point – fretted notes close to the nut are easier to push down due to low string height, and strings 1-4 work with the strongest (boney) part of the barre finger.
Repeat this drill throughout the preparatory week, adding strings 5 & 6.
Tip 2 – Learn shapes and roots separately
The Hands-On Training Method divides common barre shapes into The “E” Family and The “A” Family: chord shapes grouped by their root. Students can learn each family on separate days, then drill them in sequence before mixing families.
Similarly, chord roots on strings 5 and 6 can be taught most easily grouped by family, without the pressure of a barre chord (literally!). Have students use their first finger to find roots on strings 5 and 6, first one string at a time, then on either string (ex: “string 5, F”). Practice finding the root with eyes before moving their hands for improved coordination.
Tip 3 – “Keep the train on the tracks”
Shifting between positions on the fretboard can cause tension to buildup in the fret hand wrist.
Suggestion: have students “keep the train on the tracks” – glide up and down the neck while still making contact with the strings (as does a train on the rails), but without applying pressure until in position to make the barre. Your students will thank you for relaxing sensation!
Barre chords are quite a challenge, but with proper barre placement/strength fretboard knowledge, and successful shifting habits, your students will feel comfortable and capable of playing these new techniques and more.