The barre is a tricky technique to master in the beginner stages. Patience and perseverance will get you a long way, and know that you will be able to play barres if you give it time.
A barre is any finger that is used to hold down more than one note at a time. Perhaps the first small barre that you might come across in guitar playing is the F Major chord
The F Major chord requires the first finger to hold down both the F and C on the first fret. As these two notes are on the first fret, they are not the easiest of notes to hold down due to the closeness of the nut. The strings are in general a little easier to hold down in the middle of the fingerboard, so that F Major chord can sometimes be an off-putting experience.
If you are new to the barre technique I recommend starting with a small two or three string barre around the fifth or seventh fret. Don’t try to hold down all six strings, just start with two or three and aim to get a clean sound on all the notes.
Just as if you were playing a single note you need to have your finger up nice and close to the fret. Make sure it is not on top of the fret or else you will get a dull sounding note. To give yourself an easier surface to work with you can roll your first finger back towards the nut slightly, so that you can use the bonier, harder part of the finger instead of the more fleshy underside of the finger.
When placing a barre on two strings, you can get away with just using the finger up until the first joint and you can have your finger bent if need be (this is the case with the F Major Chord for example). However, any more than two strings and you will have to straighten out your finger to literally make a “bar”. Make sure the finger is straight all the way to the knuckle (the third and largest joint in the finger) and keep that knuckle up. By “up” I mean that it has to be inline with the fingerboard and not bent underneath. This will allow you to put an even amount of pressure over the strings.
The overriding temptation with barres is to squeeze the fingerboard with your thumb and fingers so as to get all the notes sounding. Resist the temptation! Squeezing will only result in a short-term amount of pressure in your left hand but it will quickly result in your left hand becoming tired and fatigued.
The secret is in your arm. Your arm is actually quite heavy, and it has much larger muscles that your puny hand (no offence). So if you allow the weight of your arm along with a slight pressure from your shoulder and bicep to hold th barre down, you will have discovered a far more elegant and sustainable solution to getting that barre to work for you.
Too many notes.
Another issue that I see come up is holding down more strings than are necessary with the barre. Be sure to look closely at the music and hold down only the strings that you need. The music may denote a barre or even half barre on the score but they are sometimes misleading in that only three or even two strings are needed with the barre and not five or six. A common example is a chord where the first, second and third strings have a barre and the fourth string has another finger playing on another fret. If you are not careful, you will unconsciously hold a barre down on four strings when in fact the other finger in taking care of the fourth string…
This technique is covered in-depth as a part of the Level 2 Technique & Musicianship Course in our membership packages!