The barre is a challenging technique to master in the beginner stages of learning guitar. Patience and perseverance will get you a long way, and know that you will be able to play barres if you give it time.

What is a Barre?

A barre is any finger that is used to hold down more than one note at a time. They can span from two strings all the way to a full six-string barre. Often you will have the remaining fingers holding down some notes in addition to the barre which can create some challenging shapes in the left hand. Be aware how how many strings you need to hold down with the barre and which notes will be used from the barre itself.

Finger placement

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.

Common Problems

Squeezing too much

The 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.

Holding down too many strings

Check exactly how many strings need to be held down in any given barre. I will frequently see students holding down five or six strings when in fact they only need to barre three. If you are playing a piece that requires barres, do yourself a favour and check how many strings each one needs.

You will sometimes encounter string indications next to a barre marking in a score. These are helpful because the tell you exactly how many strings you need to include in your barre.

Holding down strings too early

Because the barre technique is draining on the left hand you will be better off using it as briefly as possible. Check the score to see how late you can place the barre. You will find that fingers can be placed sequentially and therefore you save some energy.

Do you even need a barre?

In general, I try to avoid using barres whenever possible. You will find that in many instances you can get around using a barre by using a different fingering. Perhaps you can play the passage in a different position or take advantage of open strings. Whatever the case, it is worth checking what options are available.

Where to start

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.


Learn more about classical guitar technique at the Classical Guitar Corner Academy.