In the second part of our two-part series Merv Young provides some tips on how to teach barre chords…
- Many students who are new to barre chords may particularly struggle to make the six-string minor shape sound like a minor chord – it is tricky to get the minor third sounding clearly. Again, you could show them how to use the second finger as extra weight to support the barring finger (as in the photo below).
- The common mistakes and problems that students will most likely encounter when trying to make the strings ring clearly when holding down a barre are listed below. Look out for these when your students try out barre chords for the first time and gently (and repeatedly when necessary!) remind them of how they need to correct their technique:
a. The barring finger has been laid across the strings at an angle causing (normally) the treble strings to buzz or be muted. To remedy this make sure that they keep the first finger straight in-line with the fretwire.
b. The barring finger has been positioned so that the creases between the finger joints coincide with the strings causing a string to be deadened. Get them to move the finger up or down slightly so as to avoid the strings coinciding with the finger creases. If this doesn’t work, explain that the barring finger doesn’t need to be completely flat and that it can be tilted slightly away from the fret towards its outer edge.
c. Often the barring finger may not be close enough to the fretwire; students often place the finger behind the fret, which means that the actual contact point will be quite some distance away from the fret. Explain to the student that the closer to the fret they press the less pressure is required and the easier it is to achieve clear notes. Point out that if they are barring in the correct position then from the viewer’s point of view it should appear as though the inner edge of their finger is covering the fret (as in the photo below).
d. The most common reason above all else for students not being able to play barre chords clearly is that they try and press too hard; often students exert far too much excess pressure overgripping with the thumb. This can even lead to pain that can put them off pursuing barre chords or make them think barre chords are too hard for them. It’s true that barre chords do require a certain amount of pressure with the first finger, counter-balanced by the thumb, but the tendency is for students new to barre chords to try and
‘squeeze’ the clarity out of the guitar neck! In fact, as the first finger and thumb have some shared muscle groupings, all that over-gripping with the thumb does is to take away strength from the barring finger – so creating a ‘Catch 22’ situation. The solution is to encourage the student to use as little pressure as possible with the thumb on the back of the neck, and reinforce that they need to press only as hard as is necessary, and not more, with the first finger. If they can try and relax the hand as they press this will certainly help. You could even show them how you are able to play a barre chord clearly without your thumb even touching the back of the guitar neck. Obviously, this is not a technique you’d ask them to attempt, and would be used just as a demonstration to emphasize the point of how little they need to press with the thumb.