Teaching Barre Chords – Part 1

In the first part of our two-part series Merv Young provides some tips on how to teach barre chords…

If you remember back to when you were learning guitar then, after progressing fairly rapidly through numerous open position chord shapes, the seemingly insurmountable mountain that blocked your path to further progress was probably the dreaded barre chord. Barre chords are introduced in the RGT electric and rock guitar syllabuses at Grade 3 and in the acoustic guitar syllabus at Grade 5 and can be one of the more challenging aspects of both learning the guitar and teaching it. We’re going to take a quick look here at a few tips and points to consider that will hopefully help with your teaching of these essential, but tricky, chords.

  1. It’s always a good idea to check your student’s guitar over to make sure there are no set-up issues that will impede their ability to play barre chords. So have a look to see if the action is too high or if the nut height needs adjusting.
  2. Plan ahead before you start tackling the barre chord shapes themselves. Some teachers like to introduce partial barre chords (Dm7 and the four string F major chord for instance) as a precursor and these are introduced in the RGT syllabuses prior to the full barre shapes. Learning these first can be a useful way for the student to prepare the fretting hand for the full barre challenges that lie ahead.
    How to teach barre guitar chords - Dm7 partial barre chords

    Dm7 partial barre

    How to teach barre guitar chords - F major partial barre chords

    F major partial barre

  3. If you are teaching rock styles, you might like to ensure that your students are fully proficient with power chords first, especially playing these as three string chords. This will help get the fretting hand used to the stretch across the low strings and will also enable you to encourage the student to learn the note names on strings five and six as well.
  4. Before moving onto full barre chords it’s a good idea to get the student used to just holding down a barre with one finger across all six strings, so that they get used to the technique required. At first, if necessary, allow the student to rest the second finger on top of the barring finger so as to give it some more weight and strength (as shown in the photo below).

    How to teach barre guitar chords - Barre chords with support finger

    Barre with support finger

Part 2 of the series is available here.

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