Barre chord

In music, a barre chord (also known as bar chord or rarely barr chord) is a type of chord on a guitar or other stringed instrument, that the musician plays by using one or more fingers to press down multiple strings across a single fret of the fingerboard (like a bar pressing down the strings).

Players often use this chording technique to play a chord that is not restricted by the tones of the guitar's open strings. For instance, if a guitar is tuned to regular concert pitch, with the open strings being E, A, D, G, B, E (from low to high), open chords must be based on one or more of these notes. To play an F chord the guitarist may barre strings so that the chord root is F.

Most barre chords are "moveable" chords,[1] as the player can move the whole chord shape up and down the neck.[2] Commonly used in both popular and classical music, Barre chords are frequently used in combination with "open" chords, where the guitar's open (unfretted) strings construct the chord. Playing a chord with the barre technique slightly affects tone quality. A closed, or fretted, note sounds slightly different from an open, unfretted, string. Barre chords are a distinctive part of the sound of pop music and rock music.

Using the barre technique, the guitarist can fret a familiar chord that is usually played with open strings, and then transpose, or raise, the chord a number of half-steps higher, similar to the use of a capo. For example, if a guitarist plays an E major and wants the next chord to be an F major, barring the open E major up two frets (thus two semitones) from the open position produces a barred F major chord. They are considered notoriously hard to play for beginners due to the pressing of more than one string with a single finger.


The term barre comes from the method of using the index finger to form a rigid "bar" across all of the strings. The original spelling "barré" is French, translating to "barred".

Technique and application

  • Note: notes of each chord are listed in order from bottom, thickest string (lowest in pitch) string to top (a standard six-string tuning of EADGBE, from lowest-pitched string to highest-pitched string is used).

Barre chords are typically used when a performer wishes to voice a chord in higher positions on the guitar. Choice of key may result in using barre chords as the more basic open chord fingerings of the first position of a standard-tuned guitar are not available for use in the chosen key. The two most commonly barred notes are variations of fingering shapes that are used to play the chords A and E on first, or open, position. The "E" type barre chord is made of an E chord shape (022100) moved up and down the frets and being barred, transposing the chord. For example, the E chord barred one fret up becomes an F chord (133211). The next fret up is F, followed by G, A, A, B, B, C, C, D, E, and then back to E (1 octave up) at fret twelve.

              E               A
Guitar tablature of an open E chord and an E-shape A barre chord.

The "A" type barre chord, occasionally called the "double barre", is made by sliding the A chord shape (X02220) up and down the frets. When the A chord is barred, the index finger lies across the top five strings, touching the 6th string (E) to deaden it. Either the ring or little finger is then barred across the 2nd (B), 3rd (G), and 4th (D) strings two frets down, or one finger frets each string. For instance, if barred at the second fret, the A chord becomes B (X24442). From fret one to twelve, the barred A becomes B, B, C, C, D, E, E, F, F, G, A, and at the twelfth fret (that is, one octave up), it is A again.

              A               D
Guitar tablature of an open A chord and an A-shape D barre chord.

Sometimes the highest note in a double barre chord is left out. Most variations of these two chords can be barred: dominant 7ths, minors, minor 7ths, etc.

Minor barre chords are made by inclusion of a minor third in the chord rather than the major third (in "E" and "A" shaped barre chords, this note happens to be the highest 'non-barred' note). Example:

         F        Fm       C       Cm

In addition to the two most common shapes above, barre/moveable chords can also be built on any chord fingering, provided that the chord can be fingered such that it leaves the first finger free to create the barre and provided that the chord does not require the fingers to extend beyond a four fret range. Examples:

         D        A        

The above shows D major in open "C" shape form and A major in open "G" shape form. In the example above, the "C" shape offers an alternative voicing to the open D major and to the "A" shaped D major in fifth position. Variations of the basic major and minor triad chords can also be formed using the barred chord as their foundation. For example, the open Cadd9 shape can be used in its C shape barre form up the guitar neck, as desired.

CAGED System

The CAGED system is an acronym for the chords C, A, G, E, and D. This acronym is often used as a shorthand way of describing the use of barre chords that can be played anywhere on the fret board as described above. It is often used by guitar instructors as a way to remind students of the open chords that can be used as barre chords across the fret board. By replacing the nut with a full barre, the chord shapes for C, A, G, E and D may be used anywhere on the fret board to play any major chord in any key. This system is also used as a way to remember scale shapes, though the usefulness of this teaching method is debated due to potential technical problems.[3]

The use of the leading-tone imperfect authentic cadence (♭VII-I) in popular music is often attributed to the ease of sliding a barre chord up two frets.[4] In the context of classical music, "Fernando Sor recommends that one should 'be sparing of the operations called barring and shifting.' The principal reason for avoiding bars is that playing them requires more effort than not. However, there are frequent occasions when bars are the best or only solutions for playing certain passages."[5]

Partial barre chords

              F               F
An F-shape "great bar" chord and an F-shape "small bar" chord.

Guitarists[1][6] distinguish between the "great bar"/"grand bar" or full barre chord and incomplete or "small bar" chords such as the half barre.[7][8][9] The small bar or regular F chord is easily obtainable, but "Being able to play the Small Bar chord formations does little towards developing the technique required to play the Great Bar chord formations."[7]

       Gm     Gm     Gm     Gm7
E-shape Gm 'great', 'small',[9] "simplified version",[1]
and Em7-shape Gm7 'small'[6] chords.

The 'simplified version' on the upper three strings is described as "useful in playing solos," and may be played with any of the first three fingers.[6] The minor seventh chord whose root is located on the first may instead be considered an added sixth chord whose root is located on the third string, in which case one may consider the Gm7 a Badd6.[6]

Diagonal barre chord

A diagonal barre chord is a "very rare chord" involving "the barring of a couple of strings with the first finger [diagonally] on different frets."[10]


In standard musical notation the barre technique is commonly indicated by the use of one of the two letters: "B" and "C" followed by a positional indication which is given by an Arabic number or Roman numeral. Examples: BIII, CVII, B2, C7.

The two abbreviations "B", "C", represent the terms barre or bar, cejillo or capotasto, the later being Spanish and Italian terms for capo. The choice of letter adopted is an editorial decision reflecting the style adopted. The use of Roman numerals is more prevalent than Arabic numbers to avoid confusion with other fingering indications and common chord symbols (but not figured harmony).

Notation of Roman numerals without including letters "B" or "C" is an indication of fingerboard position only.

Partial barres indications are also determined by editorial style. A vertical strike-through of the letter "C" commonly indicates a partial barre, the number of strings to be barred dependent on context and performer choice. Other editorial styles use superscript fractions (e.g. 4/6, 1/2) to indicate the number of strings to be barred in addition to the letters B or C. In some notation styles (particularly classical staff notation), the letters "B" or "C" are omitted altogether, with the number of courses to barre (from the highest-tuned downwards) written as an index (superscript). For example: on a guitar, VII4 indicates a barre on the 7th fret over the highest four strings (D, G, B, and E). There is no rule for whether full barre chords are written with indices (e.g. "6" for a standard guitar) or without; it is a matter of personal taste for the editor.[11] It is customary to place the barre sign above the staff, with a spanning line to mark duration.[12]

The barre is often signed on tablature as "C" with the fret number as Roman numeral, such as

         CVII     CVIII    CXII     CII
         E        Cm       Dm       B7

See also


  1. Alfred D'Auberge and Morton Manus (1968). The New Guitar Course, Book 3, p.39. ISBN 0-7390-1779-9.
  2. Moore, Allan. "The So-Called 'Flattened Seventh' in Rock", p.200n17, Popular Music, Vol. 14, No. 2. (May, 1995), pp. 185-201.
  3. "Why The CAGED System Hurts Your Guitar Playing". APA Style. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  4. Authentic cadence
  5. Ryan, Lee F. (1991). The Natural Classical Guitar: The Principles of Effortless Playing, p.73. ISBN 0-933224-50-8.
  6. Ron Manus and L. C. Harnsberger (1999). From Liverpool to Abbey Road, p.111. ISBN 0-7390-0251-1.
  7. Jerry Snyder and Ralph Higgins (1985). Comprehensive Guitar Method: Student Book, p.9. ISBN 0-89898-701-6.
  8. Snyder, Jerry (1987). Solo Finger Picking, p.40. Alfred Music Publishing. ISBN 0-7390-1835-3.
  9. Snyder, Jerry (1985). Basic Instructor Guitar, Vol 2: Student Edition, p.47. ISBN 0-7692-0975-0.
  10. Latarski, Don (1999). Ultimate Guitar Chords: First Chords, p.5. ISBN 978-0-7692-8522-1.
  11. Del Mar, Norman (1981). Anatomy of the Orchestra. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press. pp. 482–484 (1987 paperback edition). ISBN 0-520-05062-2.
  12. Yates, Stanley (1998). "Arranging, Interpreting and Performing the Music of J. S. Bach". Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites Arranged for Guitar. Pacific, MO: Mel Bay.
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