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All Guitarists know that great feeling when, after struggling to get our fingers to go where we want them to go, we succeed in putting two or three first position chords together, (usually three fingers, within the first three frets), and playing something recognisable while we sing the tune!
The route is then usually to build up a number of chords to allow a wider variety of music to be played.
The next big step in increasing our range is to start working with Barre Chords!
This was a big obstacle for me. I thought my fingers were obviously weak and weird; I could never get the strength to hold the strings down. My Son has just passed through this stage as I write. So here is a simple exercise that helped both of us. (You end up playing a classic song as a bonus).
1. Get familiar with a first position E major chord.
2. Now play that same chord but using this fingering: -
Little finger on the 4th string, 2nd fret.
Ring finger on the 5th string 2nd fret.
Middle finger on the 3rd string 1st fret.
3. Bring your wrist into position so the thumb of your left hand is roughly pressing in the middle of the neck of the Guitar. Your index or 1st finger should naturally be sticking straight up, probably over the nut of the Guitar neck, (that’s the bit the strings pass over on their way to the tuning pegs).
4. Find a copy of Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran. Listen to it.
The chord changes are obvious it starts on E goes to an A, then to a B then back to E. That’s the famous bit that acts as the intro and after the “Ain’t no cure for the Summertime Blues” bits. The verse is based on A then back to E repeated. The parts of this song can be clearly and distinctly heard. If you want to find out where, just play the open 6th string for the E, then the 6th string at the 5th fret for the A and the 6th string at the 7th fret for the B. This will help you to identify the chord changes.
5. Having identified where the chords change get your fingers ready as above. Be patient.
6. Start the recording. Where the E or the open 6th string sounded right give one quick downward strum across all the strings. Wait for the music to return to the E chord and again play the chord. When your confident try joining in with the rhythm. Relax your fingers when you’re not strumming the chord. Repeatedly applying the pressure and then relaxing will rapidly strengthen your fingers rather than holding on with a continuous death grip. Now stop!
7. Go back to single finger on the 6th string. Identify when the music goes to the A chord by pressing on the 5th fret when it feels right. Got it? OK.
8. Go to your E chord. Relax your fingers and slide the entire chord along the strings until your first finger is at the 5th fret laid across all the strings, (that’s just behind the metal ridge not on it). Your other fingers should have kept the E shape but are now with your little and ring finger on the 7th fret. Your middle finger is at the 6th fret. Your thumb is still in the middle of the neck. Briefly apply pressure with all your fingers. As you apply the pressure try a quick strum down. Don’t worry if it’s a bit muffled. This song is very forgiving. You have just played the A chord of the sequence. The important bit is to make sure your holding the 6th, 5th, 4th and 3rd strings. The 1st and 2nd strings will probably be muffled. Don’t worry, as your strength and accuracy improves, (and it will), rapidly, these little troublemakers will do as they are told!
9. Right now we are ready to work out the B chord. Follow the same principles as above, a single finger on the 6th string at the 7th fret is the first locator for the chord. Then create the same shape as in 8. above.
10. Now it should be fairly easy to follow the chord changes as they occur during the song. Don’t try to hold the Chord down all the time, relax and make moving your hands into the three positions at the right time your priority. Gradually start to apply the pressure in short bursts until the strength builds in your hands.
And finally, after you have mastered Summertime Blues try using a Barre version of a chord instead of the open position inversion. Perhaps a G Barre at the 3rd fret instead of the three finger open version. Try this in a familiar song so you get used to it quickly and can appreciate the different possibilities it offers in damping and control.
I don’t know how technical the above is, I do know the method used opened
Barre chords to both my Son and Myself so best of luck.