This may sound dramatic but learning how to play bar chords on guitar is one of the best things I have done in my life and if I had to learn again, I would want to have explained to me in exactly this way.
Whether you want to play bluesy shuffles or power chords, it will be good to know what a bar chord is and how it works. By just taking a little bit of time at this stage, there is the added advantage of getting a range of new chords almost instantly.
Take the normal E major chord 0-2-2-1-0-0, play it without using your first (index) finger.
The ‘nut’ for the guitar is where the six strings pivot at the end of the fret board/neck of the guitar. Rest your first finger beside the nut of the guitar, just before the fretboard starts. This won’t make any difference to the sound of the chord – yet.
Slide your whole hand up the neck by one fret. Your first finger now acts as a ‘bar’ on the first fret, making the bar chord F major. Only the first 3 strings are normally played for a power chord, but before don’t disappear yet.
Quick Tip How to Play Bar Chords On Guitar – If you find this difficult to get a clean sound, move the shape up to, say, the fifth fret. This could make it a little easier to press down, particularly if you have smaller hands. Don’t worry, it gets easier.
You can now play each major chord by sliding the exact same shape fret by fret up the neck, so that’s 12 chords for starters.
Boost Your Chord Count With Your Pinky Finger
Now, if you take off your pinky finger and keep the rest the same, you have access to a whole new range of chords on each fret.
1-3-3-2-1-1 is how the F major bar chord looks (all the 1’s being the bar with your first finger)
1-3-1-2-1-1 is the above, simply with your pinky finger removed (Fmaj7) we’ll call it the pinky-less chord
1-3-1-2-3-1 is the above with the pinky adding more to the blues feel
1-3-1-2-2-1 is an Fmaj6 – sounds weird on it’s own but mixed with the previous two fits in well
1-5-1-2-1-1 now we’re talking, play this and the pinky-less chord and you are in blues heaven
1-6-1-2-1-1 more blues – but it may be a stretch with the ‘bar’ on the first fret
1-3-1-3-1-1 alternated with pinky-less chord, beautiful.
This is just the start of learning bar chords. You know that this is the same on the 1st fret is F, 2nd fret is F#, 3rd is G etc so with the 7 variations on 12 frets that is an amazing 84 chords that you did not know at the top of the page.
I hope this has helped you learn how to play bar chords on guitar, but just before you go, you know that 0-2-2-0-0-0 is E minor, so you can apply all the same rules above to that shape too and you have well over 150 new chords!