Barre Chord Shapes for Guitar – Turn Open-Major Chords Into Movable Shapes

Turning the E & A Open-Major Chords Into Movable Shapes

As a rock guitar teacher, one of the first things that I teach an aspiring, young fretblazer is the E power chord (E5).

Here’s the basic premise: A kid walks in for his first lesson and after teaching him the parts of the guitar, how to sit and stand with the guitar and how to hold a pick, I say, “Take your first finger and place it on the 5th string, 2nd fret and play that with the 6th string open.” They hit the strings with a sense of wonder.

Next, I ask them to play it again. This time, I turn on distortion. The sense of wonder turns into delight, excitement, enthusiasm and a giant smile as dreams of rock stardom wash over my young padawan.

There’s something certainly magical about that sound!

We've created a video demonstrating some of the things you'll read in this article if you'd like to check it out:​

The Power of the Power Chord

Early rock music began using power chords and began overdriving amplifiers. The combination of the two was a sonic match made in heaven. Power chords get their name because they sound powerful. Let’s check this out.

Barre Chord Shapes Example 1

In and of itself it, the E5 sounds underwhelming. But, crank up the gain and we have an entirely new experience.

The power, by definition, is really just an interval, because the distance between two notes is called an interval. However, the power chord, which is the interval of a 5th, defies this rule.

Power chords are also the first movable shape that beginning guitarists are exposed to. They’re fairly easy to play and sound great. Once you become comfortable playing the shape, it then becomes easy to slide up and down the fretboard of the guitar.

Let’s turn the E5 into a movable shape.

Here’s a tip: Chords that don’t use open strings are all movable.

Movable Power Chords

We’ll begin by changing the E5 into a movable shape.

  1. Play the 6th string, 1st fret with your first finger.

  2. Play the 5th string, 3rd fret with your third finger.

  3. Play the 4th string, 3rd fret with your fourth finger.

  4. Let your first finger naturally rest on the 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings, muting them.

You’ve just created the F5 chord.

Barre Chord Shapes Example 2

As an alternative, you can also use your third finger to fret the 5th and 4th strings at the 3rd fret.

Next, we’ll slide this position up one fret at a time.

Barre Chord Shapes Example 3

Notice that when we get to the 12th fret, we arrive at E again.

If you’re not familiar with the way that the notes are arranged on the guitar then I encourage you to check out my article, “Learning the Fretboard – Quick Guide to The Guitar’s Fretboard Notes.”

Let’s find out where that first E5 chord came from.

The Open-E Chord

Take a look at the open E chord.

  1. The 6th string E is played open.

  2. The 5th string, 2nd fret B is played with the 2nd finger.

  3. The 4th string, 2nd fret E is played with the 3rd finger.

  4. The 3rd string, 1st fret G# is played with the 1st finger.

  5. And, the 2nd string B and 1st string E are both played open.

Barre Chord Shapes Example 4

The bottom three strings of the open-E major chord form the E5 chord.

The Open-E as a Movable Barre-Chord Shape

We used the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fingers to build that chord. Let’s try using the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers instead:

  1. The 6th string E is played open.

  2. The 5th string, 2nd fret B is played with the 3rd finger.

  3. The 4th string, 2nd fret E is played with the 4th finger.

  4. The 3rd string, 1st fret G# is played with the 2nd finger.

  5. And, the 2nd string B and 1st string E are both played open.

Next, slide that entire fingering up one fret and use your 1st finger to form the barre from the 6th string to the 1st string. The 1st finger will fret the 6th, 2nd, and 1st strings—the open strings from the E chord.

Barre Chord Shapes Example 5

Welcome to your first full-barre chord. We took an open E chord:

  • Changed it into a movable shape be using our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers instead of our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fingers.

  • Used our 1st finger as a bar for the open strings; slide up one fret to create an F chord.

Let’s move that up the neck and create 12 more barre chords.

Barre Chord Shapes Example 6

Those of you using acoustic guitars will find this a little bit more demanding. It is easier to do on an electric.

Barre Chord Exercises for Beginners.

Here’s an exercise that will help you get used to barre chords.

Barre Chord Shapes Example 7
  1. Take your 1st finger and barre the 5th fret.

  2. Play each string starting with the 6th down to the 1st and back up to the 6th.

  3. Move up to the 6th fret and repeat it.

  4. Then the 7th fret.

  5. Up to the 8th fret.

  6. Back to the 7th

  7. Then the 6th again.

  8. And, back to the 5th.

Make sure that every note rings out nice and clear.

Next, add the 2nd finger to the 3rd string of the chord pattern, lather, rinse, repeat.

Barre Chord Shapes Example 8

Once those sounds nice and clear, we add the 3rd finger to the 5th string of the chord pattern. And, this chord shape actually sounds good. Because, it’s a dominant-7 chord. Great for playing blues.

Barre Chord Shapes Example 9

Finally, we add the 4th finger to the 4th string of the chord pattern. And, this is your major-barre chord.

Barre Chord Shapes Example 10

This is one of those exercise that you practice until you can play the chords cleanly. Once you can play the chords cleanly you won’t need the exercise. Take your time, it’ll come.

The Open-A as a Movable Barre-Chord Shape

Next, we’ll use the same process for converting the open-E chord into a movable shape for the open-A chord. First, the open-A:

  1. The 6th string is not played.

  2. The 5th string, A is played open.

  3. The 4th, 3rd and 2nd strings, 2nd fret are played with first finger.

  4. Avoid playing the 1st string.

Barre Chord Shapes Example 11

Next, slide that entire fingering up one fret and use your 1st finger to play the 5th string, 1st fret and the 3rd finger will form the barre from the 4th string to the 2nd string at the 3rd fret. The 1st string is not played.

Barre Chord Shapes Example 12

Let’s move that up the neck and create 12 more barre chords.

Barre Chord Shapes Example 13

Closing Thoughts

The wonderful thing about the guitar is that is has a pattern-based layout. I’m gonna leave with with a few chord shapes that you can add to your barre-chord vocabulary. Simply take them through the process that you’ve now mastered and become a walking chord encyclopedia. Here are a few of the most common shapes.

Root-6 and Root-5 Barre Chord Shapes

Barre Chord Shapes Example 14

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this lesson and have more insight into chord playing, barre chords, and the guitar in general. Thank you for checking out this article. I appreciate your readership.

Till next time.

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Ed Lozano
 

Ed Lozano is a professional guitarist, instructor, producer and published author. He is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and lives in the Andes mountains.

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