Playing Bar Chords in Songs
In the previous bar chord guitar lesson we looked at the correct hand position required to play consistent clear sounding bar chords on the guitar. Once you’ve mastered this technique the next step is to know what bar chord shapes and where to play them on the guitar neck within a song.
6 String Bar Chords
The main bar chord shapes used are based on open string E and A chord shapes. For example the F major bar chord at position (fret 1) is the E major chord shifted up 1 fret with finger 1 barred behind across the 6 strings.
If you look at the F minor bar chord you will see that it is simply the open E minor chord again with finger 1 barring across the 1st fret.
5 String Bar Chords
The A major chord forms the basis for 5 string bar chord with the root note on the 5th (A string). So at position 1 Bb major is the A major open string chord moved up 1 fret with finger 1 barring across the 5 strings. The 5 string major bar chord can be played 3 different ways. The first is following what you usually see in bar chord diagrams with fingers 2, 3 and 4 in a row and all strings from 5 to 1 being played.
Muting The 6th String
When playing the 5 string bar chords it can be good to mute the unwanted 6th string with the edge of finger1. This help to prevent it ringing out when strumming preventing it clashing with many chords. It’s a bit subtle in the photos but you can see finger 1 touching the edge of the 6th string to mute it.
The second fingering is to use only fingers 1 and 3 with finger 3 barring across strings 3, 2 and 1. With this chord it is important to mute string 1 by not applying full pressure with finger 3 on this string. If you do apply pressure to string 1 you end up playing a 6 or 6th chord. This is a nice jazzy sounding chord but it is not always suitable for many songs.
The final option is similar to the previous one except to use the little finger to play strings 3 and 2 by laying it flat. This option is handy if you’re quickly changing from a 5 string minor bar chord to a 5 string major bar chord as you only have to take finger 2 off the fret board and lie finger 4 down to play strings 2 and 3.
For the open string A minor chord forms the basis for Bb minor. If you move the A minor shape up 1 fret then bar the 1st fret you’re now playing Bb minor.
Learn the 6th and 5th String Notes
With this knowledge we can learn where all the major and minor bar chords are on the guitar fretboard.
- To learn all the 6 string chords based on E major/minor learn all the notes on the 6th (low E) string.
- To learn all the 5 string chords based on A major/minor learn all the notes on the 5th (low A) string.
Learning Bar Chords in Songs
To help to learn where all the bar chord are on the guitar neck try this exercise. Play the chord progression to Angie by the Rolling Stones using only bar chords. Initially keep the strumming simple with one strum per beat and see if you can play along with the original recording of the song.
Once you can play the bar chords of the song swap the 6 and 5 string bar chords around and vice versa. For example instead of playing the 6 string F major bar chord play the 5 string F major bar chord. You will find that some chords are very high up the neck making them awkward to play such as the 5 string A minor bar chord so you can just stick with the 6 string bar chord version of A minor.
Dominant 7 Bar Chords
Also note that this song introduces the dominant 7 bar chord the 6 and 5 string bar chord shapes for these chords are shown below.
Another good song to use for this exercise is Hotel California by The Eagles. Again for this song try mixing the 6 and 5 string bar chords while keeping the rhythm simple with 1 strum per beat while playing along with the song.
You can do this exercise with almost any song but the best songs are those with a good collection of chords. Try songs by The Beatles, The Eagles and Crowded House as they often use a range of chords that aren’t just the common I IV V chord collections of G C D, A D E and D A G.