Practicing Barre Chords (without hurting yourself)

Barre chords (the dreaded F chord) are difficult. And when practiced with bad technique can lead to pain and possible injury.

I learned that the hard way - suffered through a year of pain with tennis elbow caused by improper practice, which definitely set my playing back.

I’m learning them again, with much more care. Here’s how I practice now.

If you have questions, comments, suggestions, or warnings - let me know.

Safe practice, everyone!


Based on @CateB 's comments in her “Conquered” topic, I want to stress some points that I might have glossed over in the video.

  1. Don’t learn the F chord first!

F is the worst introduction to barre chords! It’s way down at the bottom of the neck, close to the nut, where the strings are hardest to press and the frets are furthest apart. It’s no wonder we struggle with it.

Learn the shape higher up the neck, where you can comfortably get your fingers up against the frets without stretching. Probably somewhere between the 4th and the 8th should work.

Get all the strings ringing, without excess tension, on the higher frets first. Might take a few days - so be it.

Probably best to only practice this for 3 - 5 minutes a day at first. If your hand starts hurting, try to relax your grip, if it keeps hurting, stop and try again tomorrow for a shorter time.

Then, work down the neck one fret at a time, troubleshooting as you go. You will have to adjust your fingers, wrist, and elbow as you go down the neck.

  1. The B string

I don’t know if it was clear from the video how I was just focusing on feeling the B string buzzing under my index finger, and only increasing pressure there until it rang, while letting my other fingers just rest on the strings.

I thing the common reaction is to just grip harder with the whole hand to solve muted strings, which leads to all kinds of problems. This exercise should help with that.

Also, I forgot to mention that changing index finger position slightly can often help with the B string.

Thinking I might do a short video just on the B string problem child…lots of people struggle with it.

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That’s one of the main tips I give my students too. Usually I ask them to try A (5th fret) first :smiley:



Outside of the classical position, everything in this video was a part of my finally getting proficient with barre chords. I particularly agree with:

  1. Don’t start with the F chord. I actually found the B minor (using the A minor shape barred at second fret) was the easiest for me to learn because 1) it’s not barred on the first fret) and 2) the B string is fretted with your middle finger which avoids having to fret it with the barred index finger.

  2. Play each chord as light as you can for as short a period as possible. Trying to hold down a barre chord for multiple measures is a sure path to injury when you are just learning. I actually found this video on reggae rhythm to be super helpful to learning to press only when you need sound - pay particular attention when he talks about adding and subtracting note content at the 4:33 mark in the video.


Thanks Tom. The B did continue to be that problem child so will solely focus on 5th fret for now and graduate down when I’m feeling ready to.
Greatly appreciate all your help. Thank you

Good point…I actually learned that first, for Wicked Game and Comfortably Numb.

But the same tips work - start higher up the neck and get all strings ringing before moving down the neck.

Also a very good point. I tried to demonstrate that later in the video by just fretting the chord on the 1 in each measure, and playing muted strums on the rest. Hold down the chord for more strums as you improve.