Weird Mental Block with Barre Chords

I know barre chords are a topic discussed extensively but I’ve been playing 3 years now and am still struggling with them. I practice slow changes to get them clean. I practice them fast to get my changes quicker and all of that seems successful…UNTIL I try to play them in a song. My chord change practice routine worked great for open chords but not for barre chords. It’s like it’s a form of red light fever as the bar chord comes up in a song. My fingers just won’t get there when trying to use a bar chord in a song. I’ve slowed down the tempo of the songs and that helps somewhat but seems to reinforce my inability to get the chord change quickly when attempting full tempo. My guitar is set up fine. I can do a bar chord fine. I take lessons and my teacher doesn’t seem worried. He says it will happen eventually. If I just keep playing through the horrible sounding bar chords I feel I’m reinforcing playing them wrong. How do I practice so as to overcome this involuntary hesitation in my fingers when trying to play them in a song?


You push trough. Play to backing tracks and force your way through the Barre chord changes.
I bet the reason you’ve picked up this hesitation is you do it when doing your OMC. Try doing them to a metronome and force yourself to make the changes in time. Start slow it will improve.


I’m certainly no expert - I am just past the 3 year point and cannot form a barre chord fast enough to play in a song. My problem is having a really good mental feel for finger placement - I just don’t have that and fingers will often drop half a string out of place unless I slow way down.

I’d sneak up on the complexity that confounds me this way:
Can you play a 2-string power chord cleanly in the song in place of the barre?
How about a 3-string power chord?
Can you barre the first finger and play the power chord (you’d get a minor if you strummed all strings)
Last test is to try the barre chord you already are having trouble with.

I’d look at where my concentration is breaking and then try to attack that movement timing, even if I need to just move that one finger or just two fingers. I’d progress to the real thing as I improved the simpler.

I’m using this approach with some finger style blues (timing) and it gets me there far faster because I am working on an identified problem rather than everything at once.


My approach to barre chords (specifically F) has been to look at the specific change that a song requires, for example Am to F (in Hurt by Johnny Cash) and to really think about which direction each of my fingers need to move to get from the starting point to the finish - I mean as opposed to just lifting my hand off the fretboard and then trying to form the barre chord in mid air. In this example, I focus on my middle finger which needs to move across one string and, now that I’ve done it dozens of times, the rest of the fingers find their own way to where they need to go. At first it was a bit of a 2 step process with the middle finger moving first then the others following but it’s becoming closer to one motion with practice.

I have no idea if any this rambling makes any sense but hope it helps!


Barre chords are a bugger for a lot of people … You’ll never be alone, in that respect. Here’s how I help people visualise them in order to simplify them technically, so see if it helps.

A barre chord is simply this: An open chord shape, moved up the neck to a different position, with an index finger slapped down behind it where the nut would be if that chord shape were played open. Anyone, even a beginner of two days experience, can plonk their index finger across six strings. It’s not that much more of a leap to adjust technique to make those six strings sound cleanly … so that’s not where I see most people’s problems arise. It’s usually the mental fumble that arises from slapping fingers 2, 3 and 4 down into a position you’ve trained fingers 1, 2 and 3 to occupy that causes the frustration.

So I rationalise it like this: start playing your open E and A chords with fingers 2, 3 and 4. Play the open A minor with the same fingers. Just like that open E, it’s only dropping down a string with the same fingering shape, so not too much of a leap. Start playing your open A with fingers 2, 3 and 4. Get used to using those fingerings for a while … and alternate fingerings with fingers 1, 2 and 3.

Once you get comfy playing those chords with those fingers, in the simplest terms possible, do this: slide the chord … played with fingers 2, 3 and 4 … up the neck to any fret you need to play the chord at … Then just slap your index finger down behind them to complete the chord fingering.

You’ll have done the hard part … trained fingers 2, 3 and 4 to do the same job as 1, 2 and 3 … so you won’t need to think too hard about where they go. Once your muscle memory coordinates those fingers, you’ll find barre chords a lot easier.

A perspective, indeed … hope it helps. Stick with it, though. you will get it eventually :+1:


Well, I’ve been practicing this same thing for 5 minutes every other day for the last 4 months, and I’m finally able to do Open C-Barre F-Barre G-Barre F at 60bpm, one chord per bar. Before I started practicing changing to/from barre chords, I had practiced the F Barre chord on and off for a year to get semi-competent at it.

So, yeah, it takes time

You’re not going to get them properly right until you can do them in a song. You need to fix that hesitation.

Nah, you’re not reinforcing it if you know that it wasn’t right. Just like a kid playing soccer trying to kick a ball accurately and not getting it right, until they do; playing barre chords in a song and trying to get them right, until you do, is a way your brain learns.

What worked well for me is doing barre chords on fingerpicking songs, they keep you honest. Try “Hallelujah” as an easy fingerpicked song with an F. You’ll learn pretty quickly if you fretted it right or not.

Also, frequency of practice matters. Play your barre chord practice song at least twice a day, morning & night, even just 5 minutes each time.


Thank you so much for all the feedback!! It helps to know that pushing through is the right way to go. The idea of ‘practice makes permanent’ had me wondering if I was practicing correctly. Anyway, I will definitely try all your recommendations. Again, thank you for taking the time to offer suggestions. :slight_smile:


Practice does make permanent, the good news is you know what is wrong and you’re making a conscious effort to fix it. Being aware of a problem is half the battle

This is the first step to fixing a problem.


I would suggest to practice power chords together with barre chords. Power chords are much easier and will train your fingers 1, 3 & 4 to move in proper places. I found practicing both complementary and it definitely helped me.

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It is very encouraging to read the barre chords struggle just knowing I want to start the F chord lesson next week. :slightly_smiling_face:

As you can see by all the replies, you’re not alone!
I have the same experience as you. I noticed I was becoming tense when I knew a barre chord was coming up so I concentrated on physically relaxing, rather than the chord itself.
One weird thing that helps me is sometimes when I’m practising chord changes and I nail it, I’ll often just stop, celebrate my “small win”, and take a bit of a break, then go back to it relaxed, and dare I say, eager to try it again…

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Lots of great suggestions already.
Something that should not be underestimated is the strength of the muscles in your hand and fingers that need to build up. Try and play entire songs using just barre chords (e.g. some of the jack johnson ones that Justin has tutorials for). I’ve learned times like these a while back and it was a real pain - couldn’t practise for more than a few minutes initially, but strength will build up over time. When you can play an entire song with just barre chords you’ll find that changing from open to barre will be a piece of cake and your fingers will find the barre.

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OMG that’s such a great idea! Because that’s exactly my issue with bar chords. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that solution. Might take me awhile so better get started. I only want to play about 3 or 4 . Thanks :pray:

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