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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

Major & Minor Bar Chords

Most people have issues when they first attempt bar chords. This lesson will not only introduce Major and Minor bar chords but will also give you some technique tips that I find greatly facilitate being able to play them - even for beginners.

These chords are triadic. A triad is a 3-note chord. The 3 notes are the Root, the 3rd and the 5th. For more information see, Quick & Dirty Major Triads.

Triadic means that even though you might be playing 6 strings (6 notes) there are only 3 different notes; several of the notes are doubled.

The only difference between major and minor is that the 3rd of the major chord is flatted (lowered) to make it minor. Thus you have the terms, "major 3rd" and, "minor 3rd." For more information see, Quick & Dirty 3rds.

In the fretboard diagrams below, the numbers in the colored circles are the intervals of the chord - the Root, the 3rd and the 5th. The numbers across the top of the diagram are the fingerings.

I usually start students with the Minor bar chords because they tend to have fewer technique/fingering problems. So here are the Minor shapes; note especially the location of the 3rd:


Note: The notes on the bottom 3 strings of the chord (the Root-5th-Root) constitute what I call a 3-note power chord. If you can play power chords, you already know at least half of these chord shapes. There's a page on Power Chords on the website, but you must be a Site Member and logged in to view.

Technique Tips

Problem - Lack of Strength

Solution: It's never about brute force; it's all about fine motor control and optimum placement. Place your finger on the string directly behind the fret wire. The string vibrates from the fretwire, not your fingertip. The closer to the fretwire you place your finger, the less pressure you need to use to get a good sound. All you have to do is press the string down until it touches the fretwire; any more force than that is wasted and counter-productive.

Other blogs relative to this issue:

So you want the bar to be right up behind the fret wire and parallel to it. Remember - exert minimal pressure.

  • Keeping your elbow in against your body will help maintain the correct angle of the bar.

Problem - On the 6th-String Root, the 3rd string is muted: It just so happens that the note on the 3rd string is the most important note of the chord! It's the 3rd of the chord, and if I can't hear the 3rd, I don't know whether the chord is major or minor. The issue could be one of two things, or both.

  1. Your pinky is leaning against the 3rd string, thus muting it - &/or -

  2. Your index finger is insufficiently barring. This can occur because the string happens to be placed in the crease of the first knuckle.

Solution: Turn your index finger slightly sideways and position the 2nd knuckle on the 3rd string. The bulge of the knuckle will help push the string down so that it reaches the fretwire. This also insures that your pinky comes down on the string at a perpendicular angle, thus drastically decreasing the potential of it muting the 3rd string.

Problem - On the 5th-String Root, the 6th string is being played open or it is being barred by the index finger: We don't want to hear the 6th string at all.

Solution: Position the index finger so that the fingertip barely touches the 6th string, thus muting it.

Drill: Minor Bar Chords around the Key Circle.

If you don't know what I mean by, "Key Circle" you're missing something crucial! The Key Circle (also known as, "the Circle of 4ths"), and its application to the guitar, is taught in my 5-Lesson Foundational Series.

Almost every lesson I teach presupposes the 5-Lesson Foundational Series.

Now we come to the Major Bar Chords; notice the 3rd has been raised from the Minor:


Technique Tips

Most of the technique problems students have with Major bar chords are relative to the 5th-String Root.

Problem - Unable to hyperextend (bend backwards) the first knuckle of the 3rd finger in order to play the note on the 1st string with the index finger:

Some people can do it, some can do it partially and some can't do it at all. I strongly suspect a genetic component - some people just physically can't do it.

Solution 1: Mute the 1st string with either the index finger or the ring finger. If using the 3rd finger to mute, be careful to avoid barring the 1st string. That would make the chord something different, namely, a Major 6 chord.

Solution 2: Re-finger the chord. There are advantages and disadvantages to any given fingering. Ideally, you should be able to play all fingerings equally well. Nevertheless, if you are one of those who are unable to hyperextend your knuckle, consider this:

This solution has its own potential problem; because 3 fingers are on the same fret you can't get all 3 fingers right up behind the fretwire. Consequently, the odds of the 4th string buzzing or being muted are high.

Most of the time, I would recommend Solution 1 as the default.

Drill: Major Bar Chords around the Key Circle.


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