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  • What are barre chords
  • Why do barre chords exist
  • Barre chord playing technique
  • Finger stretching exercises

Playing Barre Ukulele Chords

What is a “barre” chord?

A barre (or bar(r)) chord, is a chord where you use one (or more fingers) to press down (= fret, bar) multiple strings on the ukulele fretboard. This is most of the time done with the index finger, but there are situations where you’d have to use other fingers. So barre chords mean that there are no open strings (never).

Why barre chords?

Barre chords enable the ukulele player to play other tones on the ukulele besides the open strings + it allows for playing higher up the fretboard.

Take for example the A major chord. In the chord diagrams below you’ll probably recognize version 1 immediately as the A chord. However, you can also play it barred, this is version 2. Most of the times the chord diagram for version 2 will be displayed as the first one (= middle one) but it can occur that the barred version is emphasized (see the second “ver2” chord diagram or last one).

Aver1 Aver2 Aver22

Barre chords can thus offer a variation in tones and can make a music piece interesting. Another reason is that barre chords can easily be moved along the neck whilst keeping the same hand position. That way similar chords can easily be played.

A last reason is that it allows you to “throw away” your capo. Now do not take this literally, but it does offer the ability to play songs that need a capo, without a capo. Take for example a song that is played with a capo on the first fret and has an A major chord in it, you could simply leave out the capo and play a Bb (A#) chord (see diagrams below).

A Bb

So how do I play this “barre” chord you are talking about?

Well, it isn’t that difficult easy, but it requires a good technique and like always, a lot of practice. Once you get the hang of it, it’ll open a whole spectrum of new songs you’ll be able to play + play easily in different keys without the need for a capo!

In this first section, I’ll use the Bb (A#) chord as our basic barre chord as it is one that is frequently used in songs. You can see the chord diagram a few paragraphs up. Now, how to place your fingers? [first way]

bar_bb_1

• 1. Place your thumb central on on the back of the fretboard so that it sticks out a little bit. This will help you in applying more pressure.

• 2. Place the other fingers for the chord except for your index (barring) finger. For Bb this would be the middle finger on the C string, second fret and the ring finger on the G string, third fret.

• 3. Finally, you can place your index finger on the fret that need to be barred. For Bb this would mean placing your index finger on all strings of the first fret. This will allow for the least stressful/stretchy position of your fingers. If you do it the other way around, you may find you’d have to stretch your other fingers quite a lot. Make sure that you keep your index finger straight.

Following the three steps above is a good way to learn how to position your fingers. Of course, after a while, you’ll be able to place all of your fingers instantaneously after watching a barre chord diagram.

There is a [second way] to play chords like Bb though. You can see this method in the image below. Here you will simply use your index finger to “bar” only the E and A strings on the first fret instead of all four strings. This might be easier for some people and some chords, but I do suggest that you learn both methods (preferably the first one).

bar_bb_2

Need some useful tips

Try moving things! Test your barre chord by picking each string individually. Hearing an annoying buzz? Try moving your arm or finger. I usually hold my “fretting arm” closely to my body, but this might not work for everybody. Move around your arm (elbow) and see which position fits best for you. Also try rotating your index (barring) finger a little bit so that you fret a little bit more with the side of your finger.

With the ukulele you can place your thumb basically wherever you want and if you want you can wrap it all around the neck. This is not the case when playing barre chords, you’ll need to simply place your thumb against the back allowing the possibility for your fretting fingers to reach further. This is important because you want to only fret the string you want to fret and not cause other strings to buzz by accidentally touching them.

Not enough strength to press all the strings? Try putting another finger on top of your index finger to allow for extra pressure.

Stretching those fingers

The main issue with barre chords is the fact that they require quite stretchy fingers. A basic exercise to stretch your fingers is by simply stretching them as far as you can for a few seconds and afterwards making a fist. Repeat this a few times every day and you’ll definitely see some improvement soon!

Ukulele finger stretching exercises can easily be made up by yourself, but here is one example. Each measure has four notes, one for each finger and you can basically start this on any fret. Only one catch to make this a stretching exercise, you need to keep your index finger on the same fret when placing your other three fingers. Pick each string after placing your finger to hear if it is placed correctly.

Finger placement example:

xA|------------------------------|------------------------------|---
xE|------------------------------|------------------------------|---
xC|------------------------------|--index--middle--ring--pinky--|---
xG|--index--middle--ring--pinky--|------------------------------|---

Exercises:

    BASIC                    
xA|---------|---------|---------|-1-2-3-4-||
xE|---------|---------|-1-2-3-4-|---------||
xC|---------|-1-2-3-4-|---------|---------||
xG|-1-2-3-4-|---------|---------|---------||
    ADVANCED
xA|---------|---------|---------|-1-3-4-5-||
xE|---------|---------|-1-3-4-5-|---------||
xC|---------|-1-3-4-5-|---------|---------||
xG|-1-3-4-5-|---------|---------|---------||
    EXTREME
xA|---------|---------|---------|-1-4-5-6-||
xE|---------|---------|-1-4-5-6-|---------||
xC|---------|-1-4-5-6-|---------|---------||
xG|-1-4-5-6-|---------|---------|---------||

As you can see, you can easily invent your own exercises. The above ones should be a good starting point. You can for example also barre a fret and then place your other fingers one the other strings and pick them.

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