In this essay, I am going to apply a number of the Principles of
Correct Practice to a technical area that is of major concern to players. For
beginners, it poses one of the most challenging difficulties, and an
incomplete appreciation of it's difficulties dogs many an advanced
player (sometimes without them being aware of it).
Bar chords are what I am referring to. I am going to address the
physical, technical aspects of learning these chords in a way that will enable
you to avoid the difficulties that attend the learning of them for most
I remember when I first learned them. It was the "tough" school, the
school of hard knocks. The school of "here is where to put your fingers, I
know it feels impossible, you're not getting most of the notes out, but if you
stay with it long enough, you'll be able to do it." And that is true. And I
did "get" them. After months of lessons where I was forced to keep up a
rhythm while my teacher played the lead over a lot of great jazz tunes and
standards I am happy to have learned, the pain in my thumb and hand and
arm began to subside. I was getting stronger and that was good.
What I didn't know was that even though I was learning to keep up with
these chord changes, I had so much muscle tension in my arms and other parts
of my body, that I was locking in tensions that didn't have to be there, and
would come back to haunt me a few years later as I attempted the classical
repertoire, where you don't really get away with things like that. As
the years went by, and especially in teaching others, I realized that it
doesn't have to be that way for anybody! There is a way of going about it that
doesn't create or allow this situation. In fact, it makes learning things
like bar chords an orderly, if still somewhat demanding process. And the
result is a very comfortable feeling while doing them, and the proper basis
for more advanced techniques, such as keeping a bar down while the other
fingers do all sorts of things that demand great control.
Now before I go into some actual exercises, make sure you have read my
other essays, especially "Discover Your Discomfort", "The Secret of Speed",
and "Changing Chords". There you will find explanations of some vital
concepts, such as The Floating Arm, and the Light Finger. These are names that
represent the internal physical and mental feelings that good players
have when doing things like Bar chords. You will also find specific
exercises so that you can discover these sensations for yourself. If you have
already read them, read them again! And do the exercises.
Jamey Andreas is a concert classical guitarist, a long-time teacher, and is the author of the book, "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar".