Capo Chords: The Definitive Guide - National Guitar Academy (2023)

Want to learn about barre chords? You are in the right place!

In this free guitar lesson you will learn:

  • Learn 5 basic barre chords.
  • 3 tips for clean and easy barre chords.
  • 2 advanced secrets of capo chords. (Complete with bonus video and tips.)

Let us begin.

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What are barre chords?

A barre chord is a chord where one of our fingers presses more than one string.

Capo Chords: The Definitive Guide - National Guitar Academy (1)

If you've never played time signature chords before, this probably seems too difficult, and at first it is. BUT, as with many things, with practice and patience you will get the hang of it.

Barre chords in many ways mark our transition from beginner to advanced guitarist, so don't be discouraged if you struggle with it at first.

Capo chords are not easy.

Why are barre chords important?

You may be wondering, "If barre chords are so difficult, why not stick with regular open chords?"

Capo Chords: The Definitive Guide - National Guitar Academy (2)

There are some chords that just can't be played in open position. Sooner or later you will come across a song that inevitably has a time signature chord.

Barre chords also allow us more chord options than we already know. Knowing only one way to play a chord can severely limit our play.

Our first bar chords

Since capo chords can be tricky, let's start with the absolute basics of the capo before moving on to anything else.

Do you know your normal A chord?

Capo Chords: The Definitive Guide - National Guitar Academy (3)

(If you do not understand the image above, read our article "How to read guitar chords in 60 seconds". It will clear everything up!)

Normally you would play with three fingers... but let's try playing with just ONE finger.

All we have to do is place our index finger on all three strings and press down.


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NB: You'll probably inevitably find yourself ending up holding the high E string as well. That's good. We just don't strum that string when we block the A. If you can't stop strumming, that's okay. It just means you have an A6 chord instead of just an A chord.

risk it

How is? A bit awkward maybe? Do you think you have to try too hard?

That is normal. Do not worry. Our fingers need time to get used to opening.

How does that sound? Some of the notes don't sound right? Are you getting a lot of dead string noise instead of nice, crisp notes?

Back to normal.

We have to be patient and give our fingers time to get used to the extension.

Try playing the chord and arpeggiating (playing one note at a time).

You'll probably find the fingering a bit more forgiving than the arpeggio, but the arpeggio tells us exactly which strings aren't being pressed hard enough.

It is important not to injure yourself when playing time signature chords. Give your finger plenty of rest between chord attempts.

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Capo Chords: The Definitive Guide - National Guitar Academy (5)

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The chord of D major 7

Capo Chords: The Definitive Guide - National Guitar Academy (6)

Dmaj7 is basically the same shape as the A except we're moving everything on one string, so we're except for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd strings of the guitar.

Capo Chords: The Definitive Guide - National Guitar Academy (7)

risk it Try strumming and arpeggiating.

You'll probably notice a lot of similarities when you play this chord and the previous chord.

A good exercise can be to practice alternating between these two chords.

Try them one by one:

| a | Dmaj7 | a | Dmaj7 |

Before you move on to the capo chords, here it isvitalto bring these two down.

Take your time and don't try to run before you can walk.

Spend as much time as you need practicing them until you are comfortable with them.

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Capo Chords: The Definitive Guide - National Guitar Academy (8)

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More capos…

Once you master A and Dmaj7 is a good barre chord to try nextF#m.

F#m looks like this:

Capo Chords: The Definitive Guide - National Guitar Academy (9)

The best way to approach F#m is to play the firstDmaj7and then stretch out your 3rd or 4th finger and pluck the D string (the 4th string) at the 4th fret.

risk it How does this relate to playing the other chords? When you reach for that extra note, do you find that your first finger tries to follow that extra note? If you try to put the first finger down, does it pull the other finger with it?

This is a fairly common problem.

Our fingers instinctively try to group. It takes practice to convince them to work separately.

One thing you can do to help is reconsider the placement of your thumb on the back of your neck.

Pay attention to how your thumb is positioned when you play a chord.

It seems?

Capo Chords: The Definitive Guide - National Guitar Academy (10)

Wrapped around the back of the neck with the tip of the thumb sticking out over the top?

The problem with this type of grip is that while the pressure on the strings feels stronger, we lose a lot of our reach.

To get some of that reach, let's move the thumb down a bit, closer to the center of the neck (the "spine," if you will).

We also want to raise the thumb a little higher so that only the print or the tip of the thumb is touching the neck. Ideally, we don't want the palm or palm of the hand to touch the neck.

Your hand should now look like this:

Capo Chords: The Definitive Guide - National Guitar Academy (11)

If you move your thumb into this position, you'll likely feel your fingers spread much more widely, allowing for greater reach.

The downside is that you might feel like you don't have enough gripping power left to press on those strings.

At some point you want to get to a point where you can put enough pressure on the strings without needing a neck grip.

The reality is that you may have to make a small compromise between footprint and range. Try adjusting the position of the thumb until you feel there is a good balance between the two.

At this point, we need to reiterate the importance of patience.

Capo chords are not easy.

They need time, so you have to take your time. Don't hurt your fingers by asking too much too soon.

When you're reasonably happy with your F#m chord, try it out in a sequence with A and Dmaj7.

| un | Dmaj7 | F#m |F#m |

Now let's look at a major barre chord.

You're probably used to doing your F chord like this:

Capo Chords: The Definitive Guide - National Guitar Academy (12)

What we're going to try is to get that high E string into the chord as well.

The way to do this is to press your index finger down so it covers the B string and the high E string.

Capo Chords: The Definitive Guide - National Guitar Academy (13)

risk it how is? How does that sound?

Again, you may have many of the same issues we encountered with the chords above.

Please note that these issues are completely normal and will take some time to resolve, so please be patient.

Make sure:

  • Play the chord.
  • Arpeggiate the chord.
  • Check the position of your thumb.

Once you're reasonably comfortable with the F chord, we can make a nice, simple change to practice it.

Simply lifting the third and fourth fingers but keeping the first and second fingers will give you oneDm7Chord.

Capo Chords: The Definitive Guide - National Guitar Academy (14)

You may find this chord a bit easier than the F chord because it's not as long.

Try switching between the two chords in a sequence, like this:

| Dm7 | F | Dm7 | F |

Move barre chord shapes around your neck.

So now we know the shape of a major and minor barre chord.

The great thing about these barre chords is that you can move them all over the fretboard, so you can play all major and minor chords.

All it takes is a basic understanding of the musical alphabet.

Unfamiliar with the musical alphabet? No problem. Check out this article: Guitar Sheet Music Explained: A Beginner's Guide

Both our major and minor barre chords have roots on the D string, so we need to take care of the notes on the D string. Here is a chart of the tones on the D string (4th string).

Capo Chords: The Definitive Guide - National Guitar Academy (15)

Here is a chord progression to practice:

| F| Gm |So | Sibling |

Let's try playing it with our two barre chord shapes.

We already know our F, but what about that Gm?

Well, we know our F#m.

What is the next note on the D string after F# in the diagram?

The same. It's G. To turn our F#m into a Gm, all we have to do is slide it from one fret to the third fret.

Try changing from F to Gm several times. Well, what about this Am? Let's use the chart again.

We are at GM. How much do we have to count to reach Am?

The same. The musical alphabet says:G G# A.So we need to shift the barre minor chord shape two more frets to the fifth fret.

So far, so good!

Try practicing F through Gm through Am a few times before we see the last chord.

Our last chord is Bb.

It's important not to get carried away with chords with unusual names. That doesn't necessarily mean they're difficult to play.

We are currently located in Am. How far up in the musical alphabet do we have to go to get to B?

The same. Just a bunch.

So we're moving from the fifth fret to the sixth fret. BUT remember what we want is a major chord, not a minor, so we need to go back to our major form.

This is important because the difference in sound between a major and minor chord is drastic.

Now let's try the whole sequence:

| F| GM | so | Sibling |

Walk as slowly as necessary. Make sure you get the barre chords on top.

Make sure you have the right waistband and shape.

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