Written by Rob Watson
This article will show you an important concept in the journey to make bars and bar chords easier and more efficient.
First, let’s define the bar, show its use cases: The index finger on the left hand becomes straight and it covers 2 or more strings on the same fret at the same time.
The most common bar is the full bar, which covers all 6 strings:
Note that there is only a bar, no other notes are being held down by the other fingers. When you add the other fingers then you have a bar chord, unless your intention is the chord formed by just the bar itself (.. you’re probably playing Jazz since it’s a minor 7th add 11 chord.)
There is also the partial bar, which is fairly common in Classical Guitar music, as it allows you the musical benefits of the bar (accessing 2 or more notes on the same fret of a different string), while also giving you the bass strings as open. In this example, the 1, 2nd and 3rd strings are in a bar, but not the 4th, 5th and 6th strings.
As mentioned above, these examples have only the bar, but not any activity from the other fingers. In reality, the other fingers are most likely doing something. What happens when you get the other fingers involved?
Let’s take a step back, and consider what to do before even adding the other fingers. If you think about it, the most advantageous shape for the index finger is STRAIGHT. And by straight, I mean, try and make your finger into a capo. If you don’t know what a capo is, here’s a nice picture:
A capo is a nearly straight piece of material that acts as a mechanical bar, used to change the key(scale) of what the guitarist is playing instantly.
There is nearly equal pressure under all of the capo, and we want that with the index finger, but the problem is the natural shape for the index finger is curved!:
You can clearly see how my index finger is curved, and finger 2 is on the D# (ri).
This is the initial shape for the B major arpeggio at position VII in Spanish Romance (A section). Students commonly don’t produce a sound for the F# (fi) on the 2nd string, or at best, buzz.
So the student tries to squeeze harder and harder, until possibly a look of grimace and discomfort comes over their face. But the F# (fi) will not sound!!
Instead of squeezing more, make the index finger straighter!!!!:
By bending my left wrist slightly I’m able to make the part of the index finger from the knuckle joint to the mid joint straighter, and thus the whole bar straighter. Done correctly, this will make the F# sound without any additional squeeze.
So when you’re playing or teaching, and you want an alternative to ‘just squeezing harder” try working with the geometry of your first finger. Make it straighter all the way from the knuckle joint right down to the tip joint.
It’s not easy, the other fingers will tense up when you make finger 1 straighter, so you’ll have to work for a few weeks very carefully to both be able to make finger 1 straight while the other fingers relax…..but its worth it. If you want clean bar chords, this is the way to go.
Efficiency always, beware of brute force.
Thanks and credit go out to the guitarist Kevin Gallagher, who talked about this in one of his instructional videos on YouTube.