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Without barre chords for beginners

At first, the main, and sometimes the most overwhelming, difficulty in mastering guitar lies in playing barre chords. If you have mastered the simple chords - Am, Dm, E, C, everything goes smoothly and you can play along. Then suddenly Gm, F, Bbm, and the like appear, and the song is no more playable for you. It makes you feel uncomfortable and discouraged. Sometimes “strange” names like Fmajadd11+ may seem frightening. While in reality the chord is not too complicated and can be played even without a barre, its letter and digit designation look threatening. So, what should you do?

If you’re a beginner guitarist wondering whether you should play something like Fm11, don’t even bother, it will only hinder your musical development.

Here, I’m suggesting a fairly straightforward algorithm to help novices with complex chords:

  1. Leave out the degrees and the basses which complicate the triads. Fm11 should become Fm; Fmajadd11+ should become F; and so on. To do this automatically, simply press the link to the “Simplified Version” on the page with the song chords.
  2. The chords to each song can be displayed in any key; the most simple key should be chosen. If the original song is in D#m or Eb, there will be an excessive amount of barre chords. If a song is in a minor key, transpose it into Em or Am, and in a few cases Dm. For major keys, the simplest options are C and G, and occasionally D, A or E. As to the issue of changing the key to allow for more comfortable singing, I would suggest you use a capo.

In general, these two easy steps will make the song chords very simple, and in most cases, this should be enough. It should be noted that if the composition has a modulation (a change between tonalities), the modulation should be left out as well.

If needed, you could do a few more chord corrections to completely leave out the barre chords. First of all, try to find different finger notations. Quite likely there is a good alternative without the barre.

In general, you can switch the B to B7 without much thought:

B7 without barre chord

And Bm can be switched to Bm7:

Bm7 without barre chord

A chord is a combination of at least three sounds, which means that you only need three strings to obtain a recognizable sound. This can be used to keep only certain parts of complex fingerings. For example, F does not need to be played on all 6 strings; instead, this fingering is possible:

F without barre chord

Sometimes, it makes sense to switch F to Fmaj:

Fmaj without barre chord

For F#7 (F#), you can use this fingering:

F#7 without barre chord

And so on and so forth. By using this guide, you will be able to play 98% of songs by using simple chords, without barre chords.

Examples

  1. Nothing Else Matters by Metallica — in the original key, Em is played without a barre. There are a few difficult chords (Am/B, Dadd9, Dsus4, Cadd9, Dsus2) — if they seem scary, it is possible to use a simplification.
  2. Riptide by Vance Joy — the original key of C has the F chord, which requires a barre, but it can either be played without a barre or changed to Fmaj. We can transpose it into the G key to get the most simple chords without any barre. If we transpose it into a D key, only the Bm chord still has a barre, but this chord can be changed into a Bm7. Notably, to play the song in its original key but with the most simple chords, you can put a capo on the 5th fret while selecting the G key.

Nonetheless, you should not get carried away with everything mentioned here. Simplification can be a temporary solution, but it is important to go ahead and keep developing your musical skills. And honestly, it will be hard to do entirely avoiding barre chords. Good luck!

 

Anton Gavzov

 
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