Revisiting Barre Chords

I’ve spent a good deal of time today (okay, I suppose it’s yesterday now. Why am I up at 3:30 am writing a post? I don’t know. I’m tired, but I don’t want to lose this train of thought.) practicing barre chords on the ukulele, and watching youtube videos on the subject. Several of them. Most of them were useless.

I know, technically, how a barre chord is formed, and I wasn’t looking for why they’re important. I know why they’re important: especially on the ukulele, there are so many chords that can be made SO much easier, or transitions that can be made more efficient, if you can barre effectively. Not learning barre chords is a really major handicap to learning to uke well.

Now, I’ve worked with barre chords a bit before, and I can form a clear one, but not consistently, not in the moment, and I need to be able to do that to move forward and learn some of the songs that I want to learn. There are just chord progressions that it makes no sense to try and execute without the barre; it would be like trying to paint a wall with a toothbrush. You can do it, but why would you when you know there’s a paint roller in the other room?

I really don’t buy that I’m not strong enough to hold a barre. If I’ve learned anything in all of my instrument chaos, it’s that I’m far more prone to pushing too hard than not hard enough, so I knew that my inability to execute a clean barre wasn’t strength, it was technique.

I thought maybe it was flexibility related (I’m still not entirely convinced that that could be part of it. In certain chord forms, I know my barre tends to lift as I place my middle finger), but even only placing a barre and not attempting to place other fingers, I kept having this consistent problem with the E string not ringing clear. It was as if my finger in that spot just wasn’t naturally straight or something.

So, the lesson I’m going to post today is not the ones you’ll see reposted over and over and over again. It’s the one that gave me a tiny insight that made me realize a suspicion I had was not necessarily the wrong one:

The point in this video that made it worthwhile to me was the moment he said the phrase “everyone’s fingers are different”. Some people have to barre higher, some lower. This is something I noticed in my earlier attempts; I had more luck getting a clean sound when I placed the barre higher than I’ve ever seen anyone do it.  Placing it high meant I had to exert a remarkably minimal amount of pressure to get a clean sound. And yet, I never saw anyone barre like that. Why?  Because everyone’s fingers are different.

So, I’m going to go ahead and barre high for a while, see where it takes me. I do notice that I have to exert more pressure when the barre is in the first fret than any of the others, but this makes sense, because it’s right next to the nut, and there’s more string tension there by nature of the beast.

Of course, this method will not work when I move to guitar. It’s a larger instrument, but I don’t think that can really be helped. I’ll have to figure that out when I get to that point. But for now, my barre chords have improved at least 60%. In a day. A day that I’ve also spent a good deal of time working on Coursera’s Introduction to Guitar videos, and running errands, and just generally being a busy little beaver. So, for practical application, my barre chords improved a good 60%…in about an hour of actual practice time, all because I decided to acknowledge that my positioning doesn’t look like the videos, but it works for me, and with practice, I will be able to execute an easy, clean barre chord accurately, and have a host of moveable chords to play with.

Now, I do need to practice this on the different size ukuleles, and see if it works just as well across the board, but it’s 4 am. I’d be an idiot to start that now.


Until next time, best to catch some z’s and sleep on it.

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