Barre Chord Basics – Part 1

Knowledge of barre chords can be one of your greatest assets as a guitar player

Barre chords also strike fear into many beginning and intermediate players

Barre chords can help increase your “knowledge” of countless chords – some with some crazy names

Here is a test: how quickly can you play an Ab13 without looking it up?

How about a Bbmaj9?

Or a Gbm7?

I know some of you can but I bet most can’t do it without having to look it up.

If you play guitar for any length of time, you WILL encounter a time where you have to play “that dreaded chord” on the spot!

I consider myself primarily a rock/pop guitar player (and yes, I include blues and country in that mix)

But I am not a jazz player. I am really a rock player who can play jazz.

That means I can sit in on a jam with jazzers and probably be fine with the “crazy chords” that inevitably come up. I’ve done this many times before.


Well, one of the secrets is knowing my barre chords.

Yes, those evil, nasty barre chords can be your greatest asset as a player!

So how does it work?

Before I get to that you need to be sure you have your barre chords down and sounding great!

If you already have them down, skip ahead. If not, this week I want you to focus on these FOUR barre chord shapes.

Major Barre Chord (root note on 5th string)

Major Barre Chord (root note on 6th string)

Minor Barre Chord (root note on 5th string)

Minor Barre Chord (root note on 6th string)

Get these four down – or least have an understanding of the shapes.

Next week I am going to show you how, by just a few simple changes to one of the primary four shapes, you can take on many of those “strange” chords you come across!

If you need help on how to play these chords, reply back and let me know.

Talk to you next week!

Poor Guitar “Body English”

When you are playing songs on guitar (or any instrument), you know you are in the moment when you put your whole self into it. Everything is really clicking.

Moments like that are really awesome.

But, there are also times when putting our whole self into it can be detrimental to our playing.

Let me explain:

Many times we suffer from what I like to call Poor Guitar “Body English”.

And it can really hinder our playing and prevent any reasonable progress in our playing. It can be one of the main reasons our songs don’t always sound good, or a lead line just isn’t right, or that those chords don’t sound clear.

I do see it more with beginner players (which is normal) but I also see it with many who took on bad habits learning on their own or via the internet.

So what is Bad Guitar “Body English”?

While much importance is put on how we place our fingers on the strings to form chords or melody lines, it can often be missed regarding how the rest of our body is positioned while we play. And that matters. Poor posture, moving our arms, shoulders, and elbows in unnecessary ways don’t help those fingers do what they need to do.

Think of it this way: if you ever see a theater production you know that the focus is on the actors. But, without the behind the scenes production crews (lights, sound, makeup, etc.), the show falls flat on it’s face – regardless of how good the actors are.

Playing an instrument is the same way. Think of your fingers as the “actors” and the rest of your body as the supporting cast.

The two main culprits are how we position our left wrist and thumb. However, I am going to save that for a near-future Tuesday Tip. There is a lot to discuss there. For this tip, I want to help you look at how your Guitar Body English is and, to see if it is good or could use some improvement.

Rock Star Drift

This is the one where as you play, your left arm starts drifting, thus pulling the guitar neck further and further from your body. I see this a lot. Now, if you want to do your best hair band rock move, by all means, go ahead and make that move! But that is all for effect. You can’t really play well looking like that. When you drift your arm further and further away, it becomes harder and harder to play that those tough chords or melodies. You don’t give your fingers (or your thumb and wrist for that matter) any chance to play correctly. What you really want to do is make sure you keep that arm back in a relaxed, comfortable position. The key word is to “relax”.

Shoulder Drop

Here is another common problem I see. This oftentimes happens when we are trying real hard to play a song or work on something real difficult. There is this natural tendency to want to “put our shoulder into it”. Thus, the shoulder tends to drop. Relax! Yes, relax your shoulder! You don’t really need it much to play your guitar. It will make your playing life so much better!

Elbow Swing

Sometimes, while trying to get that barre chord to sound right (or any chord, really), the left elbow sometimes wants to compensate and twist and turn. If you catch yourself doing it, stop! Relax your elbow! It shouldn’t swing out or in. In fact, one simple test for not swinging inward is to imagine sticking a pillow between the elbow and torso. It should easily fit there. If not, change it.

Bad Elbow In:

Bad Elbow Out:

Correct Elbow Position:

Sit Up!

Yes, just like your mom might have said: “sit up straight and stop slouching!” While you don’t have to sit up straight like a board, if you end up slouching on the couch too much while playing or practicing, you will either simply play bad, or pick up some really bad habits that will ultimately hinder your progress. So, sit up! Or, simply stand up, that works too. Your fingers (and your mom) will appreciate it!

You Look Marvelous!

No Guitar Body English:

If you aren’t sure, look in a mirror while playing. Sometimes it can be hard to really see how you look with the guitar. Often you will see some of that Poor Guitar Body English show up and you can adjust to correct it.

If this is something that has been a challenge for you, I hope this tip will help you in your playing!

Rock on until the next time!

How to Learn Songs Online

“Everything is true on the internet…”

Do you believe that statement?

Please say “no

Then why is it that so many people go online (places like You Tube or Ultimate Guitar for TABS) to learn a song from one source?

Then they wonder why the song doesn’t sound right.

Or worse, someone told them it doesn’t sound right.

The bottom line is you can’t do that!

Look, there really is a lot of good information out there in the world of the interwebs. The trick is, you need to know where and how to find it.

And this is especially true when learning how to play songs online.


Back when I just joined my current band, Animation a Tribute to Rush, there were a number of songs I had to add to my arsenal of Rush songs. There were many. And Rush music isn’t easy. And learning them took time, especially from scratch.

So, since it is the 21st Century, I decided to use the vast array of tools available to me to streamline the learning process. The first place was You Tube.

Wow, there is a lot of information out there on You Tube with how to play this and that. What do you choose? Start by searching: ‘<your song> guitar lesson’. Depending on the song you pick, there will be a number of videos showing how to play the song in question.

I will choose according to the following criteria in order of importance:

Original Artist

Is there one from the original artist? It could be something that they are instructing you on or it might be a recording of them playing live. This would seem the most obvious and, 8 times out of ten, it would be the best option.

You are pretty much done with your search, right?


Use your ear! How does it really sound to you?

Incredibly, learning from the original artist isn’t always the case:

  1. One scenario would be if you wanted to learn from a live version. Artists don’t always play the song the same way live as they did with the original recording. This has happened many times to me.
  2. Another, is that many of these artists are not the best teachers. I found that especially true with Rush’s guitar player, Alex Lifeson. As great as he is, he isn’t the best to teach you a song. I actually found a part he describes in Spirit of Radio that is incorrect. I mean, he doesn’t even do it that way live!

# of Views

This can sometimes be a bit deceiving but if the person has a lot of views, it might mean they were on to something. But sometimes, it isn’t. Using my Rush example I have seen many of their songs shown by guitarists that had thousands upon thousands of views, and still they weren’t right.

How could I tell?

I used my ear!

Popular You Tube Instructors

This is almost the same as those with # of views but not always.

Popular instructors are just that: they are popular usually because they show lots of songs in a wide range of styles. Here you would have to use some discernment: how precisely do you want to learn a song? If you don’t care, then maybe this is your route.

However, and going back to my Rush example, that simply isn’t good enough for me. I needed to find a better way.

TABS and Charts

Whew boy, this one is tricky. Everyone likes to think they can write a TAB chart. Problem is, most have no idea. I can’t tell you how many I have read that were flat out wrong. I often wonder if those that are writing them even know how to play.

Yes, it can be that bad out there.

If you want to try this route, you have to first play the song from the TAB. How does it sound? If you aren’t sure, play it for someone. What do they think?

Or, better yet, record yourself playing it. The recording never lies!

Try several if you can find them. How do they compare? What parts sound good and what parts do not?

Charts and Sheet Music are the same: you can’t always trust them, although I have found that you can have better luck here. Follow the same procedure as for TABS to determine how good the information is.

Answer: Take the Best of All Worlds

Pick maybe 3-5 different people showing you the same song on You Tube.

Try the same with a few charts and TABS.

It should hopefully become obvious what is right and what isn’t. When they all agree on a part (or the whole song), the odds are good that it is the right way to play the song.

If they don’t all agree, take in parts that most agree on or simply sound right to you. Discard the rest.

Then compile all that you liked and play the song.

How does it sound?

Use your ear! (Are we catching a theme here?)

If you were diligent, you should eventually arrive at something that sounds good to you.

One optional step would be to find out if the same part can be played better somewhere else on the fretboard? This has happened many times for me learning Rush songs. One example:  Alex rarely uses his little finger on many solos. I happen to use it. Therefore, since I have that extra finger available, there might be a better place to play the song than if I didn’t use it.

Of course you could learn the song from offline methods (like learning from an instructor or a book). But regardless of how you learn, you really need to use your ear and be honest with yourself if it sounds right or not. And if it is good, then jam away!

If you have any thoughts on this topic please leave a comment below. I’m not always the expert on every subject. I would love to hear from you!