If you’ve been playing the ukulele, or other stringed
instruments for any length of time you probably have realized that there are a
lot of ways to play different chords. Ukulele Barre chords are just one of those
A barre chord is played by pressing down on one or more
strings across the neck of the ukulele. By doing this you essentially create a
capo across the fret you are barring, changing the notes of each string.
Now, if you haven’t mastered the regular chords you may want to start there before tackling the barre chords.
Barre chords tend to be difficult to master on the ukulele,
but not as hard as either the mandolin or the guitar. If they are so difficult
to play, why even bother to learn them?
Why Learn Barre Chords?
While they can be a pain to learn, once you master the barre
chord you gain a lot of advantages as a ukulele player. The first is simply that
you become a more well-rounded musician!
Barre chords allow you to play chords in multiple ways. For example,
a standard “A” chord doesn’t look anything like the shape of the barre “A”
chord. There are times when playing one variation or the other will be easier
to move to and from the next chord.
You also get the benefit of a different tone when you play a
barre chord. Even though you are playing the same note the tone will be slightly
different depending on where on the neck it is played, so you can add some nice
variation to your music that way.
Lastly, you can chuck your capo. Well, maybe you want to
keep it handy, but you won’t need it as often! While capos have their advantages,
they can also be difficult to work with. Barre chords help eliminate that
How to Play Ukulele Barre Chords
There are two forms of barre chords for the uke. The first
is the full barre, and the other is a partial barre. We will go through both and
give an example of each so it’s easier to understand the difference.
Full Barre Chords
The full barre is, as you might expect, where all four strings are held down across a single fret. For example, if you play a “C” chord, with your index finger barring the 2nd fret, you’re actually going to get a “D” Chord. Likewise, move the bar down two more frets to the fourth and you’ll have an “E” chord.
D Barre Chord
E Barre Chord
Partial Barre Chord
With the full barre all four chords on a given fret will be
held down, the partial barre only requires 2 or 3 to be held down, depending on
the chord. These are much less common on a ukulele than an instrument like the
guitar, but they still do exist.
We don’t generally recommend partial barres for the uke as
they tend to be used to ‘cheat’ full chords and frankly just don’t sound as
For instance, you can play a Bb (B Flat) chord by barring only
the bottom two strings, which might be slightly easier to play than the full barre
version, but will sound slightly off to a trained ear.
Bb Partial Barre Chord
6 Tips to Improve Your Barre Chords
Just like any other chord on the ukulele, playing barre
chords will take practice. Many people will struggle to find the correct position
for them and have difficulties moving to and from them from normal chord shapes.
If you’ve been practicing for a while, or simply want to get
some tips before you try to play them, here are seven things that should make
your ukulele barre chords a bit easier!
This actually should be part of your warmup routine in
general, but it can be especially important for the difficult hand positions that
barre chords often put you in. Remember, your hands and wrists are made up of
hundreds of ligaments, muscles and joints and get stiff just like your back, knees
Here is a quick
hand and wrist stretching routine for you to add to your warmup, don’t
worry, it only takes 5-10 minutes!
2.Anchor Your Thumb
Most regular chords don’t require your thumb to be in any
particular position, not so with a barre chord. Because you are pressing down
on multiple strings, you’re going to need a little more leverage.
To do this we like to put our thumb smack in the middle of
the back of the neck. This should allow you to press evenly on the 4 strings
and create a nice strong barre.
3.Press down at the Fret
This is fairly common advice, even when playing a normal
chord. The closer you press to the fret the clearer the note tends to sound.
With a barre chord it is even more important, not only will
pressing down right next to the fret make the note sound better, it makes the
chord easier to play and it will increase the chances you won’t have random
dead strings and the note will be clear.
4.Double Up on Your Index Finger
Barre chords for the ukulele and guitar are normally played
with your index finger acting as the barre. If the chord shape allows you can lay
your middle finger over the index, adding a little extra pressure.
You can only do this with chords that only require 2
additional frets to be held down though, and some notes are hard to reach in this
shape, so you’ll have to experiment to find what is best for you!
5.Use Your Middle Finger
We just got done saying the index finger is normally the
finger used for barres, so now we are going to tell you to break that rule!
Some chords are just easier to play if you use your middle
finger as the bar. Many of the chords that require the highest note held down
in the fret after the bar are easier to play if you use the combination of
middle and pointer, rather than index and middle finger.
6.Isolate Dead Notes
Pick out individual notes as you are warming up or learning
to play. This will help you identify which, if any, notes are not ringing out. Once
you know which string isn’t being held down all the way you can adjust your
It’s common that you’ll have to make multiple adjustments to
get the right shape, and this may happen every time you try to play the chord
for a while. Each time you get to the correct position and play the note a few
times you’re teaching your hand where it needs to be though, be patient!
7.Build Strength in Fretting Hand
Not only does your fretting hand need to be nimble (see our
first tip), but playing ukulele for long periods of time, or holding barre
chords, can require a very specific type of strength.
There are ton of books on this sort of thing, but our Justin
over at YouTube has a great program designed for guitar players that works great
for uke strummers too!
The Final Note
Just like many things with the ukulele, barre chords will
take some time and practice to master. Keep practicing and working on the tips
we’ve provided here and you’ll get it!
With 3 Movable Ukulele Chord Shapes, You Can Play Millions of Songs
BY JIM D’VILLE
You may have heard the old “scientific” myth that as human beings we use only about ten percent of our brains. My own personal observations have shown me that most ukulele players use only 1/12 of the ukulele’s full potential. Why? Because many ukulele players are trapped in the key of C while, as music theorists will tell you, there are actually a full 12 keys to choose from. So what’s behind the average ukulele player’s unwavering affinity for the people’s key? It’s easy to play in C, even on a piano. Start on the white key of middle C on a piano and ascend the white keys, one at a time, to the next C note seven keys away and you’ve played a C major scale. No black keys required. If the key of C was indeed the only key, piano makers could save a bundle by getting rid of all those pesky black keys. But, alas, that is not the case.
When you were debating between buying a ukulele or accordion, remember the clerk at the store saying, “The ukulele is easier. Just put one finger here and you’re playing a C chord!” That siren song of the key of C has lured many beginning players into the one-key quagmire. There are a couple of ways to escape this Bastille of solitary (key) confinement. You could move to Canada. Above the 49th parallel, the generally accepted tuning of the ukulele is the key of D. So sell your house, get a visa, tune up a whole-step on each string, and voilà—you can now play in the key of D!
THE “C” CHORD SHAPE
“The Movable Nut System”is a simple method for playing in all 12 keys. The little piece of bone or plastic that separates the fretboard from the peghead is called the nut. (Figure 1) Hold an open-position C major chord using your ring finger to hold down the first string at the 3rd fret. (Figure 2a) To play a C# major chord, all you have to do is place your pinky finger on the first string, 4th fret (C#) and fret the other three strings at the 1st fret with an index finger barre. (Figure 2b). The index finger of your fretting hand is now acting as a capo, or movable nut. By moving this shape up one fret at a time, you will be able to play the I chord in every key until you run out of fingerboard. On a soprano ukulele, that could be as soon as your barre reaches the 8th fret. This is where our second barre shape, the “F Shape,” can help us continue our journey through all 12 keys.
TIPWhen playing barre chords, do not place your thumb on the back of the neck directly behind the barre. Instead, try sliding your thumb toward the peghead to create a fulcrum effect.
THE “F” CHORD SHAPE
Hold an open-position F major chord by fretting the fourth string at the 2nd fret with the ring finger and the 2nd string at the 1st fret with the middle finger. (Figure 3a) Now, move that shape up one fret toward the soundhole and use your movable nut (index finger) to barre all the strings at the 1st fret. That’s an F# major chord. (Figure 3b) Move the shape up one fret at a time through the keys of G–G#–A–A#, etc. Usually by the time we reach C major, at the 7th fret, with this shape the tone will start to sound thin. To fix that, let’s learn one other movable nut shape lower down on the fretboard.
THE “A” CHORD SHAPE
Since we are starting with an open-position A major chord, we’ll call this the “A Shape.” Fret the fourth string at the 2nd fret (again using your ring finger) and the third string at the 1st fret (middle finger). (Figure 4a) Now, repeating what we’ve done with the previous shapes, move this A major shape up one fret and use your index finger to barre at the first fret. That’s an A# major. (Figure 4b) Some of you might recognize this as the first position Bb chord (especially if you only barre the first and second strings with your index finger). That’s because A# and Bb are enharmonicchords—one chord with two different names. Now move this shape up one fret to B major and finally one fret up to second position C major. You’ve now come full circle (Circle of 5ths, that is), and can play the I chord for each of the 12 keys.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
Now that you can play the I chord in all 12 keys, you can use these same three shapes to play the IV and V chords in each of the keys. This will allow you to play millions of three-chord songs in the key of your choosing.
By using the Moveable Nut System, you’ll gain the confidence to play in all 12 keys, even D#/Eb! You’ll also be able to find the keys that best match your singing voice. My favorite reason for learning to play in all 12 keys is that you’ll be able to play your favorite recorded songs in their original keys. Employing the movable nut system will not only open up the fingerboard to playing in all keys, it’s also the starting point for learning to play extended chords, chord inversions, scales, and more.
- A worthwhile exercise to practice every day is playing the I (one) chord of all 12 keys using these three different shapes. Say each chord’s name out loud, as you play it, to help you learn.
- Use the first barre shape, the “C shape,” to play through keys C–C#–D–D#–E–F.
- Now, drop down to frets one, two, and three for our second shape, “the F shape,” to play F#–G–G#–A.
- Finally, using our third barre shape, the “A shape,” play the last three chords, A#–B–C.
Music educator and facilitator Jim D’Ville is on a mission to get ukulele players off the paper and into playing music by ear. Over the last six years he has taught his “Play Ukulele By Ear” workshops in the United States, Australia, and Canada. Jim is the author of the Play Ukulele By Ear DVD series and hosts the popular Play Ukulele By Ear website.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Ukulele.
Ukulele Basics: Chords and Harmony is a collection of six easy-to-follow but in-depth Basics lessons from instructors and frequent Ukulele magazine teachers Jim D’Ville and Fred Sokolow, plus the great composer/player Daniel Ho, will guide you through easy chord variations, harnessing the power of certain chords, demystifying the famous Circle of 5ths, and understanding moveable chord shapes.
7 Quick Tips to Improve Your Barre Chords on Ukulele
Barre chords can be the hardest kinds of chords to get down on the ukulele, but if you are able to play them, you unlock a whole new selection of chord variations and positions to choose from to add variety to those same old, boring chord progressions.
In this lesson, I give you some tips for your consideration that can help you play barre chords more cleanly and easily on the ukulele.
Incase you’re unfamiliar, when you play a barre chord, you are required to use a finger to fret or press down on multiple strings. Common examples of barre chords include: D7, Bm, Cm7 and Bb, as shown in the following diagrams.
Barre chords can be quite hard to switch to and fret, but give these quick tips a try to conquer these chords and open up some new possibilities in your ukulele playing.
1. Check your thumb position.
A barre chord requires a bit more strength since you are pressing down multiple strings against the fretboard. To get the most leverage, ensure that the ball of your thumb is pressed firmly into the neck of the ukulele.
Use the ball of your thumb to press into the neck of the ukulele when playing a barre chord
2. Get closer to the fret.
Aim to press down as close to right behind the fret as possible – almost as if you are pressing right down on the fret. Avoid barring way behind the fret. You’re able to hold down the strings easier the closer your fingers are to the fret. See what I mean as I play a D7 chord in the following images.
In the figure on the right, it might seem as if the strings wouldn’t ring out clearly with my index finger that close on the fret, but I’ve positioned my finger so I maximize the leverage against the strings and get every string to ring out clearly.
3. Skip the half barre and use a full barre.
Some chords like Bb only require a half barre to play the chord, where your only barring the bottom two strings rather than all four on a fret. It can be hard to get the pressure you need with a half barre, so consider using a full barre instead. I show an example of this specifically for the Bb chord in this lesson here.
4. Double up your barre.
This isn’t always a feasible option, but in some cases, it can be helpful to lay your middle finger behind your index finger as you barre the strings. This makes your barre stronger and can allow the strings to ring out more clearly. This really only works for minor and minor 7th barre chords though (like Bm7, Cm7, C#m7).
Using both index and middle fingers to barre a Cm7 chord on the ukulele
5. Isolate dead notes and adjust.
If you can’t get a barre chord to ring out, hold down the chord and pluck each individual string to see which note or notes aren’t ringing out. From there, experiment with adjusting the position of your barre on the strings. For example, to play some barre chords, you might focus on barring the strings with the bottom two knuckles of your finger, where you have a bit more meat and flesh to press down on the strings, rather than using the top two knuckles to barre the strings. The key is to be aware of these nuances, experiment and see what works best for you.
The following two images show me playing a D7 barre chord but I’m experimenting with the position of the barre using different knuckles on my finger to hold down the strings.
6. Find an alternate position.
Typically, on the ukulele, you perform a barre with your index finger. However, you might find that using your middle finger works better in the context of certain chord progressions. For example, to play a D7 chord, I often like to use my middle finger to barre the 2nd fret and press down my ring finger on the 3rd fret of the bottom string, as shown in the following image.
7. Build strength with simple exercises.
If you’re finding that you’re still not able to get the hang of barre chords, be patient with yourself, because it takes a fair degree of strength in your fretting hand to hold down a barre. With time and practice, you find that playing barre chords is easier.
To help build strength, when you’re not playing the ukulele, you might take a tennis ball and practice squeezing it with a high degree of pressure for a few seconds and then relaxing. Repeat this a few times. It might seem like a pretty basic exercise, but it can certainly help you build strength in your fretting hand.
Remember: The key in all of this is to practice and experiment. It takes time and a lot of trial and error to play barre chords cleanly and smoothly. Some of these barre chords are downright awful to play, so be patient with yourself and keep at it.
What steps have you taken to improve your barre chords? What tips do you have for beginners who are struggling with barre chords? Let’s hear it! Post your comment below.
Barre Chords on the Ukulele
A barre chord is one that uses a finger to cover a whole (or part of a) fret on your ukulele. You have to press down multiple strings with the same finger.
It looks like this:
With a barre chord (sometimes misspelled “bar chord”), instead of using four fingers, you can use one to do the same job. This leaves other digits (usually the middle finger, ring finger, and pinky finger) available to hold other frets on the uke.
Unfortunately, when you barre on your ukulele, often times you get buzzing or thumping from frets that aren’t pressed down all the way.
As I explain in my giant, encyclopedia-like guide to left hand technique:
- Buzzing happens when the string isn’t in solid enough contact with the fret
- Thumping happens when the string is in contact with a finger instead of a fret
Since either are often a problem, many ukulele players get discouraged about barre chords and think of them as “too hard” or “advanced.” Some of the most notoriously hard ukulele chords contain a barre, like Bb and E.
Why bother with barre chords?
There are so many songs you can learn to play without barre chords that use open strings, why would you go to all that trouble when they can easily be avoided with different songs or with a capo?
The biggest asset of a barre is that it usually creates a moveable chord shape. This means you could hold the chord and shift it to any fret and get a new chord.
I wrote a whole book about this called ʻUkulele Chord Shapes.
The second, and more obvious reason is so that you can feel more confident with your playing. Just imagine if that E major chord was a piece of cake tomorrow! Wouldn’t you jump into learning some new songs right away?
So here are a couple tips to show you how to play barre chords on the ukulele.
Proper Finger Placement
Most people try to solve their problems when playing barres by doing the natural thing:
This only helps a small percent of the time since most often they’re pressing in the wrong place to begin with. By improving the placement of your finger in the fret, you can actually use much less downwards pressure than you think.
A finger on a fret can move in three main directions:
- In/out (more pressure/less pressure)
- Side/side (towards the nut/bridge)
- Up/down (towards the ceiling/floor)
If just one of these are off, it can mess up the whole thing.
The first is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re here, you’ve probably tried it yourself. Simply squeeze your finger harder onto the fret to get a more solid connection with a chord.
Or, if your barre sounds good, try lifting up a bit so you aren’t wasting as much effort over-squeezing.
The second has a huge impact on how hard you need to press down on a fret.
If your finger is higher up (towards the bridge) inside the fret, you don’t have to press as hard because the string angle as it breaks over the fret is steeper. This means the string is more solidly pressed against the fret.
Try it yourself. Hold your ukulele so you have this side view of your finger:
Then shift side to side inside the fret and watch what happens to the string as it breaks over the fret.
In the image above, my finger placement isn’t very good. I’m probably pressing harder than I need to if I fret here.
But if I follow a 2/3 up policy, I’m more likely to get a clean tone.
Of course, this is pretty easy with one finger. The challenge is to make this happen at every fret along the length of the barre. By holding the barre and picking each string one at a time, you can diagnose your buzzes or thumps and more effectively implement proper finger placement on your ukulele.
The third dimension is the least talked about in regards to barring. It changes where your finger joints cross the string.
If you hold a barre and a string goes into the crook of your finger, that string won’t be held as firmly against the fret. Plus, it can hurt your finger to press down when a string is in that bad spot.
The solution is to adjust your finger vertically so that ideally, every string is on the fleshy pad of your finger and not in a crook.
This looks like these two images when applied to your ukulele. Here’s a lower positioning:
Here’s a higher positioning:
If your finger is just the wrong size for the string spacing of you uke and you end up with strings in crooks at every turn, try to find the least problematic placement.
Or, you could try angling your finger sideways so that the tip of your finger is higher or lower in the fret than at the base. This will change the length of your finger as it crosses the strings, but also puts one side of your finger fretting much lower and will need more downward pressure to compensate.
Be sure that your elbow is a couple inches from your side and your wrist flows smoothly from the elbow to the fingers without any sharp angles.
Pushing Instead of Squeezing Your Ukulele
When you get your finger placement optimized, the next trick is going to be putting the correct amount of downwards pressure onto the fret.
Some people have strong hands and can muscle this out, no problem. Others need to use a smarter fulcrum to do the work for them.
It’s usually easier to press the top half of a barre. The two top strings are often less buzz-prone than the lower ones.
Just look at how your finger naturally bends to pick something up. The tip is where the action is at!
Which is all to say, the base of your finger often needs extra help making contact with the fretboard. It’s not usually lack of power, it’s transferring that power to the right spot.
So I’m going to recommend something counter-intuitive: when you barre, push away from yourself with your thumb instead of squeezing with your fingers.
You should be pressing against the back of the neck with the pad of your thumb. If you rest the neck in the crook of your hand with the thumb over the neck, you WILL NOT be able to hold a barre with proper technique and will struggle to position your hand correctly.
Here I’m holding a Bb which uses a partial barre. This chord benefits even more than others from pushing with the thumb since the first fret often buzzes.
Of course, your fingers need to be engaged or you’ll push your ukulele right onto the floor, but they usually don’t need to provide the main force. If you put them in place like a stopper and then use your thumb to push the neck into them, you will get the same amount of pressing force, but in a more optimized place.
By pushing with your thumb, you’ll naturally push upwards slightly, which, in turn, tucks your wrist in and pulls your fingers downwards towards the floor. This helps the fingers dig into the bottom strings and match the force that the upper part of the finger provides.
You can also try moving your thumb to the left of the barre finger by a fret or two to create more leverage when you push away. Only move a fret or two worth of distance from behind the barre:
Some teachers recommend shifting your thumb the other way, to your right. This tweaks your wrist and creates tension in your thumb. Only place your thumb here if it’s comfortable and less than a fret higher than the barre finger.
Often we get impatient and try and force our way through challenges, but especially with something as finicky as holding ukulele chords, it pays to step back every once in a while and take it tiny piece by tiny piece.
If you hear a buzz or thump, pluck each string one at a time to hear where exactly it’s coming from.
Then look at the finger placement for that string. Is the finger too high in the fret? Too low? Are you straddling a crook of your finger?
By finding out exactly what the problem is, you can fix it.
Increasing Downwards Pressure
Sometimes you just need more fretting power to make a barre happen. When this is the case, after trying the other methods above, reach for a double finger stack.
By crossing one finger over so that it rests on top of its neighbor, you can press down with the strength of both fingers. You can cross either the index finger or the middle, but most people barre with the index and use the middle finger to provide some help.
I’ve seen some people recommend pushing down with your right arm to leverage the neck of the ukulele outwards and thus provide more downwards pressure. While this might be helpful in the short term, it seems like a band-aid solution to me.
In all my years of teaching, I have no reason to believe that anybody except severe arthritis patients won’t be able to press down a barre after some practice by using just the fretting hand. By pressing down with your right arm you are introducing extra tension into your playing and dampening the soundboard from ringing as freely.
Identifying Barres in Chord Diagrams
All this has been about playing barre chords on the ukulele so far. But what if you find a cool chord progression that you need to look up and you see a diagram like this:
There are more dots than fingers! What could the correct fingering possibly be for this shape?
Usually when you see dots on the same fret in a row, it’s a barre (or can be a barre). In this case, you would barre across the first fret.
The inverse is sometimes true also. This is how I tend to write my chord diagrams: with one dot per string. It’s up to the player to figure out the barre.
Here the barre isn’t shown, but you’d normally want to place your index finger across the 2nd fret instead of trying to play each string individually.
Hopefully you are now better equipped to tackle ukulele barre chords when you see them on a chord chart or in a tutorial.
For even more on left hand fretting technique, check out my in-depth guide, Left Hand Technique For Ukulele.
Barre chords uke
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