The reason you are having trouble with that barre is you don't have the callus on the side of the finger yet.
Good ol' Romance, don't you love it? Eventually, you will either give up on Romance or break it down into... EVENTS! This is a concept one of my teachers, Dr. Roland Wiggins, introduced us to, called "eventfulness". As you progress, things become less eventful, but, initially, things are very eventful. Start with the events, musical and technical -- at a certain point, they blend together ['like fettuccine in your mind"]. Separate them to start and then see how they enhance each other.
Let's see, how does this work.
First of all, though, you will need to develop a new callus on the first, interphalangeal [say that five times fast] joint of the 1 finger in the left hand, in order to grab the string with the side of that joint. Remember what it was like when you started the guitar and the string would sink into the fingertip and the string would buzz, no matter how hard you pushed? Pushing more wasn't enough, was it? It took a while before the flesh firmed up enough to press the string. I am afraid you will have to keep trying until the flesh hardens and you get a new callus in that spot. Takes about a month.
Okay, let's break it down into events.
I always think of Murphy's Law: before you do one thing, you must often do something else. Therefore, the first question is, what happens in the measure before, to set it up? The A-minor half-barre at V, with the melody on 4! Okay.
That is a half-barre, true, but the measure begins with the single note, C, on the first string, VIII, played under 4. The half-barre arrives later. I would place and play the C with 4, with the wrist in relaxed position (i.e. without the half-barre) on the shift before I even considered adding the half-barre.
But wait! Before you play the high C on (1), you must must do something else, you must shift. In order to make the shift as easy (and reliable) as possible, I relax the hand and let the 4th finger fall inside the hand -- as opposed to fanning (called abduction) the hand at the same time that I’m trying to place 4 on the high C in order, to make the half-barre. Once the fourth finger is placed, then consider opening the and and adding the half-barre. By doing one event at a time, you will arrive at your destination faster. You may run them together later, but first learn them one by one.
Okay, I shifted and I am holding the C with 4 on VIII, my hand is relaxed. Now, to make that half-barre, I supinate or turn out the wrist (into the palm-up position), fan the hand (abduction), and add the half-barre. But, I place the half-barre on only the (3) and (2) strings. That is, I finger what what I play first, (3), with the tip joint collapsed backwards to hold down just those two strings, and add (2). Don’t even think about the first string yet. When I get to the A on the first string, then I will adjust the bar to hold that note, but not before. In that measure, I actually play three half-barre's, first on (2) and (3), then with a slight adjustment to pick up the first string, and then I go back to the half-barre on (2) and (3) with the fingertip. It's less work and life is short.
Once I finish the A-minor measure, the last note of the measure is the C on (3), played by 1. This is worth noting because the first beat of the next measure is also played by 1, this time the full barre. Now here is a shift that will bite you if you aren’t careful. Before you shift, though, you will have to rock that half-barre back onto the front of the 1 finger – the melody is under 4 again, the high C, and you don’t need the full half-barre, just a two-thirds half-barre, on (2) and (3) again. Follow me?
So, I shifted the weight my half-barre back onto the fingertip, on (2) and (3) -- I lean onto the front of that half-barre on V, poised, I take a deep breath, and JUMP! And I do mean “breathe”; putting a breath right there gives you the time you need to make the shift. Hide the shift musically, write it into the piece. Put a breath there and they will never know. Hide the shift behind the breath.
Making the actual shift involves releasing not just the 1 finger, but the entire arm, so that it shifts by its own weight. If you program the release of tension into your playing, the finger will jump off the string and the arm will fall. However, if there is any flexion left in the hand, the finger (hand) will not release in time and you will choke. This piece, for some reason, is exhausting for the left hand. I found I had to find every opportunity to release tension that I could, or I never made it through. Mostly, this is breathing. You know -- what happens when you don’t breathe? I try to avoid that. You have to go through the piece with a pencil and write in all the breathes, every single one, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant. You will find that many of them coincide with the release of tension. Write them it, it is a comma mark. There are more than you think.
Now, the grand barre. Grab that second string with the bone on the side of the finger, that first interphalangeal joint, rock back onto the first string with the soft (not yet hard) part of the finger long enough to play that B note, while hooking the fingertip onto the low B on (6). Lean back, creating a twisting action between the thumb on the neck and the barre, and play that first and sixth string, with a slight separation, to bring out the melody.
And then add 2, no sooner. Once you got that, you can tuck 3 in there for the C, and drill that boney part of the 1 finger joint into the F#. Every time you play the F# on (2), you will have to crunch the string with that boney spot, until you get a callus there. It's not really pain, just discomfort.
The next time you play the next B, lean back as far back on the VII fret as you can, to give yourself a little angle for the reach with 4 (on the high D#). Just slap the side of that pinky on the note. (You may have to grow a new callus on the side of pinky, too.)
Then, put 3 back and play the C, drill the boney part of that joint into the F# on (2) again, add the twist for the B on VII.
Then, breathe, it’s over. Until next time.
Kevin Collins, Amherst, Mass, USA All rights reserved.