building strength for barre chords

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marymezzo
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Re: building strength for barre chords

Post by marymezzo » Thu Mar 16, 2017 12:54 pm

Thanks so much for this thread. I've been feeling frustrated about my barre chords, and these recommendations and links are very helpful. Kevin Gallager's videos in particular are excellent.

pmangos

Re: building strength for barre chords

Post by pmangos » Fri Apr 14, 2017 4:03 am

There are many barre-centric exercises available but my favorite is Sor's study op 29, #13. It is a strenuous endurance piece for the left hand but an excellent exercise in pacing and transitioning barre positions across the fretboard. And one of the most beautiful Sor pieces in my opinion! Definitely worth incorporating into your daily practice routine. Nice analysis and micro-studies courtesy of CG magazine here:

http://classicalguitarmagazine.com/meth ... h-segovia/

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marymezzo
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Re: building strength for barre chords

Post by marymezzo » Wed Apr 19, 2017 2:50 am

pmangos--thank you so much for your advice and for the link to CG mag!

I will investigate both.

Luis_Br
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Re: building strength for barre chords

Post by Luis_Br » Wed Apr 19, 2017 1:07 pm

Most important thing is the way you do, not what you do. That is the reason a good teacher is important to guide through any exercises.

Developing strength is ok, but only after you know how to properly do it, or you will overstress your muscles and hinder your movements. To me, best exercises were those for independent control of each finger pressure part over individual strings, as taught by Pavel Steidl in a masterclass. Should learn to press only with last segment (from tip), middle segment or base segment. In several times you don't need pressing the full finger, but only some parts.

For example, practice pressing strings 1 and 2 with base of finger flexing knuckle joint (first segment) while keeping tip and middle joint totally relaxed. Also practice press strings 5 and 6 with tip in two different ways: 1 - press from tip, 2 - press from middle joint articulation with collapsing tip. Be sure also relaxing knuckle (learn to press only middle part or tip of finger, independently). Also keep attention to relaxing other fingers, back of hand, thumb, wrist, shoulder etc. Also practice pressing middle strings with middle part of finger through KJ flexing while relaxing upper finger part, or sometimes with pressing middle finger part together (depends which strings need pressing).

Start pressing lightly, with pizzicato kind of sound. Then evolve to more pressing, with maybe some buzz. Then go to full press. After that you can develop some more strength, to be sure there will be no buzz. But controlled strength for the correct individual muscles you carefully desire, don't go directly for a full uncontrolled brute force.

Dissociation muscle control and the awareness of each string pressing feeling will be enough for you to develop the right way of doing the barre without the need for knowing about positioning or any other tip, in my experience. With correct control and awareness, you learn by yourself which solution works better in terms of positioning etc., because you develop the ability to correctly feel the easier way from inside out.

I am totally against pressing with whole arm, as taught by some players, since it overstresses finger muscles. You press from finger, arm weight is used, but just enough to prevent hand moving up as a reaction from fingerboard. String feeling and finger detailed sensation gives you the control for just right amount of strength to press, and you equilibrate with arm weight, rather than the brute force of whole arm makes your poor fingers hold its massive unnecessary weight.

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Tom Poore
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Re: building strength for barre chords

Post by Tom Poore » Wed Apr 19, 2017 1:51 pm

This might be helpful:

http://www.pooretom.com/learningbarchord.html

Since I posted this article, it’s become the most popular page on my website. Apparently a lot of people surf the internet looking for advice on bar chords.

Reading this thread, there are two things I’d like to add:

• Many have commented that playing a good bar chord isn’t a matter of strength. While I understand that there are good reasons for saying this, it might be misleading and frustrating to say this to someone who can’t yet correctly do a bar. To an extent, strength is a necessary part of playing a bar. Granted, it’s not the only thing, and brute force certainly is the wrong way to go. I’m merely pointing out that it’s inaccurate to tell a novice that strength isn’t an issue.

• At the risk of sparking an endless argument and derailing this discussion, I believe arm weight is one of the most useless of concepts in guitar playing. This isn’t the place to argue the point. So I’ll simply say that it’s an idea borrowed from piano playing—an instrument for which arm weight is a useful concept, and foisted onto the guitar—an instrument for which arm weight is almost entirely useless.

Okay, I’ll now go hide under my bed.

Tom Poore
South Euclid, OH
USA

Luis_Br
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Re: building strength for barre chords

Post by Luis_Br » Wed Apr 19, 2017 3:35 pm

Tom, you always contribute with great advice. I agree with you about strength, I am not sure on the arm weight, it actually requires better definition, I think. I just want to clarify my point for the beginners.

I began telling developing strength is ok. And in fourth paragraph of my previous post I recommend developing it, including telling to develop strength for pressing further than necessary. Maybe it is just about the word used, which resembles me a "pumping nylon" approach, sorry for the joke. It is obviously true any pressing need some muscle "strength" to build up, from a simple one finger press, to a full barre. It is quite obvious pressing 6 strings at once require more strength than pressing just one. A simple math results it would require 6 times the strength...

My biggest concern is specially after experiencing several beginners and intermediate players having hand injuries because practicing barre "strengthening" exercises, sometimes pure guitar practice, sometimes muscle exercises without the guitar. So I specially advice on developing it with the right movements and muscles, giving special care on how one should do it, rather than on strength. Most beginners can't realize the details. This is something hard to understand and control without a face to face lesson with a good teacher who can address those things. I just think addressing any strengthening exercise is a bit dangerous without personal careful guidance and I feel compelled to make this warning.

I also encourage a careful selection of pieces, the repertoire is huge, we should start developing other kinds of coordination and strength, later going to half and incomplete barres, before going to the full and more difficult ones, in a way we shouldn't care as much developing strength in a specific way. What I mean is that I think it is possible to build it up gradually without turning it into a huge concern. I would only recommend pieces with lots of barres to an intermediate to advanced player.

Several simple pop chords that require barres can be done with curved finger barres, removing great part of necessary strength, or can be rearranged to easier chord solutions (easier technically, but that might be musically superior), while the beginner gradually develop finger strength for the harder barres. To me developing a good full barre is like developing a good tremolo, it is not something to a beginner.

clivepics
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Re: building strength for barre chords

Post by clivepics » Tue Apr 25, 2017 6:01 am

I injured a finger playing hard pieces a few months back and part of my recovery has been exercising my fingers and thumb using the D'Darrio finger exerciser. I am sure this would held with increasing strength for bar chords also over time.

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SunnyDee
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Re: building strength for barre chords

Post by SunnyDee » Tue Apr 25, 2017 1:01 pm

SunnyDee wrote:Agree with everyone who says it doesn't take that much strength. I would say it takes endurance, rather than strength. I play steel and have small lady hands, so not that strong, but I can play barres. Listen to people who say work with your finger shape (mine is not straight when rolled to the side, it has to lay flat on the soft part). I do believe in using the weight of your arm (you can pull with your bicep, too - but even if you don't want to use weight, feeling the weight can help you relax), above all, I think it's helpful to feel the strings under your finger. I keep the bar the same for almost all chords all the time. In other words to go from a F#m to a Bm I would not shift the bar down. My choice. I can certainly see doing it differently but I like efficiency - learning one way.

This worked for me: I started by laying the finger across all six strings and focusing on the feel of each string as it lay under my finger. For a couple days, I just did the full bar across the six strings without other fingers until I and my body were convinced that it doesn't require much strength to sound the notes cleanly. If a string doesn't sound, I don't push harder with the whole hand, instead I feel again the 6 strings as they push up against my finger, it usually just requires me to straighten the finger slightly to get the missing string. I made it easy on myself and did this on whichever fret was easiest to start with, 3 maybe?

Then gradually I started moving the other fingers, still slowly, careful not to move the bar. Working on finger independence. Moving the other fingers into place to form major/minor/sus/7th/etc.

Naturally in context I may move the bar or fingers slightly different ways, but I can always go back to this relaxed clean place where I focus on feeling the strings instead of the action of clamping the neck.
Last edited by SunnyDee on Tue Apr 25, 2017 1:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Militantly left-handed."

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SunnyDee
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Re: building strength for barre chords

Post by SunnyDee » Tue Apr 25, 2017 1:08 pm

Tom Poore wrote:
• At the risk of sparking an endless argument and derailing this discussion, I believe arm weight is one of the most useless of concepts in guitar playing. This isn’t the place to argue the point. So I’ll simply say that it’s an idea borrowed from piano playing—an instrument for which arm weight is a useful concept, and foisted onto the guitar—an instrument for which arm weight is almost entirely useless.
Tom - Would it really be derailing the discussion to talk about this? I'm interested in your idea. I don't think this a useless concept at all if you look at it as relaxation from the shoulder, but I'm new and self-taught, so very interested to hear why you think it is.
"Militantly left-handed."

Lefty Acoustics

Martin 00-15M
Taylor 320e Baritone

First guitar was a vintage Russian 7-string classical.

Mr Kite

Re: building strength for barre chords

Post by Mr Kite » Tue Apr 25, 2017 1:10 pm

SunnyDee wrote:I play steel and have small lady hands, so not that strong, but I can play barres.
People who come from other styles never seem to find it at all hard to make a bar - I wonder whether it's just easier to learn the technique on an instrument with a narrower neck, or whether it's just the fact that bar chords crop up sooner and more often in most other styles than they do in classical, so you're kinda forced to.

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SunnyDee
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Re: building strength for barre chords

Post by SunnyDee » Tue Apr 25, 2017 1:15 pm

Mr Kite wrote:
SunnyDee wrote:I play steel and have small lady hands, so not that strong, but I can play barres.
People who come from other styles never seem to find it at all hard to make a bar - I wonder whether it's just easier to learn the technique on an instrument with a narrower neck, or whether it's just the fact that bar chords crop up sooner and more often in most other styles than they do in classical, so you're kinda forced to.
Forced to. In folk, you're going to have to make that full F and that Bm pretty darn quick. I first learned on nylon, but switched to steel within a few months. I don't remember there being a difference in the width of the neck for it but I may have forgotten.
Last edited by SunnyDee on Tue Apr 25, 2017 4:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.
"Militantly left-handed."

Lefty Acoustics

Martin 00-15M
Taylor 320e Baritone

First guitar was a vintage Russian 7-string classical.

Mr Kite

Re: building strength for barre chords

Post by Mr Kite » Tue Apr 25, 2017 1:16 pm

SunnyDee wrote:
Tom Poore wrote:
• At the risk of sparking an endless argument and derailing this discussion, I believe arm weight is one of the most useless of concepts in guitar playing. This isn’t the place to argue the point. So I’ll simply say that it’s an idea borrowed from piano playing—an instrument for which arm weight is a useful concept, and foisted onto the guitar—an instrument for which arm weight is almost entirely useless.
Tom - Would it really be derailing the discussion to talk about this? I'm interested in your idea. I don't think this a useless concept at all if you look at it as relaxation from the shoulder, but I'm new and self-taught, so very interested to hear why you think it is.
Stanley Yates's take on this:

"The contribution of arm weight and the upper-arm muscles to [bar] technique can be experienced by temporarily removing the thumb from the guitar neck as you hold a [bar]. As the thumb returns, a balance can be found in which the upper-arm muscles, the weight of the arm, and a small amount of pressure from the thumb can combine to produce the [bar] (provided the index finger retains an appropriate degree of firmness)."

This is presumably on the basis that the player is using SY's recommended sitting position, which has the neck high and the left arm "positioned in such a way that it can be held in position with minimal effort (and also to allow the contribution of gravity in certain playing situations)".

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SunnyDee
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Re: building strength for barre chords

Post by SunnyDee » Tue Apr 25, 2017 1:36 pm

Mr Kite wrote:
SunnyDee wrote:
Tom Poore wrote:
• At the risk of sparking an endless argument and derailing this discussion, I believe arm weight is one of the most useless of concepts in guitar playing. This isn’t the place to argue the point. So I’ll simply say that it’s an idea borrowed from piano playing—an instrument for which arm weight is a useful concept, and foisted onto the guitar—an instrument for which arm weight is almost entirely useless.
Tom - Would it really be derailing the discussion to talk about this? I'm interested in your idea. I don't think this a useless concept at all if you look at it as relaxation from the shoulder, but I'm new and self-taught, so very interested to hear why you think it is.
Stanley Yates's take on this:

"The contribution of arm weight and the upper-arm muscles to [bar] technique can be experienced by temporarily removing the thumb from the guitar neck as you hold a [bar]. As the thumb returns, a balance can be found in which the upper-arm muscles, the weight of the arm, and a small amount of pressure from the thumb can combine to produce the [bar] (provided the index finger retains an appropriate degree of firmness)."

This is presumably on the basis that the player is using SY's recommended sitting position, which has the neck high and the left arm "positioned in such a way that it can be held in position with minimal effort (and also to allow the contribution of gravity in certain playing situations)".
Yates sounds accurate to what I feel. I'm aware of the concept from piano, but I actually adopted it from athletics. I was a gymnast. In many sports, you want to work with gravity keeping all the muscles relaxed that can be. As Yates says, this assumes a classical position, which I use because I think it's obviously the most ergonomic for me. Large males with large hands and natural strength who want to hold the guitar quite low on their bodies and often with very narrow necks on heavy electrics, would, understandably, develop a technique that involves using the strength in their hands. So maybe they are just different contexts?

I also think maybe we should talk about it. Otherwise aren't we just leaving the OP with a lot of conflicting advice? But if anyone thinks we should stop, I'll hush. :)
"Militantly left-handed."

Lefty Acoustics

Martin 00-15M
Taylor 320e Baritone

First guitar was a vintage Russian 7-string classical.

Mr Kite

Re: building strength for barre chords

Post by Mr Kite » Tue Apr 25, 2017 2:05 pm

I just tried switching from my Strat to my classical and I am using the same technique for both. I can't use arm weight on the electric because of the position. After a bit of experimentation, it seems I can allow the weight of the arm to rest on the strings on the classical, although I don't habitually do this.

On the one hand it seems more efficient to use weight and gravity rather than muscle power, but on the other it seems slow and cumbersome. That may be just because I am not used to it though.

Mr Kite

Re: building strength for barre chords

Post by Mr Kite » Tue Apr 25, 2017 2:26 pm

SunnyDee wrote:I don't think [arm weight is] a useless concept at all if you look at it as relaxation from the shoulder, but I'm new and self-taught...
I think that's just what it is - relaxation from the shoulder. It's definitely not pulling with the lats, just letting the hand be supported by the neck of the guitar a little more, and the shoulder muscles a little less.
Luis_Br wrote:I am totally against pressing with whole arm, as taught by some players, since it overstresses finger muscles. You press from finger, arm weight is used, but just enough to prevent hand moving up as a reaction from fingerboard. String feeling and finger detailed sensation gives you the control for just right amount of strength to press, and you equilibrate with arm weight, rather than the brute force of whole arm makes your poor fingers hold its massive unnecessary weight.
Well, the weight is always going to be mainly supported by the shoulder joint. Is the brute force comment really about weight, or could it be about pulling with the lats / biceps?

It seems to me that there has to be a little tension in the shoulder to keep the hand in a position where it can move freely up and down the neck, and we are just talking about relaxing it a bit while the bar is down. Come to think about it, there's no reason why that would only apply to bar chords.

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