Once you learn to get all your strings ringing with the barre chords, the next step is being able to change to them smoothly (or as smooth as possible for a while, which will get better over time).
The trick here is to have your left hand always be able to form the exact barre shape in an instant. This means having your middle, ring, and pinky align correctly beside your first finger without even thinking about it. This "automatic alignment" is called muscle memory. There really aren't any shortcuts to it, the shape basically has to get programmed into your hand, so you can instinctively form the shape whenever you need to...
There are, of course, better ways to practice it, to speed things up. I've found that the following works well with most people.
Change between barre chords first
At first, change just in between barre chords along the E string and the A string separately. Don't just do it at random though, create some melody by changing within a scale pattern. For example:
- Play the chords ascending along the E major scale, than back.
- You can play the arpeggiated version of the chords instead of just strumming them, to let you hear whether the strings are ringing correctly.
- Play random chords along the E major scale as well, try to create a nice chord progression.
- It's important to keep in mind that you'll be playing minor barre chords with this exercise as well, not just major. If you'll remember your scale theory, the I, IV and V chords in a major scale will be major chords, the rest will be minor chords (except for the 7th degree chord, that's diminished, but play it as major for now)
So your chords will be I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-VII(dim), which means that the E major scale will have chords:
E - F#m - G#m - A - B - C#m - D#dim
- It's nice to know your scale intervals for this as well, it makes memorizing the scale chords easier:
W - W - H - W - W - W - H
- Do this along the A string as well, for example with the A major scale:
A - Bm - C#m - D - E - F#m - G
This will get your hand pretty tired, but that's a good thing 🙂 This helps in strengthening your hand and programming those shapes into your hand.
Next, practice forming the barre shape
To be able to change to barre chord fluently, you'll need to practice forming them from out of thin air. Literally 😉
With the next exercise, don't change to the barre chords from any regular chord shape, but instead:
- Form the barre chord,
- Take your fingers off, wobble them a bit,
- and put them back on the strings forming the chord.
When placing your fingers back, try to form the actual shape before putting your fingers on the strings, so basically in the air while going down on the strings. At first, you'll be just placing your first finger down, then positioning your other fingers alongside it. This is good in the beginning, but as I said, aim at forming that shape before you actually touch the strings.
Do this very slowly at first, then speed up progressively as you can. Advance your speed only if you can keep the chord shape forming correctly, there is no use in speeding up while forming it wrong.
And finally, put those barre chords to good use 🙂
And of course, play songs that use barre chords! This helps keep things interesting, and you'll appreciate your practice efforts more by hearing it pay off in an actual song.
Here are some good ones that help in developing your barre chords:
And in a couple of months, you should have it down. It is a lot of work, I know, but barre chords are hard. Once you tackle them though, a whole new world opens up in your playing, since you won't be restricted to open chords any more, you'll be able to play all along the fretboard.