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Thread: Barre chords

  1. #1
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    Default Barre chords

    Somewhere along the line, I read that Mandolin players don't do barre chords (why does this remind me of "Marines don't dig!"). They turn their fingertip perpendicular to the strings and cover one (or even two) courses with the fingertip.

    Maybe I have small hands but this ain't never gonna happen for me.

    Watching Keizo Ishibashi do "While my guitar gently weeps" I notice that he doesn't seem to have any embarrasment about doing barre chords.

    An arrangement I'm working with for "Ashoken Farewell" from the Mandozine archive has a chord 7,5,4,4 (E to G) which I either have to do barre or not do at all. I wondered if anybody had any feelings or advice about that.

    The arrangement also has a 10,5,4,7, which I play as x,5,4,7. I mean, come on now!

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    Default Re: Barre chords

    It isn't a status thing... Standard GDAE tuning just doesn't lend itself well to full barre cords. The chord intervals are too spread apart and too difficult to do without the use of the index finger, which would be busy barring. A few chords would work, but not many of them

    I do barre chords on mandolin all the time, but I use taropatch-C tuning (GCEG), for which the chord interval spreads are just fine. Some people also use Chicago-C (GCEA - like a guitar capo'ed at 5) tuning for this reason. Both of these tunings are pretty rare on mandolin, but they are very usable if desired.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Barre chords

    I don't do barre chords, though many mandolinners do.

    My objection is that to get the pressure required I have to move my thumb to the center of the neck, an unaccustomed position I find difficult to move into and out of.

    I have found very few cases where a barre chord was absolutely necessary, however, and I can generally get along without.

    The primary idea, of course, is the barre chord is a closed form moveable shape that allows a small number of finger configurations to be valid anywhere up the neck. Great advantage to guitar players who have more strings than fingers and often have open strings in first position. For mandolinners there are so many four finger closed position chords, (because it only takes four fingers to make a closed position), all of which are moveable up and down the neck. And three finger shapes that are moveable across the neck as well.

    The point being that I think barre chords are just not as necessary on mandolin, though there is nothing wrong with them and many use them, though they are less ubiquitous than with guitar.
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    Default Re: Barre chords

    I think you've got the numbers reversed from the usual way. A 4-4-5-7 is a B minor commonly played with an index finger barre. 7-4-5 is a D. 7-4-5-10 adds the D at the tenth fret of the E string. That one is a pinky stretch rather than a barre. 7-4-5 is a perfectly good D chord without the 10 added. But the arrangement might call for that high D for some effect. You can surely play Ashokan without it.
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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Barre chords

    We're all constrained by the individual features of our own hands/fingers . . . the Am chord 2-2-3-5 (moveable to Bm 4-4-5-7 or wherever) is an important chord to me, as is the F chord 2-3-3-5 (G 4-5-5-7) or E 4-2-2-4 (F 5-2-2-5, G 7-5-5-7, etc.)

    These chords are just too easy to grab, and in a good register to my ears . . . I don't consider these barre chords by any means, and for my fingers the two courses at a fret can be done with a finger, though it may have to be angled. For those whose fingers are just too skinny, you can teach yourself these chords by cramming in all four fingers (I notice Nancy Blake doing this type of thing in places where my fingers wouldn't fit).

    YMMV, it seems to me though that a person could do either one or the other - "semi-bar" two courses with one fingertip, or use all four fingers. I may be missing something here, folk with thinner fingers need to chime in I suppose.
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    Default Re: Barre chords

    I've got small fingers, and can't cleanly fret two adjacent courses at the same fret with one fingertip. So when playing an Am or Bm chord shape (2235 or 4457), I have to barre the lower strings. Moving my hand from a normal playing position to a barre chord does require moving the thumb to the back of the neck, but it's really not that big of a deal. If it's a really blazing-fast tune where I'm playing chop chords and need to pass through a minor chord like that, I may substitute something else. Like perhaps just a simplified double-stop or "power chord".

    We all learn to play around our particular hand shapes and sizes. Altering the fingering of chords is one way, but simply choosing a better chord shape for your hand is another.

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    Default Re: Barre chords

    I play barre chords all the time on mandolin, using the shapes already mentioned. Plus the various minor 7th, maj 7th, etc. forms that use at least a partial barre.

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    Default Re: Barre chords

    I wrote an article in 2005 on this very topic and my approach. Maybe it will help some. It is certainly useful if you want to crack walnuts with your 3rd and 4th finger or if for some strange reason you want to snap the neck of your mandolin off at the 5th fret:
    Here is the article.

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    Default Re: Barre chords

    Quote Originally Posted by bradlaird View Post
    I wrote an article in 2005 on this very topic and my approach. .
    Tried it last night. Genius. Using bigger muscles and longer moment arms. And the thumb doesn't feel as "far away".
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    Default Re: Barre chords

    Quote Originally Posted by bradlaird View Post
    I wrote an article in 2005 on this very topic and my approach. Maybe it will help some. It is certainly useful if you want to crack walnuts with your 3rd and 4th finger or if for some strange reason you want to snap the neck of your mandolin off at the 5th fret:
    Here is the article.
    " Don't waste energy trying to form a barre all the way across all four strings. "

    This alone is worth the read, thanks.

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    Default Re: Barre chords

    Bradley, nice article! I'll try it out later today. 3 of my mandos have V necks as well, one pretty deeply so, so playing barre chords in sustained fashion can be tough. I play with our youth praise band (contemporary Christian/rock stuff), so I use barre chords (or partial barre chords) a lot...faster and easier on the hands is always better when it comes to this stuff!

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    Default Re: Barre chords

    I think it's fine to do a partial barre with your index fingers to get two adjacent string courses, but like Jeff says above, I usually need to bring my thumb around the back of the neck to do it (like guitar) so I tend to avoid it. It's hard for me to fret all four strings on two adjacent courses with just my index finger tip, but Jordan Ramsey showed me that you don't have to get them all. Aim sort of in between the courses and you'll get two or three of the strings and hopefully mute the ones you don't fully fret. It sounds weird and feels even weirder when you first do it but it works. Some people have fat enough finger tips that they don't need to do this but it's a good technique for those who don't.

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    Default Re: Barre chords

    I was taught using a form of barre chords, not totally a barre chord but definitely not chop chord. I usually describe it as a sloppy barre chord. I use those for the most part. I am trying to retrain myself to use more "chop" style chords but I can play in my jam circles using chords the way I was taught. I do want to utilize more chop chords, so I work on them frequently. I was concerned I should be mainly using chop chords (Bluegrass and Folk) so, I asked a friend, who is a very accomplished musician and he told me not to get hung up on using only chop chords. He suggested that mandolin is a mix of both barre style and chop chords. So now I don't let it bother me so much. But I am trying to use the chop style chords more.
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    Default Re: Barre chords

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    It isn't a status thing... Standard GDAE tuning just doesn't lend itself well to full barre cords. . . ...
    Yikes! I'm a guit-picker who got a mando recently, and I've put some time into figuring out some basic major, minor, and seventh chords. Rhythm mando's a hoot. Don't tell me I should be sticking to melody!

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    Default Re: Barre chords

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    Yikes! I'm a guit-picker who got a mando recently, and I've put some time into figuring out some basic major, minor, and seventh chords. Rhythm mando's a hoot. Don't tell me I should be sticking to melody!
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    Default Re: Barre chords

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    Yikes! I'm a guit-picker who got a mando recently, and I've put some time into figuring out some basic major, minor, and seventh chords. Rhythm mando's a hoot. Don't tell me I should be sticking to melody!
    The fun with melody is when you start to work back towards harmony, by using occasional double stops and partial chords for spice within the melody line. Doesn't have to be either/or, it can be both!

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    Default Re: Barre chords

    I always thought that a barre chord was fretting all stings with left hand using either 2,3 or 4 fingers depending on chord and being able to move that shape up/down the neck creating different chords. What is the definition of a barre chord ?
    Thanks

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    Default Re: Barre chords

    I play in a choir and it is common to play maj7th chords in all keys. I use barre chords all the time for that simply because it's easy for me to remember how to play a C, a Cmaj7, a Cmin7, and C7th using variations of the same moveable shapes.
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    Default Re: Barre chords

    Loubrava, you are right as far as I know. Pretty sure a Barre chord is covering all courses with your index finger and then depending on the chord, using 2nd, 3rd and fourth to shape the chord you want.
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    Default Re: Barre chords

    Quote Originally Posted by Loubrava View Post
    I always thought that a barre chord was fretting all stings with left hand using either 2,3 or 4 fingers depending on chord and being able to move that shape up/down the neck creating different chords. What is the definition of a barre chord ?
    Thanks
    All the chords mentioned above are moveable chords and are barre chords. A barre chord just means more than one string (or string course in the case of a mandolin) is held down with a single finger (usually the index finger).

    I guess you could argue that in a chord like 4224 (E major) you're not using your index finger to barre across all string courses, but that would be sort of a silly argument.

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    Default Re: Barre chords

    I guess you could argue that in a chord like 4224 (E major) you're not using your index finger to barre across all string courses, but that would be sort of a silly argument.
    To me, though, that's kind of the point. I can't think of any barre chord I've used on the mandolin that requires me to play more than two courses with one finger. And I can accomplish that pretty easily by using more of the pad of my finger, instead of just the tip (like I usually would). Just kinda roll it down a little. For me, it doesn't seem to require much strength or power. Sometimes I put my thumb behind the neck, but not typically. I seem to get enough resistance from my thumb in it's normal position.

    Personally, I've started using the barre shapes more and more. For whatever reason, I find the sonic palate more pleasant than a chop chord. It also leaves me in a good spot for melody work, with my index finger on the root.
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    Default Re: Barre chords

    Quote Originally Posted by onassis View Post
    To me, though, that's kind of the point. I can't think of any barre chord I've used on the mandolin that requires me to play more than two courses with one finger..
    How about these, among many others:

    A9 - 2223

    A6/9 - 2222

    A13 - 2522

    Am6 2232

  35. #23
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Barre chords

    There may be other ways to define "barre chord", but I think for the most part you guys are right about barring with the index finger, especially on guitar. Many chords contain partial barres, but to me that doesn't make them barre chords. Look at the 3rd fret C barre chord on a guitar, where you have a barre across the neck at the third fret (1, 5, 6 string w/index finger) as well as a partial barre of 2, 3, 4 at fifth fret w/ring finger. The partial bar at fifth does not make this a barre chord, the index across the fretboard does. An A7 on the guitar played 0-0-2-2-2-3 is not a barre chord, despite the partial barre at second fret. I play jazz chords on guitar that barre 1st and 2nd strings with pinkie - and many other variations of partial barres - that do not constitute a barre chord. The mandolin chords mentioned above are not barre chords to my thinking nor do I barre the neck in any way to play them, they can be played by placing a finger between two courses and adjusting it as needed without really barring the neck. In the case of F 2-3-3-5 the supposed "barre" would be done with middle finger, not index. And if a person's fingers are very small, these can be four finger chords - there are only four courses on the mandolin - so I guess it's hard to see how an actual barre chord with thumb behind the neck would be necessary on a mandolin, and if so, then not often. I think that if a person is unable either to play these with a single finger tilted in or by using all four fingers there, then he or she might try Brad Laird's method of barring mentioned in a post above. YMMV

    Edit: And while I was typing David posted several examples of where actual barre chords are used for mandolin, so live and learn
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    Default Re: Barre chords

    I also tend to use more barre shapes or even partial chords (two and three note) rather than the full chop chords. It's good to know how to play the full chop chords and there's a time and place for it, but a lot of times it's so much easier to play partial chords and a lot of times it will sound better too. Here are some examples.

    For E I'll almost never play 4224 and instead will just play 422x or even just 42xx
    For D I like 245x and for Dm 235x (I'll use these same shapes for E and Em)
    For A I'll use 2245 and 2235 for Am (also the 2200 or 22xx power chord)

    I also like the C, C and D chop chord shapes but it's good to work the other shapes in as well. Plus the other shapes are better for minor chords and with the power chords (2200 for A or 422x for E) you don't even need to worry about whether it's major or minor. Let the guitar player cover the third

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    Default Re: Barre chords

    I think we're being a little too literal with the barre chord definition. I think of the A chord 2245 as a barre chord even though I play it like Brad suggests rather than a guitar barre chord. It looks like a barre chord, so I call it a barre chord, even though I'm really only using the pad of my index finger and my thumb is in the normal position as opposed to the back of the neck.

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