In our last installment, we were discussing the CAGED method for learning chord fingerings. This entailed learning to create barre chords based on the open C chord shape, the open A chord shape, G shape, E shape, D shape. In order to use these new chords, we’ll need to figure out how to name them on the fretboard and how they fit into the key of the song we want to play. And yes, the preferred spelling is “Barre”. The origin of this spelling is questionable, some say it’s the French spelling, some say it comes from the Spanish origins of the guitar, and others say that classical guitar pioneer Andrés Segovia coined the term, himself being of Spanish origin.
We name these by the root of the chord. That’s to say that if we take the notes of the chord and arrange them in 3rds, or skip every other note in the related major scale, the lowest note in the chord is considered the root note. If you look at the open C chord, it’s notes are C, E, and G. We can play these notes in any order we want, but if we spell them in thirds, the C should be the first, or lowest pitched, note. The lowest C in the open C chord is on string 5.
It’s easiest to use the lowest root note to name the chord, so we’ll use string 5 to identify this chord form. If you’re trying to figure out what chord you should be playing, you can easily look at the note your bass player is playing, usually on his/her 3rd or 4th string, corresponding to our strings 5 and 6. What are the notes on string 5? If we learn the names of the notes on this string, we can always figure out the name of any C form barre chord, regardless of what fret it is on. If we name all of the notes of the 5th string, fret by fret, you’ll find that there is a sharp/flat between every note except between E and F, and between B and C:
Therefore, the C form barre chord with the 4th finger at the 7th fret will give us an E chord, as the note at the 7th fret of string 5 is E, and this is the root note of that form. Realize that this would be considered “at the 4th fret”, as the lowest fret fingered in the chord is at the 4th fret, but the root note is at the 7th fret.
This chord seems a bit awkward, but it’s quite common in many types of music. Most times we are likely to use it in a smaller voicing as a shortcut. Remember, these chords are triads, so only 3 notes are necessary to get the whole chord sound into your playing. Definitely practice it enough to make playing it second nature. Notice that when playing this chord form, you may alternately utilize the 4th finger on string 6 in place of the root note on string 5.
This would facilitate moving from this form to the G form in the next example.
This chord goes quite well with the G form barre chord:
This chord can be slightly awkward also, but it’s really common with the C form chord. Again, often we use a smaller triad version of the chord. These are particularly common in R&B styles, used by Jimi Hendrix, Steve Cropper, Keith Richards, Curtis Mayfield, and Cornell Dupree. Use the first finger barre for strings 2, 3, 4, and bend it slightly out of the way at string 1, effectively muting that string. The root of this chord is played with the 4th finger on string 6.
Keep practicing and have fun!