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ukulele barre chords

3 Tips to Improve Your Ukulele Barre Chords

Learning how to perform a ukulele barre chord can be one of the most challenging aspects of playing the uke. It requires a lot of finger strength and ultimately a tonne of practice. In this post, we will discuss 3 tips that will make the learning process easier for you.

A ukulele barre chord is using one finger, most often the first, to fret all the strings of the uke. Then using your other fretting fingers to make a chord shape. You strum them just like a normal chord.

They allow a lot more possibilities as you can play chords further up the fretboard. Let’s take a closer look at how to play them and how you can improve on them.

Why Should I Learn How To Barre Chords?

To put it simply, it’s going to make you a better ukulele player. If you have made it this far into the post, chances are, you want to improve your playing.

You will gain a whole lot of strength in your fingers. This will help you tenfold when it comes to playing intricate songs that need fast chord changes. You may find yourself playing a song high up on the fretboard. During a small musical break, it might be appropriate to fill that void with a chord. Instead of going all the way down the neck, wouldn’t it be great if we could play a chord exactly where we are?


Another benefit of barre chords is the change in tone from regular chords. They also allow you to be way more experimental with your strumming. Lifting your fretting fingers lightly off the strings while strumming will create the chucking sound. We can add more flair to our chords by incorporating this percussive sound. 

3 Tips To Improve Barre Chords

Now we know the basics of what they are and how to play them. Let’s crack on with it and start improving your technique.

Don't Press So Hard!

Something I see so often with beginner ukulele players trying to master barre chords. Their knuckles are turning white due to how much strain they are applying to the strings. Doing that gives you less control of your fingers as they become super stiff.
 

If that sounds like you, I want you to take your fingers off the fretboard. Instead of applying all your strength with your first finger, you need to transfer it into your thumb. That might sound counter-intuitive, but the truth is most of the structure of a barre chord is built around the thumb. Make sure your thumb is placed bang in the middle of the neck, that’s going to spread the pressure out evenly.

pressing strings hard ukulele barre chords

If you get your thumb in the right position it will make fretting the chords so much easier. That’s half of the battle won.

Start In The Middle Of The Fretboard

So your thumb is on point and doing everything it should do. Now it’s time to make a chord.
 
Chances are, the first barre chord you came across would have been a B Major. It’s the only basic chord that is a barre chord. To play that you need to barre all the strings on the 2nd fret. In all honesty, it’s an awful chord to start your barre chord journey on. That’s because it’s so close to the nut of the ukulele. The tension in the strings is high and it’s so much harder to fret the notes.
 
When you are practising. I would like you to only play barre chords around the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th frets. This is where the strings feel the loosest. It’s going to feel much easier to play them and build your strength with the path of least resistance.
barre chords ukulele middle fretboard
It’s a mental win if anything. When it comes to attempting barre chords lower down the fretboard. You are going to be much more equipped.

Isolate The Notes

Your thumb is doing a grand job and you’re in the middle of the fretboard ready to whack them strings. You give it a strum and something does not sound right. You may hear some buzzing sounds or maybe some dead notes. That’s a sign that we need to adjust our hand position.
 
It’s important to note, these are very subtle and nuanced movements. Instead of strumming the whole chord, pluck each string individually. Listen out for the strings that are causing an issue and adjust your hand until you get a clean sound. 
pluck strings barre chords ukulele
This is going to feel very uncomfortable at first, there’s no other way around it. But you are training your hand to get into the right position. You are not going to see an overnight change, but give it a week or a month. I guarantee you are going to be better at playing barre chords.

Bonus Exercise

This fantastic exercise will not only build the strength needed in your thumb and first finger. It’s also going to improve the dexterity of your other fingers. 

We are going to play some scales. These kinds of exercise are common for increasing speed and great for warming up. We are going to hack them somewhat and combine them with our barre chord training.

You need to barre all the strings on the 4th fret and give that a strum. Then we are going to use the rest of our fingers to fret the notes while still holding that barre chord. Once we have done one scale, you are going to move to the 5th fret and repeat the same scale. Then on to the 6th and 7th. Once you have done four rounds of scales. Go back down the fretboard. Follow the tab below. Check out my guide to get up to speed on how to read ukulele tabs.

ukulele bar chords bonus exercise

Combining all three tips with the exercise above is going to have a profound effect on your playing. Your fingers might feel like they are on fire after the scale exercise. That’s a really good sign as it means you are working muscles that haven’t been trained yet.

Summary

Barre chords truly can be something that puts people off the ukulele or any instrument for that matter. Guitarists have an equally difficult if not harder time getting to grips with them. I urge you to stick with it though, even just a few weeks of practice and you will be well on the way to success with them.