Click here to download a PDF file of Intro to Barre Chord Theory.

Because barre chords are like creating a temporary capo with our index finger, this means we are playing a known chord with the rest of our fingers. The most common shape barre chord is the E Shape. Normally the E chord is played with fingers 1, 2, and 3 like this:

But we need to “free up” our index finger to use as a temporary capo, so we will use fingers 2, 3, and 4 like this:

Next we will slide our new E chord shape up one fret, then place our index finger across all strings in the FIRST fret. This will give us the major chord that is one half step higher than the E chord, the F chord. Below is how we play the F chord as an “E shape barre chord”.
F Barre Photo

We can take this same shape and ascend by one fret at a time, or half step increments. The pictures below show how the E shape barre chord in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th frets create the F#, G, G# and A major chords respectively:

F#

G

G#

A

Any way we modify an E chord, we can modify the E shape, and alter the barre chord accordingly. By leaving off the finger on the third string, we change the E major to an Em. We can apply this to the E shape barre chords. Sometimes we will call this the “Em shape”. Look at the images below:

E Major

E Major

Em

Em

Fm

Fm (Em shape in the 1st fret)

Gm

Gm (Em shape in the 3rd fret)

Am

Am (Em shape in the 5th fret)