OK, your kids can play the notes on the first few strings and they can play a few chords in first position. They’re excited, but they’re constrained. Let me tell you, the first giant leap out of the box on guitar involves two words – Barre Chords! Using a few primary shapes barre chords allow you cruise all over the guitar neck and play just about any chord your heart desires. F#7 – no problem with barre chords. Cmin – no problem with barre chords. Db – you got it – barre chords!

Before you jump in with the shapes of the chords it’s important to know the notes on those low strings as this will dictate the bass note of your barre chord. Have a look at Rob Pethel’s, Bass Line Scavenger Hunt.

This fun little exercise knocks off a lot of birds with one stone:
1. Teach your students the notes on the E string.
2. Get your kids playing bass lines.
3. Get the low-down on barre chords.
4. Build up speed and precision.

Bass Line Scavenger Hunt is at least a week’s worth (maybe 2 for those of you who are thinking lesson plan!). Next check out the motorcycle and the sidecar.

You need to build up barre chords from the bass note, to the power chord, the power chord with three fingers, the E major shape, to a barre chord. If some of your students have trouble, have them play the bass note. A great idea for classes with differing abilities!

Now it’s week 3 or 4 and you’ve got most of the makings of a barre chord. Lay it down.

You’re basically just adding a little more to the barre chord. Building it up incrementally is precisely the way to approach these chords.

Here’s where Rob ties it all together: Bass note, power chord, add the pinky, add the middle, lay it down…you’re done!

We’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend the icing on the cake – a few songs that were built with/for barre chords. Get your kids playing along to these simple, ultra-cool songs!

Stray Cat Strut

This bluesy/jazzy ’80s song (it doesn’t have to be old to be classic) with its descending chord progression will leave your guitar class begging for more. It’s one of the coolest chord progressions you can play on the guitar and you can breeze through it with barre chords!

Hotel California

Beloved by guitarists, Hotel California revolves around a simple progression not unlike Stray Cat Strut. The easiest way to play this song is if you can play barre chords on the E and A strings. If your guitar class is not up to the A string barre chords, no worries – save it for two weeks from now. Most of these chords can be played in an open position, so it will be a great intro to integrating barre chords.


You can play this song with open chords, but it’s an even better exercise when you play it with barre chords. The song is very straight forward and allows students to switch from C major to C minor. If you play the whole song with the bass on the E string, your guitar students will have a chance to shift from major to minor and see what a difference one finger can make! BTW – if you give your young guitarists the chords and lyrics, be sure to cross out certain words.