The Ultimate Bar Chord Exercise

The Ultimate Bar Chord Exercise.

This is a challenging drill, that will help you get better at playing songs with bar chords.

This drill is not for you if you don’t know yet what bar chord are, if so, check here first:

Bar Chords
To Fret Or Not To Fret The Low E String on A Shape Bar Chords

If you already know the basics behind bar chords, read on.

Randomly write 4-bar (meaning: measure) chord progressions, 1 chord per bar.

For example:

Bb | Dbm | F#m | Ab ||

Write about 5 lines like this, each line is 4 measures long.

Be random, write quickly, don’t think while writing.
It is not supposed to sound musical. The more random you make the chords, the harder it is going to be to play, the more you’ll get out of the exercise.

Randomly make 2 of the chords major, and 2 minor.
Randomly make 2 chords b and 2 chords #

The logic behind this: if your brain gets trained to continually process 3 pieces of information (the letter, major/minor, #/b), your brain will more easily process chords that only contain 2 pieces of information (letter, major/minor)
In other words: if you add # or b to all 4 chords, your brain gets more training. It has to process more than if you have chords like C or Fm or Dm.

Even though you won’t practice chords without sharps or flats in this drill, those chords actually still get practiced as well.
The reason: if you have to read/play a C#m chord, not only are you aware of the Cm chord right next to it, but you think of the C#m chord as “Cm up a fret”.
Conclusion: practicing only bar chords with sharps and flats, is more effective and leads to stronger progress.
You get more out of your time.

The Exercise.

After you wrote about 5 lines: here’s what you do.

Find the E and the A shape bar chord versions for each chord.
You could play the E shape version first, followed by the A shape version of the same chord, or vice versa.
It doesn’t matter in which order.

Find one of the 2 versions, then hit the chord.
Then find the other version: hit that chord.

Move on to the next bar and do the same for that chord, then move on to the next bar, till you finished all 4 bars.
Keep repeating the whole line for 2 minutes.

Do this for every one of the 5 lines you wrote.
This adds up to a 10-minute daily drill.

If you want to get more practice or if you would like to get a lot better at this in a much shorter amount of time: play the 5 lines you came up with, a couple of times throughout the day.
However: follow the above directions closely. No more than 2 minutes per line, no more than 10 minutes in 1 session.
Do as many sessions as you can or as you’d like to, throughout the day.

The next day, write 5 new lines and do all of the above again.

Depending on how well you know the locations of the bar chords, you might be very slow with this.
You might have to count up and down the A and E strings at first, to figure where to place your bar.
No worries: that’s what the exercise is for. The progress lies in the struggle.

If you do this on a daily basis, after a while you will start memorizing the locations of some of the chords.

Next Level.

If your bar chord knowledge is pretty ok, you might be ready for this following drill.

1) Play downstrokes only, quarter notes,
2) Play the 2 chord shapes (E and A shape) for each chord in each bar
3) 2 hits per chord shape, each chord shape lasting half a bar.

For example, if the first bar says Dbm, I play 2 hits, downstrokes only on the Dbm from the Em shape barred on the 9th fret, followed without missing a beat, by 2 hits, downstrokes only, on the Dbm chord from the Am shape on the 4th fret. (Not necessarily in that order).

Your goal is to be able to play the whole 4-bar line this way, without missing a beat or missing a chord, at as slow a tempo as you need to.

Next Level: Do This Drill With a Metronome

Once you start feeling comfortable with the above, you could start doing this drill with a metronome.

Put your metronome for about 50bpm, and play the first line only, downstrokes (quarter notes) only.
The reason btw why you want to play such a simple, basic rhythm, is that the focus is on practicing bar chords, not rhythms.
You always want to simplify everything that doesn’t contribute to mastering the task at hand.
In this case: you’re trying to master bar chord knowledge, not rhythm skills.

It is essential that you don’t first take time to look at the line or mentally prepare the line.
If it is too easy, raise the tempo on your metronome, if it is too hard, slow down your metronome.

Over time, keep pushing your metronome to the point where you can effortlessly play any bar chord all over the fretboard at a minimum of 150bpm.
Doing this above exercise at this tempo: you know you completely mastered the ability to read chord charts with bar chords and you can pretty much strum any song in any key.

Practicing Enharmonic Chords

Also practice tricky examples like the following bar chord exercise:

|| D#m | Ebm | C# | Db ||

Play this above example first for about 2 minutes before you read on.

No reading further if you haven’t played the above example yet… keep playing. 🙂 (No cheating) 🙂

Did you notice the enharmonic chords?
Did you move your hand, only to find out that it was actually the same chord twice in a row?
How long did it take you before you realized you could just stay in the same location for both following chords?

Chord reading examples like the above throw off even higher intermediate students who think they know their bar chords really well.
These are “enharmonic chords”
The musical term “enharmonics”, means different note names for the same sound, chord, or scale.

For example:

1) the notes Gb and F#, or Db and C#
2) The chords Gb and F#, or Gbm and F#m, or Eb and D#
3) A C# major scale and a Db major scale. (2 scales, that are both named differently, and all 7 notes are named differently in both scales, yet both scales sound exactly the same)

Another example using the same chord letters like above:

|| C#m | Eb | D# | Dbm ||

Another challenging exercise:

|| E#m | Cb | Fbm | B# ||

In a way, this above example, somehow deals with enharmonics also, as E# is F, Cb is B, B# is C and Fb is E
It takes practice to not get lost reading these chords.


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