ArtistWorks Blog

Playing Barre Chords on Ukulele

barre cords on ukulele

Barre chords are an often discouraging part of learning ukulele, but they don’t have to be. All you need is the proper technique and few helpful tricks to get started on the right path to barre chord mastery.

Let’s take a look at finger placement and how to properly apply pressure on the fretboard.

Finger Placement and Applying Pressure

Take the index finger of the left hand and place it on the 5th fret, with the thumb waving off of the back of the neck. The index finger should be perpendicular to the fretboard and the remaining fingers should be relaxed, hovering above the fretboard.

Next, pull the fretboard towards your body, applying pressure your index finger while simultaneously pushing the body of the ukulele against your body with your right forearm. This creates a sort of “seesaw effect” which acts to balance the ukulele in an optimal position, and more importantly, it eliminates the need for heavy thumb pressure when using a barre.

That being said, we still need to briefly discuss what to do with the thumb, as there are times that the added leverage can be helpful. We’ll discuss this more in the next section.

barre chords on ukulele

Thumb Placement and Leverage

Place the thumb approximately 2 frets closer to the headstock than the index finger’s starting point, and make sure the thumb is parallel with the fretboard. For example, to execute a barre with the index finger at the 5th fret, the thumb will make contact behind the 3rd fret.

Notice how the leverage changes when the thumb is placed behind the barre and parallel to the fretboard. It creates a counterbalance and thus increases the leverage relative to the typical “pinch” technique in which the thumb is placed perpendicular to the neck, immediately behind the index finger.

Now that we’ve covered pressure and leverage, what about muffled strings? Let’s discuss an easy way to fix those barre chord blemishes.

Muffled String Troubleshooting

Keep in mind that requisite barre chord pressure and clarity of tone will always be affected by the setup of a given instrument. Instruments with lower action require less pressure to execute a full barre chord.

barre chords on ukulele

If you find that you’re still producing muffled notes after applying the aforementioned tips, simply move the index finger 1-2 millimeters towards the ceiling. This small, but important adjustment alters the contact points of the index finger so that the least fleshy areas are in contact with the strings, thereby reducing muffled strings.

As a final rule, try to apply about 80% of the pressure of the barre on the bottom two strings, as these are the ones with the most tendency to be muffled.

How to Practice Barre Chords

To practice proper form and clarity of tone, start by fretting the A string at the 5th fret and sound the string. If it sounds cleanly, barre the bottom two strings, but only sound the A string. If you’re still able to produce a clear tone, barre the bottom three strings, and repeat the same process. Finally, barre all four strings and play the high A string once more - this is a great way to “trick the hand” into applying a proper pressure across the fretboard.

Have fun practicing these tricks of the trade, and we hope to see you online at the Ukulele schoo here at ArtistWorks! 

barre chords on ukulele

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