Barre chords are notoriously difficult for the beginning guitarist. Now that I can finally, and to my own amazement, barre cleanly, I can tell you that it’s because barre chords are taught poorly. There’s no reason I shouldn’t have been able to barre perfectly from the very beginning, except that the critical information I needed was found in only a single source: Frederic Hand’s Classical Guitar Technique and Musicianship. Hand recommends two things that instantly fixed my barring technique: hyperextend the barring finger and place it straight down on the strings, without flexing it and without rolling or curving the finger to either side. This works every time for me.
Before this revelation months ago, I was subject to all manner of confusing recommendations. The Parkening Guitar Method recommends pressing “somewhat on the side of the finger” and stresses “position” of the finger over “pressure.” Numerous internet resources also recommend pressing on the “bony side” (physicians call this the “lateral” or “medial” side) of the finger instead of “with the flesh” (volar side). Pumping Nylon, the classical guitarist’s technique handbook par excellence, mentions various useful things like using the whole weight of the arm to barre instead of just squeezing with your finger and thumb (your fingers tire quickly if you don’t use your arm!). It also mentions releasing tension whenever possible, squeezing only the strings necessary for the notes you want to produce, curving your barring finger for certain chords. Et cetera. Some resources style the difficulty of the barre as a rite of passage: when you figure it out, things will progress more quickly, they promise. Others recommend a tincture of time: you’re a beginner, after all. It’s okay if you squeak or buzz when you barre! With more experience, you’ll get it…
But I still buzzed, squeaked, or muted notes occasionally when I barred. None of the sources I reviewed mention the straightforward method Hand recommends and which worked instantly for me. It worked because it stopped me from flexing my finger ever so slightly, which is what produced the buzz, squeak, or muted note. It was a discrete leap, a 0/1, on/off thing, fueled by correct knowledge alone (not by strength, not by experience) to a new, satisfying level of skill.
The best way to learn is to have a personal instructor or coach. Even one-on-one instructors, though, can’t identify every problem that arises. They are only human. One must supplement with other sources of information. The bar of quality for these other, depersonalized educational strategies, such as books, articles, lectures, and videos, is so effectively low that syntopical browsing, as I did for barre chords, is often necessary to fill critical gaps in knowledge!