How to play A-major with one finger (barred on 2nd fret)

Lesson #46 • Feb 13, 2017

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Editor’s notes

This lesson will show you how to play the A-major chord with a single finger (through barring the 2nd fret with your index finger). I’ll show you exactly how to play the chord like this, what the benefits of using this technique are, and when it should & should not be used. Finally, I’ll play through a handful of song snippets that show this in action.

Here’s the songs I play in this lesson that demo this technique:

  • 4:15 Jack and Diane (simple)
  • 5:21 All Along the Watchtower
  • 6:56 Boogie-woogie riff
  • 7:48 Fall Line by Jack Johnson
  • 9:02 Turtles all the Way Down by Sturgill Simpson
  • 10:14 Freeway Time in LA County Jail
  • 11:19 Jack and Diane (advanced)

How to play the A-chord with one finger

When you were a new to guitar, you probably learned to play the A chord by playing the 5 thinnest strings like this:

E ––––0––––                                  E ––––0––––
B ––––2––––  <-- l. ring finger              B ––––2––––  <-- l. ring finger
G ––––2––––  <-- l. middle finger     or     G ––––2––––  <-- l. index finger  
D ––––2––––  <-- l. index finger             D ––––2––––  <-- l. middle finger
A ––––0––––                                  A ––––0––––
E –––––––––                                  E –––––––––
      A                                            A

The technique above is well and good! In this lesson, though, I’d like to show how you can play this same chord by only using a single finger (i.e., your index finger). Specifically, like this:

E ––––x––––  <-- muted, don't play
B ––––2––––  <-- l. index finger, barred
G ––––2––––  <-- l. index finger, barred
D ––––2––––  <-- l. index finger, barred
A ––––0––––
E –––––––––
      A

In this approach, you’re barring your index finger to play the same three notes you’d ordinarily push down with three separate finger tips. By “barre” I mean you’re using the side/underside of your index finger, which is draped upon the 2nd fret in this case. See my video lesson for a demonstration.

The benefits of playing A-major like this

There are three reasons that this technique is a good one to have in your skillset:

1. It can be easier to switch to & switch from

Because you’re only using a single finger to play all the notes, this position can be quite fast to switch to, and switch from. This is super helpful when you’re playing a song with difficult chord transitions: instead of transitioning into (or out of) a traditional A-major that needs 3 of your finger tips, you can switch to this version which only needs one finger. Furthermore, chords that are used along with A-major (such as B-minor) have a similar index-finger barre position on the 2nd fret… so very often you’ll have fingers in that neighborhood already.

2. It frees up your other fingers for flourish notes

Specifically: your middle, ring, and pinky fingers are now free to play additional notes to add variety to your songs. This is mainly done on the middle four strings between the 3rd and the 5th fret. In my video lesson for this technique, I show 4-5 examples of this in action.

3. It develops barre chord strength

If you haven’t yet mastered the B-minor or F-major barre chords yet, practicing this A-major technique will build up some crucially vital barre chord muscles you’ll need to play those more difficult chords. As such, this technique will do you great favors in the long run.

When not to use this chord

There’s a few reasons when you’ll want to stick to a regular 5-string A-major chord. These all come down to times when you’ll need any of the 3 thinnest strings to be played open (i.e., with no frets depressed). This is quite hard (impossible) to do when your finger is barring the 2nd fret. Specifically, these are are the chords you’ll want to approach from the “regular” A position:

E ––––0–––0–––0–––––
B ––––2–––2–––0–––––
G ––––2–––0–––2–––––
D ––––2–––2–––2–––––
A ––––0–––0–––0–––––
E ––––––––––––––––––
      A   A7  Asus2

Note how they all have one (or more) of the thinnest 3 strings “open” (i.e., with a “0” as the fret you play).

Song examples using this technique

As shown in my video lesson, here are some snippets of songs that use this variety of A-chord. This is just scratching the surface! Again, you could use this technique in nearly any song that needs an A-chord, if you wanted.

Jack and Diane (simple)

By John Mellencamp. This is for the recognizable chorus part of “Oh yeah, life goes on / Long after that thrill of living is gone”.

E ––––2––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––3––––2–––––––––2–––––
G ––––2––––2––––0––––2–––––
D ––––0––––2––––0––––2–––––   ...repeat
A –––––––––0––––2––––0–––––
E ––––––––––––––3––––––––––
      D    A    G    A

All Along the Watchtower

Originally by Bob Dylan, but also applies to the Jimi Hendrix cover. “There must be some kind of way out of here,” etc.

E –––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––3––––2–––––––––2–––––
G ––––4––––2––––0––––2–––––
D ––––4––––2––––0––––2–––––   ...repeat
A ––––2––––0––––2––––0–––––
E ––––––––––––––3––––––––––
      Bm   A    G    A

Boogie Woogie bassline

Generic, recognizable riff here.

E –––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B –––2–––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
G –––2–––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
D –––2–––|––––––––––2–––4–––5–––4–––2–––––––   ...repeat
A –––0–––|–––0–––4–––––––––––––––––––––4––––
E –––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
     A

Fall line

By Jack Johnson. “Because we fell across that fall line / ain’t there nothing sacred anymore,” etc.

E –––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B –––2–––|––––––2–––––––2–––––––2––––––2––––
G –––2–––|––––––2–––––––2–––––––2––––––2––––
D –––2–––|–––2––2––––4––4––––5––5–––4––4––––   ...repeat
A –––0–––|––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E –––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
     A

Turtles All the Way Down

By Sturgill Simpson. This is the verse E and A riffs.

E –––0––––––––––––0–––––––––––
B –––0–––––––––0–––––––0––––––
G –––1–––1––2–––––––––––––2–––
D –––2––––––––––––––––––––––––   ...play twice
A –––2––––––––––––––––––––––––
E –––0––––––––––––––––––––––––
     E

E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B –––2–––––––––2––3––––2––––––
G –––2–––2––4–––––––––––––4–––
D –––2––––––––––––––––––––––––   ...play twice
A –––0––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
     A

Freeway Time in LA County Jail

By Sublime. Listen to the intro to this song to hear these parts. View my full video lesson which includes a link to get my sheet music for this song.

E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
G ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
D ––––2–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––2–––––
A ––––2––––2––4––––4––2––––2––––––––––2–––––
E ––––0––––0––0––––0––0––––0––––3h4–––0–––––
      E

E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
G ––––2–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––2–––––
D ––––2––––2––4––––4––2––––2––––––––––2–––––
A ––––0––––0––0––––0––0––––0––––3h4–––0–––––
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
      A

Jack and Diane (advanced)

By John Mellencamp again. This is for the instrumental part after each chorus.

  E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
  B ––––2–––3–––2–––3/5––––––––3–––3–––3/5––––
  G ––––2–––2–––2–––2/4––––––––2–––2–––2/4––––
  D ––––2–––4–––2–––4/6––––––––4–––4–––4/6––––
  A ––––0–––0–––0–––0––––––––––0–––0–––0––––––
  E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
        A

  E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
  B ––––2–––3–––2–––3/5––––––––3–––3–––2––––––
  G ––––2–––2–––2–––2/4––––––––2–––2–––2––––––
  D ––––2–––4–––2–––4/6––––––––4–––4–––2––––––
  A ––––0–––0–––0–––0––––––––––0–––0–––0––––––
  E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
        A

Thanks!

I hoped this helped. Have questions? Let me know!

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