View Full Version : Barring at fret 1 is very hard - ideas?

01-08-2018, 05:05 AM
Hello, this is actually the third in a series of posts I made about my problems trying (and failing) to barre the first fret. Sorry for clutter :(

I've been struggling to barre the first fret on my uke, a Kala solid acacia concert, for a while. Many have suggested high nut action to be the issue, so I went to get my uke set up and have it lowered. It does make a difference, but the first fret is still very hard on my index finger, and it's eluding me. I know it's likely down to an issue of practice and building up finger strength at this point, but I have been working at it for a while without much progress...

Since barring gets harder the closer you are to the nut, it seems that other players who have the same issue build strength by barring their way up the fretboard (for example: 6544 Db --> 5433 C --> 4322 B --> 3211 Bb). However, I have hit a brick wall going from the second fret (which is very easy for me) to the first. I'm honestly perplexed that it's really that much harder.

Besides continuing to grind at it, is there anything that would help? I really don't want to end up hurting myself.

(My strings are Aquila Supernylgut and I've not tried any others, so I don't know how they compare in tension to what other players use... would lower tension strings help? And what are their advantages/disadvantages?)

Uke Don
01-08-2018, 05:45 AM
Two suggestions: First, try rolling your index finger slightly toward the head stock. That may allow you to put more direct pressure on the strings. Second, Southcoast strings sells some low tension strings that might help http://southcoastukes.com/uku-nw.htm. The LU set is about the lowest tension you can go on a concert. I'm sure they would help. I use them on my all acacia tenor and they are the best match I've found tone-wise for this uke. Very easy on the fingers.

01-08-2018, 05:53 AM
I also find the 1st fret the most difficult to barre also. Pressing down on the barred index finger with the middle finger helps too.

01-08-2018, 05:59 AM
Since you've already lowered the action at the nut, I would definitely suggest trying different brands of strings. Lower tension should definitely help. In addition to that, different brands and materials of strings have a very different feel to them. I always found Aquila Nylgut to feel hard and sharp, others feel softer and smoother to me.

You could also lower the tension by using a lower tuning. Many here tune their ukes down one or two steps (F Bb D G instead of GCEA).

And like you say, a lot of it comes with training those darn chords over and over again. Suddenly, it will feel natural.

01-08-2018, 06:26 AM
The first fret can be a little tricky. Try moving your thumb toward the headstock so it is between your barre and the headstock. This can increase the leverage and give you a cleaner sound. Make sure your thumb is on the back of the neck and not wrapped around the neck. There isn’t much room at the first fret, but see if this helps.

01-08-2018, 07:38 AM
I have found that this phenomenon can vary greatly between instruments. Some ukes are just easy at the first fret while others can be more difficult. If your action has already been adjusted, then your instrument is probably close to as forgiving as it will ever be at the first fret.

You might try using a different part of your index finger for the barre. Everyone's finger is shaped differently, with a profile of pads and creases for your flesh and knuckle bones. You can shit your finger back and forth to align the strings underneath the fleshy pads, where hopefully they will not buzz. I find I have greatest success if I use the fleshy pad on my first index finger segment (closest to my palm) for the A and E strings, and the next segment for the C and G strings. This means the tip of my finger sticks out past the G string side of the fretboard quite a bit.

Experiment until you find the position/pressure that works for you and then practice it.

01-08-2018, 09:03 AM
It is easier and quicker to barre all four strings rather than a smaller number so if you are trying to play B flat with a partial barre you might struggle at this stage. Partial barres are important in due course but not when forming basic barre chords.

When barring all four strings use the side of your index finger closest to your thumb where the bone is closer to the skin surface.

01-08-2018, 10:18 AM
As MopMan pointed out, everyone's finger is different. There are a variety of techniques for increasing contact between finger and strings and for increasing finger pressure without simply squeezing harder. Here are links to a couple videos that I've found to be helpful:

Uke Don
01-08-2018, 10:45 AM
Both excellent videos.

01-08-2018, 10:52 AM
Best way when learning new chords is by play them with thumb. Better even if no thumb nail. If you just strum with index finger, you might not notice if all strings are pressed down. So practice with 1111 until all the notes sound clear. the Bbm7 chord. While it is not in many keys needed, I use it in one key Ab, at least. But that is not the point here to you, just use it as a practice chord.

Takes more force of course than pressing with fingertips from your index finger all this. Your thumb has to support it behind the neck as a counter balance.

1st fret is not easiest, but if you can't get it after practice, try play it really close to 1st fret etc you have been already told, then it could be that your nut action is still high. Bb7 and B7 are quite important chords, though the latter can be replaced with with 4320.

But as I told try get 1111 chord sound clear when thumb strumming, just my advice :)

01-08-2018, 01:15 PM
when I first started I had the same problem. To make it work I was doing some crazy stuff in terms of fingerings, stacking fingers, etc.

I kept practicing and then one day, as if by magic, it worked. So keep practicing. However here a few things I found helpful.

1. I assume we're talking about the Bb major chord when we're talking about the first fret. So, first of all, barre the entire fret.
2. I was pressing harder and harder, rolling my finger to the side, moving the finger laterally, changing the thumb position...all that became needless once I received one piece of advice: don't fight gravity. Your hand wants to fall to the ground. Let it, in a way. Fret the entire fret, but instead of trying to crush the strings into the fretboard with the muscles of your phalanges, let the weight of the hand pull it downwards or even pull downwards a tiny bit. For me, that one trick instantaneously fixed my problems.

01-08-2018, 11:20 PM
Hello everyone, thanks for all your advice :) I swapped out my strings for something with lower tension - Purple Aurora strings by aNueNue, a Taiwanese brand. The strings are suppler and more forgiving than my old ones and I'm happy with the sound. Barring the first fret is still a lot harder than the rest of the fretboard, but it is a lot more doable now. Finally conquered Bb, Db and Gb - yay!

01-09-2018, 01:06 AM
Just thought I'd chime in. I've read here and other places that's what zero frets are for. Is it too late to have one put in this uke?
Or is it even cost effective?
Anyway, I'm glad it's better for you now.

01-09-2018, 02:06 AM
I think that all of the posts have contained good advise, but when you get right down to it, barr chords are hard, and barring the first fret is the hardest. It just takes time. Maybe a lot of time. Some things just aren't easy, and that is one of them. I try not to get discouraged by things that are hard to do by realizing that it is hard for everyone.

01-09-2018, 02:16 AM
I think that all of the posts have contained good advise, but when you get right down to it, barr chords are hard, and barring the first fret is the hardest. It just takes time. Maybe a lot of time. Some things just aren't easy, and that is one of them. I try not to get discouraged by things that are hard to do by realizing that it is hard for everyone.

Bravo Rolli, you nailed it. Kinda like hitting a high soft landing flop shot in golf. It is very difficult and the only way to get there is lots of practice

01-09-2018, 04:16 AM
I would take the Bb fretting, and slide it up the neck to the 5th fret. That's a D chord. Practice there until you master it. Then go down the neck to the 3rd fret thats a C chord. Master that and then return to the Bb and it will be a piece of cake. The theory is that the closer to the middle of the fretboard, the 5th fret, it is easier to barre due to less tension. Be patient, if it was easy everybody could do it. And enjoy the journey. Good luck and remember to practice.