The F Chord

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Well, you’ve finally made it to the F chord, your first barre chord and the most notorious chord of them all around beginners’ circles.

I’ll tell you straight away - MOST of you will struggle with this! It will probably take you weeks, if not a few months, to master this chord. Of course, playing it well is one thing, but you’ve also got to be able to change into and out of it. That’s why I’ve tried to introduce it pretty early on in Grade 2. The sooner you start working on this one, the better!

The “Barre” Chord

You know what they say - you never forget your first barre chord.

A barre chord is so named because your first finger lays all the way down, barring across all of the strings. Essentially, your first finger acts as the nut of your fretboard, moving it up to whichever fret you’re barring across.

With the F chord, you’ve got your 1st finger barring across the 1st fret, and your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers are playing individual notes. If you look at the chord shape in front of the barre, you’ll notice that it’s the same as an E chord shape, just fingered differently.

Try playing an E chord using your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers. Then, move the entire shape up one fret and barre the 1st fret with your 1st finger.

When you add the barre on the 1st fret, you’re shifting everything in your Open E Shape chord up by one fret, or one semitone. Therefore, an E chord moved up one semitone becomes an F chord.

With the F chord, there are a few positioning challenges that come up. A lot of this will be a matter of seeing what feels right for you, what works with your own anatomy, how you interact with your specific guitar, etc. Here are a few tips to get you started.

The Curve of Your 1st Finger

Since you’re fretting three of the middle strings, your 1st finger really only needs to hit the thickest string and the thinnest two strings, which is great because it’s very difficult to play all six strings with just one finger!

To ensure you’re getting the best sound out of those barred strings, instead of laying your 1st finger down completely flat and straight on, you should be leaning it slightly over to its side. Stay aware of where your knuckles and the fleshy parts of your finger sit on the strings. Experiment a bit and position your finger wherever you find you get the best sound and the most relaxed hand position. This might look different from someone else’s barre chord positioning, and that’s just fine! One thing to be aware of, though - try not to place the first finger so high up that it hangs over the top of the fretboard by more than 1cm (half an inch) - ideally it should be only just over the edge of the fretboard.

Rolling Over

When practising the F chord, place your barre down first, and then add the other fingers onto the strings. If you notice your fingers leaning over a bit while doing this, that’s totally alright. Your fingers aren’t used to this shape yet, and again, you’ve got to find a position that feels comfortable to you as well as produces the best sound.

Once you’ve got all of your fingers in place, pick out each string individually to see that each one is ringing out. Then, strum the whole chord.

Yikes!!

Ok, don’t panic if your first F chord sounds terrible. It likely WILL sound terrible! This is just one of those things where it’ll get better with time, persistence, and patience. You’ve literally got to build up some muscles in your hand for this chord to work properly, especially that muscle between your 1st finger and thumb. If you find your hand muscles a little sore, that’s pretty normal - and a good thing!

Hand Position

To help find the perfect hand position for your anatomy, place your fingers on the strings in position (2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers first, and then the barred 1st finger), and then relax your hand and your arm. Pay attention to where you’re tensing up, where hurts, and where feels awkward. Wobble your arm around and try to find the place that feels most comfortable and then press again and see if it's working to get a clean chord. Again, we all come in different shapes and sizes, so you’ve got to focus on what works and doesn’t work for you, specifically.

It can take time to find the right place for you! The beginning stages of most things can be a struggle, but you’ve just got to remember that it will get better through time and practice.

The Angle of the Wrist

Another thing to pay attention to is the angle created at your wrist. Once you’ve got your fingers in position on the strings, you may notice that your wrist is nearly at a 90-degree angle. This isn’t great, as it can be bad for your tendons (the muscle that control your fingers are in your forearm and the tendons all pass through the 'carpal tunnel' in your wrist and can rub when the wrist is too bent and cause 'carpal tunnel syndrome!).

To soften that angle, try simply bringing your elbow back slightly. In doing this, your arm can actually help relieve some of the strain and pressure from your hand by pulling back on the strings. I mirror or a selfie camera can help with this!

Arm Pull

Another trick for getting good pressure with the fingers without training that muscle between thumb and first finger is to pull back a little with the arm. It should not contribute more than about 10% of the pressure, but that little contribution can really help!

Rotating the Wrist

When fretting your F chord, take a look at where your thumb is on the neck of your guitar. With the right position, you can use your hand anatomy to create a lever which will help press the strings down harder and with less effort!

Move your thumb higher up on the neck so that it’s more in line with your 2nd finger rather than your 1st. This rotates the wrist towards you, but it helps create some pressure against the strings. This means your 1st finger doesn’t have to work so hard.

Be Patient!

There's a lot to think about eh! Just a quick recap:

  • Position fingers first, then the barre
  • Explore the best position of the barre to avoid soft fleshy bits of the finger
  • Roll the barre slightly onto the side
  • Check your wrist angle!
  • Pull back slightly with your arm to help get pressure.
  • Check the thumb position and explore the lever effect.
  • Make sure you regularly relax your arm to find the perfect finger position for your anatomy!

Finally - and I know I’ve said it already but it bears repeating - be patient with yourself! This is NOT one of those chords that you’ll pick up immediately, and even once you can play it well, you’ve got to be able to play it within a song, shifting in and out of it as effortlessly as you’re able to with your open chords. You’ve got to give your hand time to strengthen up and get familiar with the positioning.

This one is a long play... you'll be working on it a while, so be cool with that... and in the meantime - I have some cheats fo you!

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