Here’s the thing about the F chord: it’s hard to play.
In fact, the F chord is so hard to play that many beginner guitar players avoid it entirely.
I’ve taught thousands of guitar lessons in my life, and I can’t count how many times a student asked if we could just skip the F chord.
But the painful truth is that every beginner guitar player needs to learn the F chord.
In this lesson, I’m going to show you…
- How to warm-up for the F chord
- How to play the F chord
- How to play F chord variations
Let’s dive in.
Skip this at your own risk…
When I started playing guitar, I struggled with the F chord…but, that doesn’t mean you have to!
Everyone learns at different speeds, and I’ve seen some of my students able to play an F chord right away, while others need more time and practice to play it.
One of the biggest challenges of playing the F chord is the barring aspect of it.
I covered barring in my Bm chord lesson, but I’ll go over it again in the context of the F chord.
If you’re having trouble remembering chords and finding a way to practice chords, I just want to mention my online guitar lesson plan called Tony’s Acoustic Challenge.
I’ll talk details later, but for now, let’s warm up to play the F chord!
F Chord: Warming Up
The F chord requires using your index finger extensively.
Because the index finger will be stretching across all six strings, you need to make sure it is limber and strong.
Through this F chord exercise — which is useful for all barre chords — you’re going to…
- Get your index finger comfortable with the pressure of the strings
- Discover where the best points of contact on your index finger are
- Experiment with your index finger placement
When you place your index finger across all six strings on the first fret, try to roll your finger so that you’re playing with the outside of your finger.
If you use the soft pads of your finger, you won’t have as much string contact.
Feel free to experiment with your finger placement as you move through the exercise.
In addition, I want you to use your other fingers to help the index finger apply pressure on the strings.
While strength in the index finger is important, the goal with the exercise is to find comfort and familiarity with your index finger barring across all six strings.
As you start the exercise, treat your index finger as a button: you apply pressure and then release pressure.
Using all downstrokes, start by placing your index finger across all six strings, like a barre.
- Apply downward pressure on the low E string. Then, pluck that string.
- Without moving your index finger, apply pressure again, focusing specifically on the A string. Then, pluck the A string.
- Again, don’t move your index finger. Rather, keep it focused on staying on the first fret.
Continue fretting each string and plucking them one at a time.
By performing this exercise, you’re going to get a feel of how much pressure is needed to actually barre across all six strings.
To continue with the exercise, move up the neck of the guitar one fret at a time.
As you move forward, you might notice that it gets increasingly harder to barre across all six strings.
That’s because the tension on the strings decreases as you move up the neck.
After performing this exercise a few times, you should be feeling more comfortable and confident with your index finger.
Now that you’re warmed up, let’s move onto the basic F chord shapes!
How to Play the F chord
As you learn the F chord, the key is to not get frustrated and remember to manage your tension (click here to learn my 4 guitar-technique check-ins!).
The other thing to keep in mind is perspective.
Remember how difficult it was learning the G chord or D chord?
The F chord will be just as difficult, but you have the added advantage of perspective, ie. you know it takes practice to learn chords, and, eventually, you can learn the F chord.
The first F chord I’ll show you is the most standard — but also the hardest — F chord shape (I’ll get to easier shapes later, I promise!).
This F chord shape takes a good amount of finger strength because you can’t rely on any open strings.
If the chord diagram above doesn’t make any sense to you, be sure to check out my chord diagrams video lesson here.
Now, you might be asking yourself what that barre across the 1st fret is. Don’t worry! That barre represents what your first finger is going to do.
You see, in a barre chord (such as the F chord), you use your index finger to fret across multiple strings.
In the case of the F chord, you’ll need to barre all of the strings on the first fret. The barring aspect of the F chord is usually where guitar players have trouble — go back to the warm-up if you’re having trouble!
Additionally, make sure that you are playing on the tips of your fingers (except for the barring index finger). Keep an arch in your fretting fingers to ensure that you play with the tips of your fingers for the F chord.
If you’re having trouble barring across the first fret, there are a variety of things you can do to make it a little easier.
How to Make the F chord Easier
Check your Action
First, let me define what action is:
Action is the height of the strings above the fretboard.
With that being said, if the action is high, that means the strings are higher above the fretboard — consequently, it takes more pressure to fret the strings.
If action is low, that means the strings sit closer to the fretboard — meaning it takes less pressure to fret the strings.
For barre chords like the F chord, having low action will make it easier to play.
There are downsides to having high action and low action, so the goal is to find the sweet spot.
If you haven’t had your guitar set-up by a local music store or luthier, I recommend you do that ASAP! It’ll make your guitar easier to play in the long run.
If you want to try adjusting the action yourself, be sure to watch my video on changing your guitar’s action.
Change your Strings
If you don’t know the last time the strings were changed, chances are you should change them. Old strings can hurt your fingers more, and they have a fairly muted tone.
As you go looking for a new set of strings, try looking for light-gauge strings. By this, I mean strings that have a string gauge of .010 or .012.
Typically, you can tell the music store salesman, “I’m looking for a set of 10s or 12s for acoustic guitar,” and they’ll know exactly what you mean.
Having lighter-gauge strings means they’ll be easier to play. They’ll be less thick and, usually, have less tension — perfect for playing barre chords like the F chord!
When you’re back home to change your strings, be sure to check out this video lesson where I explain how to change guitar strings.
Practice Playing Other Barre Chords
One of the reasons the F chord is difficult to play is because it’s positioned on the 1st fret of your guitar. A good rule of thumb to remember is as follows: the lower the fret, the higher the string tension.
It takes tremendous finger strength to barre across the first fret. But, I want you to try something really quick…
Move the F chord shape up to the 5th fret of your guitar.
Did you notice that it takes less pressure to press down on the strings at the 5th fret? That’s because of the rule of thumb I mentioned earlier.
If you need to, try practicing your barre chords higher up on the neck. If you’re playing the F chord shape on the 5th fret, you’ll actually be playing an A chord.
But, as you get more familiar with the F chord shape on the 5th fret, you can bring it back down to the 1st fret to play the F chord.
An Easier F Chord [with No Barring]
As you try playing this chord, you may notice that it has some different qualities than the first F chord I showed you.
One of the biggest differences is that the lowest note is a C, rather than an F.
As a result, this easier version of the F chord starts on the fifth scale degree of F, rather than starting on F itself.
Some people like having the root of the chord in the bass note, but if you can’t barre across, this F chord variation is a great solution.
If you are looking for a version of the F chord that is even easier than the one above, look no further than this variation:
The difference between the first easy F chord variation and this one lies in the omission of the A string.
Instead of having a C bass note, we’re using the F note on the 3rd fret of the D string.
With this F chord, there are fewer bass notes built into the chord, so it sounds lighter.
Some guitar players may not mind that, while others will really miss those bass notes.
The tricky thing about this F chord variation is muting both the low E and A strings.
You can use the pad of your ring finger to mute the A string, but this can be a challenging technique for beginner guitar players.
If you’re having trouble muting the low E and A strings, you can focus on starting your strum on the D string, or really focus on muting the A string with your ring finger.
F Chord Trouble Spots
Memory and Muscle Memory Problems
Many of my students worry that they take too long to form the F chord.
Fortunately, I have a super-simple exercise that can help develop muscle memory. It involves just enough pressure to help your muscles move into the F chord position quickly.
I’ve talked about the quick draw exercise in my other chord lessons, but I’ll explain it here again.
- Start by placing your fretting hand on your thigh or anywhere away from the fretboard.
- Slowly, countdown from five.
- In those five seconds, move your fretting hand to the fretboard and form the F chord.
- If you’re having trouble getting there in five seconds, don’t be afraid to change the time interval to seven or even 10 seconds.
I know the quick draw exercise seems simple, but it totally works.
Because there is built-in time pressure, your fingers need to move efficiently to get to the F chord shape.
As you feel more comfortable with the quick draw exercise, you can decrease the time interval to four, three, or two-second intervals.
Ideally, you’ll be building the muscle memory needed to play the F chord efficiently.
Finger Strength Issues
As I said earlier, it takes a lot of finger strength to play the F chord.
You might be tempted to get a hand-strengthening machine, but DO NOT GET ONE!
A more effective way to build strength in your fingers is to practice every day, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day.
I wrote about how daily, 10-minute practice sessions can transform your playing, so be sure to check that article out!
Don’t forget to practice the F chord shape higher-up on the neck like at the 5th or even 7th fret.
The tension in these areas of the fretboard is lower, which makes barring across the fretboard easier.
The Buzzing B String
When you play the F chord, and you notice buzzing from your B string, that either means you don’t have enough arch in your middle finger or your index finger isn’t applying enough pressure for the barre chord.
Let me break it down…
Having an arch in your fingers is crucial. It prevents injury to the joints while also having you play on the tips of your fingers.
If you play with the meaty pads of your fingers, you’ll end up muting other strings adjacent to the one you’re trying to fret.
As far as the finger strength for barring goes, it just takes time and practice. Again, I want to emphasize how important playing every day for 10 minutes a day is.
This is a great way to build the habit of practicing guitar while making progress in your guitar journey.
Make Even More Progress in Your Guitar Journey
Earlier, I mentioned something called Tony’s Acoustic Challenge…now, you might be wondering what that has to do with learning the F chord.
Well, Tony’s Acoustic Challenge is a daily practice program designed to help guitar players achieve their goals — including playing the F chord.
Whether it’s playing for your children, grandchildren, your spouse, or at an open-mic night, Tony’s Acoustic Challenge can help you get there.
There are daily practice exercises and lesson modules on everything from acoustic blues to banjo picking patterns for the guitar.
Additionally, there’s a robust community of guitar geeks ready to troubleshoot and share their acoustic journey progress.
If you’re ready to start your acoustic journey, be sure to sign up for Tony’s Acoustic Challenge today!