In this guitar lesson, we will be going on an in-depth exploration on how to play the F major chord on guitar. The F major chord is the most difficult of all the guitar chords that are largely considered starter chords. It’s that pesky F major that causes the most trouble by far at that early stage and my aim is to provide you with valuable advice that will help you get past this tricky milestone and beyond.
If you aren’t familiar with at least half a dozen basic guitar chords, please read my lesson on the first guitar chords a beginner should learn first and then come back. I’m also assuming that you possess an understanding of how to read a basic guitar chord chart and how to correctly fret a chord so please ensure that you have that knowledge before continuing.
Below, we will be examining why the F major chord is so hard on guitar and why you’re struggling with it. We will also look at ways around this and also how to tackle the F major challenge head on. Then, at the end of the lesson, we will then look at even more ways to play an F major chord.
Why is the F major chord so hard on guitar?
The first thing we need to establish is why the F major chord is so hard to play on guitar. Many of you will already know the answer to this and to be honest, it’s not exactly an answer that requires the intellect of a brain surgeon.
The F major chord is so hard on guitar because it’s a barre chord. It’s a small barre, but it still a barre.
The chords that I consider to be the “beginner chords” are E major, A major, D major, E minor, A minor, D minor, G major, C major, and F major. Of all these 9 chords, The F is the only one with a barre and it’s the one that gets the most complaints. Spotting the connection isn’t particularly difficult.
So, it’s not the fact that the chord is an F that’s the problem. The problem is that the F happens to contain a barre and these barres cause beginner guitarists hell and cause many to simply give up all together.
What’s a barre?
Simply put, a barre is the practice of fretting two or more strings on the same fret with one finger. That finger therefore has a lot more work to do than it would if it were fretting just one string. The finger in question (typically the first or index finger) has to ensure that all the required strings are pressed down enough so that they ring out but for beginner guitarists, it’s the case that instead of notes ringing out, a clunkly unpleasant muted sound can be heard. This is where our problem lies.
The standard F major chord on guitar
Here is what the standard F major chord looks like on the guitar. I’m sure most of you will have seen it by now if you’re reading this guitar lesson.
As you can see by the chart, the first finger is having to press down on two strings at the first fret. It looks simple on paper but when you’re first starting out, getting both of those two strings to ring out nice and crisp feels impossible.
Sadly, the only way around this is to push through. You must keep practicing (with correct technique) and eventually, you come out on the other side.
I know I know, that sounds like “practice practice practice” but there are some things that you can do to relieve the frustration during the transition period though which we will look at in this article and there are also some technical tips and practice tips that we can explore too. The first thing that we’re going to explore is the concept of cheating.
How to play the F major chord on guitar without a barre
Are you having trouble with the barre in the F major chord? Well, what if we just deleted the barre from existence, leaving you with a simpler way of playing the chord? This isn’t just fantasy. We can actually do this quite easily. Take a look at this.
Problem solved! The barre has gone, and we still technically have an F major chord thanks to the fact that all the necessary notes are still there.
The problem with this shape is that the barre has disappeared, but the first finger now has a new job. As well as fretting that B string, the first finger must also touch the string below to mute it completely because we don’t want it to ring out. If it does ring out, we’d have a new type of F chord and that’s not what we’re looking for today.
I tried this out as an experienced player and I actually found it harder to mute than to barre. This is likely down to muscle memory, but it was an interesting observation and perhaps something to consider for the long term. If your finger is required to do two jobs, then maybe simply using the conventional shape is the better option.
We can build more F major chords like this. Here’s another F major chord that has no barre. The shape may look familiar to you.
Many will consider this shape to be even better because you’ve already learned it. Or at least, you should have. This is the same shape as the open D major chord only we’re not playing that open D string and we’ve moved the shape up the fretboard slightly. Another great option if you’re looking to avoid the barre.
Still a couple of these alternatives to go. Next, we have an F major guitar chord shape that lives higher up on the fretboard still. Take a look.
This is a four-finger chord that moves and adds to the classic open A major guitar chord shape. This is the least practical of the bunch and by far the least efficient due to its location, but it exists, and it does have uses, so I thought that I’d share it with you. Here’s another shape that shares these same characteristics.
This one uses less fingers and higher notes, creating a completely different sound/mood. I can confirm that this one can be very useful as the first piece of music that I composed used this same shape in an arpeggio format.
There’s just one more of these that I’d like to share. Take a look at this lovely F major chord shape.
This is a modification of a six string F major barre chord (more on that later). The modification is simple. I removed the barre, This shape is both practical and efficient and on top of that, it sounds pretty nice too but keep one thing in mind…..
The F major chords without a barre are not a license to avoid mastering the standard F major chord
I’ve provided you with the above alternatives to expand your chord vocabulary and to give you options. The intention of the above is not to help you avoid mastering the standard F major chord all together. My advice is to learn and use those shapes where appropriate, but you still must put in the work with the standard shape, and with barre chords in general. It will be a lot better for you in the long term.
I’m not going to leave things there though. Next, we shall look at a couple of valuable bits of advice that will help you to get the F major chord under your fingers. I have given these tips before, but in the context of mastering barre chords in general. Go here if you’d like to read that in depth lesson.
How to play the F major chord on guitar – Thumb position
My first tip relates to the position of the thumb on your fretting hand. Making a mistake with the thumb position can completely screw up the sound of your F major chord.
There are multiple approaches to the position of the thumb for this chord but what I recommend is that you try to place your thumb at the back of the neck, roughly where the top of the chord starts which is approximately in the centre. Millimetre precision isn’t required, you’ll find the spot with experimentation.
Correct thumb position means that the first finger that’s forming the barre isn’t having to work as hard. Your life becomes easier.
So, what about that barre itself? I’ll keep it simple. You want to keep the barre up close to the fret, just like any other notes you fret. You’ll want the barre to be quite parallel with the fret and you’ll want to ensure that the finger is actually pushing the strings down rather than just resting on them.
The barre itself shouldn’t be flat face down on the fretboard. You should tilt your barre slightly so that your fingernail is leaning more toward the headstock. You’ll find that this slight tilt makes the process a lot easier and a lot less painful for your finger and you’ll also find that it’s easier to get those pesky notes to ring out fully.
Another thing that I’d like you to do is be mindful of the wrist of your fretting hand. You will want to ensure that your wrist isn’t bent to a 45-degree angle or more. That will a) make playing harder and b) potentially cause a lot of pain and you don’t want that. You should try to keep your wrist to hand straighter rather than more bent. You won’t be able to keep the wrist straight perfectly all the time but be sure that you don’t bend it unnecessarily or past that 45-degree point. The wrist position is something that is often overlooked and neglected by guitarists and even guitar teachers. Getting your mindset right regarding your wrist will save you some pain later.
I’m now going to leave the basic technical advice there. Next, I’m going to tell you about a clever little hack that not all guitarists know about and the best part is, you can do it right away and it really works.
How to play the F major chord on guitar – using your strumming arm as a power up
I’ve talked about this little hack a couple of times here at Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat already. You won’t believe how useful this can be.
See how the arm of your strumming hand is resting on the guitar? Try pushing down on the front of the guitar slightly with that arm. That will kind of force the fretboard up into your fretting hand, taking some of responsibility away from those strained fingers. Think of it like a power boost. I still use this now when I’m playing long barre chord passages on acoustic guitar particularly, but this can be useful for beginner guitarists who’re trying to master that hard F major chord. Give it a try and see if it works for you.
You are now armed with some extra info on how to perform the F major chord on guitar so next, we’ll look at some neat ways in which you can practice the F major chord on guitar. This advice will assume that you’re not yet at the chord changing phase or song playing phase with the F major. This information will be helpful to those who are struggling to make that F major sound good/correct.
How to play the F major chord on guitar – using arpeggios
The first of my practice recommendations is something that I used myself back in the day and that is creating an arpeggio-based exercise. This approach will help you to focus on making each and every note ring out as clearly as the last and unlike strumming, it is painfully clear when you don’t have it right.
The best way to demonstrate this is with a little example. Here’s is a piece of TAB that I would typically give to someone in this situation.
The repeat instructions are a little tongue in cheek, but you get the point. A simple five bar exercise that focuses on clarity and precision.
This is an exercise that can be built on later to incorporate some chord changes, but that’s a subject for another day. For now, focus on the F alone and get that right.
How to play the F major chord on guitar – try using a capo
Next, we have an approach that I haven’t personally used. I have seen this approach used elsewhere though and I know it will be helpful to some.
What you need to do is take a capo (you’ll need a capo) and place it at a random fret. Let’s say, fret ten. Then, position your F major chord beside the capo and try it there. You may find that this is easier than in its original position down at frets 1, 2 and 3.
Then, once you can play it in the new position, move the capo down a couple of frets and repeat. Then, move the capo down another couple of frets and master the F major chord there. Eventually, you’ll arrive back at your original position with no capo at all. If you struggle at some point, try moving the capo back up a fret.
When you have the capo equipped, the chords won’t be F chords anymore but that doesn’t matter for the purposes of the exercise. You’re practicing the shape.
More ways to play the F major chord on guitar
This lesson on how to play the F major chord on guitar is soon going to be drawing to an end but there’s still a couple of things that I’d like to cover.
Firstly, I’d like to introduce you to more ways of playing the F major chord. Below, you will see some chord charts that will help you to build your F chord knowledge, and chord knowledge in general even more.
The above charts provide you with even more options and the good news is all of those shapes are movable meaning that simply shifting the shape up or down creates a different chord.
Doing this is easy. All you’ll need is a basic knowledge of root notes and a very basic knowledge of the notes on the fretboard.
All the shapes in this section are, naturally, F major chords. The root of these chords is therefore, F. To create new chords with these shapes, find the root F and shift the chord so that the root is on the note that you desire. For example, shifting the shapes down by one fret will give you an E chord because that root note has now changed to an E. Shifting the shapes up two frets will give you a G major chord because of the same logic.
I’m not going in deep on this because this is a subject on its own, but all those shapes are movable, and the charts show them as F major chords because of their position on the fretboard.
Naturally, you’ll need to be somewhat competent with barre chords to use these so for many of you, this part will be something for the near future.
Some of you may have spotted that these shapes are kind of familiar. We actually looked at these shapes earlier in the lesson only without the barre. Adding the barre makes the shapes sound fuller.
Don’t get obsessed and don’t spend your entire practice session on the F major chord
One last thing before I let you go. Pushing through the F major chord barrier can be difficult, and some will find it more difficult than others. Use the advice that you’ve found here, and your will power and jump that hurdle!
With that said, I’d also like to suggest that you don’t obsess over it. Don’t go spending your whole practice session pressing down an F trying to get it to ring out. Devote some time to it yes, but don’t neglect the other stuff that you’re working on. As long as you’re doing the right things, it will come.
If you spend a large amount of time on it at once, you may find that you start to get fatigued or you may find that you’re finding it even harder. Do some practice with the F major chord, then do something else. Remember, the guitar is something to enjoy.
I hope you found this lesson on how to play the F major chord on guitar useful if you’re someone who’s struggling with it a little. If you enjoyed the process of learning new chord shapes, then perhaps a trip to the Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat Chord Library is in order.
I also have similar articles to this one on other chords such as my how to play the G major chord on guitar and my how to play the C minor chord on guitar lessons. Be sure to check those out. Oh and F minor. I have a how to play the F minor chord on guitar lesson also.
Hello. My name is Ryan J Mellor and I play the guitar. I’m also the creator of Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat. I’ve ben a guitarist for many years and my guitar playing has been described as “above average”. My guitar and music knowledge is somewhat impressive but most importantly, I have a passion for creating great guitar and music related content.