The F chord is one of the toughest chords for beginner guitar students to master. It has been the source of much frustration for those wanting to progress beyond the complete beginner stage, with some beginners even completely giving up at this point! Having taught many complete beginners, I have plenty of experience in helping guitar newbies gain confidence in fretting this chord successfully. It is one of the 9 chords that I recommend beginners learn in order to play a large variety of different songs, so it’s definitely an essential shape to get under your fingers. Therefore, in today’s free online guitar lesson, I will show you how to build up from playing this chord on just a few strings, to progressing to a full 6 string barre shape. Similarly to my lesson on 12 different ways to play an open G chord, I will present 6 different methods for fretting the F major chord.
F Chord – Guitar Theory
F is short for F major in guitar or music theory. No matter which instrument it is played on, the F chord contains just 3 different notes. Those notes are F, A and C, which are the root, major third and fifth note of the F major scale respectively. This presents an array of opportunities for different fingerings on the guitar, as these 3 notes can be arranged in any order. To demonstrate this, let’s have a look at the full 6 string F major barre chord on the guitar:
Below is the same chord diagram with the fretted notes displayed instead of the fingering:
As you can see, from left to right, we have the notes F, C F and A. The note not shown on the 1st fret of the B string is C, followed by another F. This shape can be tricky for beginners to fret, since barring across all 6 strings whilst also placing your 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers on the strings at the same time requires a lot of practice. Therefore, it is a good idea for beginner guitar students to build up to this chord in bitesize chunks by fretting smaller versions of the chord displayed above, before progressing to the full shape. Here is one easy way to play the F chord on guitar:
This 3 string shape involves muting both E strings and the A string. From left to right, we have the notes F, A and C, which is the chord of F major in its root position. The low open strings can be muted by wrapping your thumb over the top of the neck and touching the strings lightly to stop them from vibrating. If you cannot manage this, then be very careful with your strumming – don’t pick those open strings by mistake! The high open E string can be muted by positioning your 1st finger to touch the E string to stop it from ringing out.
Although this version of the F chord is probably the easiest to fret, it doesn’t sound as full as some of the more advanced shapes that you can play on the guitar. You can add more richness to the shape above by adding an extra note to the chord, as shown in this fingering:
As with our easy to play 3 string F voicing, this fingering involves muting both E strings by using the same method outlined above. From left to right, this shape contains the notes C, F, A, C and F. Because the first note in this chord voicing is C, this chord is written as F/C. It is a perfectly acceptable replacement for any F chord on the guitar.
I often show the previous 2 F chord shapes to beginners who have difficulty with the barring technique on guitar at first. Although they are easier to play, you really want to get used to fretting barre chords on the guitar, as it will open up more possibilities on the instrument. You can do this by starting off with a small barre chord over 2 strings before progressing to a full 6 string fingering. F is the perfect chord to practice this technique, so here is an easier method of playing the F chord with a barre:
By muting the low E, A and D strings, this shape provides a solid entry level for beginners to start playing the F chord with a barre. Remember to keep your first finger flat, barring with the pad of your first finger, before adding the second finger to the G string. You should take care not to accidentally mute the B string with your second finger, so remember to keep it arched and to fret the G string with the very tip of your finger. From left to right, we have the notes A, C and F, so this voicing still counts as an F chord, although since the first note played is an A, it is written as F/A.
Although this method is still an acceptable way to play an F chord, you’ll want to add more strings to your voicings, since it will sound much better. Here is the most common way for beginners to play the F chord, featuring a 2 string barre and 3 different fingers:
This F major voicing gives us the notes F, A, C and F from left to right. It is one of the most common ways to play the F chord, and is somewhat a rite of passage for beginners to master. I often advise people try 2 different methods to fret this chord:
- If you have had success fretting the 3 string F/A chord shape shown above, then use the same method to begin fretting this F chord, adding in your ring finger at the end.
- Start with your ring finger and then your middle finger. Pick both strings individually to ensure you are not accidentally muting one of them. Keep them locked in place before finally adding in your first finger barre.
Whichever method you use, remember to keep your 2nd and 3rd fingers arched, with the fingertips pressing down on the strings. The pad of your 1st finger should be used to fret the barre shown above. Once you have achieved success in fretting this chord, try wrapping your thumb over the top of the fingerboard to mute the low E and A strings.
Once you are happy with the 4 string voicing shown above, it is now time to turn the same shape into a 5 string fingering, for a richer, more fuller sound:
From left to right, this chord contains the notes C, F, A, C and F. It is written as F/C because C is the first note played. Use the same method to fret the notes as the 4 string F chord shown previously. Ensure to lock your 3rd and 4th fingers together – ideally they should be touching each other to ensure maximum purchase is achieved on both notes. This will also be good practice for using the same technique to fret the full F barre chord, without presenting the challenge of barring across all 6 strings. Although this chord is labelled F/C, it is a common replacement for any F chord on guitar, and it is perfectly acceptable to use it in most situations.
Once you have mastered all F chord shapes presented above, it’s time to move onto the full barre chord. Let’s remind ourselves of how this chord looks as a chord diagram:
Whenever I have taught guitar students to play this chord, I first like to draw their attention to the following observation. This chord takes its form from an open E major chord, which looks like this:
As you can see, moving this shape up by 1 fret, and using a first finger barre to cover the open strings gives us our full F major barre chord. In order to master the shape, I feel it is crucial to learn to play the E major chord voicing with the same fingers you will use when you move it to the F major position. Let’s see what that would look like on guitar:
Pick each string individually and ensure they are all sounding correctly. Once you are happy with the sound, shift this finger position up by 1 fret. Now, keep your fingers in the exact same position – it is important that they do not move, and that their position remains unaffected when you place the barre over the first fret. Drop your wrist, place your thumb behind the beck and pinch your thumb and first finger together, making a squeezing action to put pressure on the strings. Again, pick each string individually to make sure there are no muted strings in your chord shape. Your hand position should resemble the image I used for the main picture of this lesson:
Try not to get frustrated if you don’t get it straight away. I’ve had some students take weeks, or sometimes even months to get this chord. However, with persistence and plenty of regular practice, you will master each of the 6 different ways to play the F chord on guitar presented above.
I hope you have found today’s guitar lesson useful. As always, I’ll see you next time.