F Chord on Guitar: 5 Alternative Ways To Play the F-ing Thing Properly
Find the F chord hard to play? Want some tips on how to get it so it doesn't sound a muted mess? You're in the right place.
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F guitar chord: does the mere mention of it bring you out in a cold sweat? If you struggle to play this chord and it’s holding you back from learning some of your favourite songs, whatever you do; carry on reading!
In this article, you’re about to learn 5 shapes to play the F Major chord with. The chord charts include the best finger positions to use and you'll find some easy (ish) alternative shape variations for you beginner guitar players to save you the headaches.
What Is The F Guitar Chord?
Before we get into it, we need a little basic music theory. When someone says the "F chord", they really should specify what type of F chord they're talking about. You see, a chord is made up of two things; the root note (e.g. F) and the quality. Quality is a fancy way of saying chord type. So, think F Major, F minor, F dominant 7th, F diminished, Fsus4, etc. Phew, that's a lot of F's!
With that being said, when someone asks "how do you play the F chord?", they likely mean the F Major chord. Coming up are five F Major chord shapes you can play on your acoustic or electric guitar. Stay till the end because as a bonus, we have a diagram of the most common F minor guitar chord shape you should learn also.
F Major Chord Names
F Major | F | F Maj | F Major triad
F Major Chord Theory Facts x 5
- The F Major chord contains the notes: F - A - C
- The F Major chord is made by notes from the F Major scale. Notably, the 1st (root), 3rd and 5th
- The F Major chord formula is: 1 - 3 - 5
- If a song is described as being "in the key of F Major" the first chord (aka the tonic) in the key signature is the F Major chord
- F Major, Bb Major and C Major make up the I-IV-V (1-4-5) chords in the key of F Major
Good to know: In the chord diagrams below, the best fingerings you should use are shown in the finger position circles. The notes are shown below the chord boxes with the F root note highlighted in blue.
Shape 1 - The Easier F Major Chord
First thing is first, let's dive straight in with the easy F chord shape that doesn't require a barre - hurrah!
The even better news is; if you can play an open C Major chord shape, this F chord formation feels similar to play. Have a gander below:
Open F Major Chord - The Easier Shape
Top Tip: In this F chord shape, you play strings 5, 4, 3 and 2 only. Mute the bottom and top E strings. How? Wrap your thumb around the neck by fret two and dampen the 6th string by lightly touching it. Do the same on the 1st string with the base of your first (index) finger.
This open F Major chord shape is an inversion, which means the F root note isn't in the lowest bass position. As the blue circle indicates in the chord chart, it is located on the 3rd fret of the D string.
In most beginner-friendly chords, the root note is the lowest note you play.
Videos coming soon: I'm going to upload some video tutorials to accompany this series of the most popular guitar chord shapes soon. In them I'll show you tips on how to properly position your fretting hand to avoid muted notes and make your chord changes quicker. Join the mailing list to be the first to know.
Shape 2 - The Partial Barre F Chord
We call this next shape the partial barre F chord because you only need to form a bar on the top E and B strings, as opposed to the full F barre chord where you have to bar all 6 strings.
See the shape below.
Note: Don't dive in and try to play the chord yet. Have a look at the diagram then carry on reading the steps that follow where we break the shape down which will make it easier to nail.
Partial F Major Barre Chord
How To Play The Partial F Barre Chord in 3 Steps
Here's the part where we make it stupid simple to get the F barre chord feeling easier to play and sounding sweet.
Why do most guitar players struggle to play barre chords? The trouble is that most new (and not so new) guitarists make the mistake of biting off more than they can chew when learning chords. They try to learn the whole shape in one fell swoop.
You don't want to do that. Instead, break it down.
With that pearl of wisdom ringing in your ears, let's start by learning the partial F barre chord shape a few fingers at a time.
Step 1: The 1 Finger Broken Shape
In step one you use your first (index) finger to form a bar across the 1st and 2nd strings. Play repeated alternate picks between the strings (down on the E string, up on the B string) to check how they sound.
Clean and mute-free is the name of the game.
When you can get this consistent (which may take a few practise sessions or more depending on your ability level), move onto step 2.
Step 2: The 2 Finger Broken Shape
In this step, you add on your second finger onto the 2nd fret of the 3rd string. You'll need to practise this one till you find the sweet spot with the angle of your barred 1st finger and your curved 2nd finger.
Again, pick the individual strings to see how they're sounding and be persistent. Most of my students new to this shape find it's the B string that mutes the most to start with.
Top Tip: Warming up doing the shape in step 2 for just 5 minutes at the start of your next batch of practise sessions will make a huge difference.
Resist the urge to sack it off and try to find songs that don't have the F chord!
I promise you that you'll eventually have the F chord and all other barre chords feeling easy to play and sounding mint if you believe you can do it and set up a consistent practice routine.
Step 3: The Full Shape
Finally, in step 3 you press your 3rd finger onto the third fret of the D string to complete the shape.
Pro Tip: This chord shape is easier to get sounding clean when you have your thumb positioned in line with fret 2. If your technique needs work, your thumb will keep dropping to the left. Keep working on it, and don't give up. Moving your thumb closer to fret 1 makes it harder to apply the correct pressure on the strings with your fingertips.
Good to know: You can play this partial F barre shape including the C note on the 3rd fret of the A string. I think it's best to play the chord from the 4th string onwards because this is where the F root sits (it's also a little easier). However, I've come across songs where this specific chord voicing with the C in the bass position is used, so here it is:
Shape 3 - The 4 Finger F Major Chord
Shape 4 - The 'E Shape' F Major Chord
If you're finding the partial F barre chord is okay to play, it's time to suck it up and get practising the full F Major barre chord. Below is the 'E Shape' F barre chord.
It's called the 'E shape' because it's created using the open E Major chord form moved up the neck with a bar added, as per the CAGED System.
If you're not sure what that means and you're also keen to learn the basics of the CAGED System, I suggest you check out my music theory basics book Easy Peasy Guitar Music Theory: For Beginners.
It's beyond the scope of this article to deep dive into, but CAGED is definitely a must-know area of guitar playing for bedroom players and performing guitarists alike.
Let's look at the full barred F Major chord diagram:
'E Shape' F Major Chord
The only difference in the make-up of the E shape chord compared to the partial F shape is the low F root note.
Here, it's included in the bass position on first fret of the 6th string. This makes the chord have slightly more depth and body in sound.
Shape 5 - The 'A Shape' F Major Chord
Last but not least, we have yet another shape you can play the F chord with, which is known as the 'A shape'.
We call this barre chord the 'A shape' because the main framework of the chord is based on an open A Major chord shape. Again, this is in keeping with the CAGED System.
'A Shape' F Major Chord
To play the 'A shape' F Major chord, you play the F root note up on the 8th fret of the 5th string and barre across to the 1st string with your index finger.
To form the rest of the chord your 2nd, 3rd and pinky fingers play the A Major chord shape on strings 4, 3 and 2.
Many guitarists, moi included, like to play this A shape F barre chord with just two fingers. You bar the three notes on the 10th fret with your third (ring) finger:
'A Shape' F Major Alternative with 2 Bars
I prefer this way because it's not such a tight squeeze plus it leaves your pinky finger free to form further jazzy chord voicings such as the dominant seventh.
Fair Warning: This isn't the easiest chord in the world to play, and my advice is you should only work on it once you can cleanly play the more manageable no barre F chord variations. Always remember: simple to complex.
Let's wrap things up with some tips and advice on how to play the F chord.
3 Tips To Help You Master the F Barre Chord
1- Change the way you think
Now, I want to get something out of the way. Because everyone bangs on about how brutal and hard the F chord is to play, it scares the life out of many beginner guitar players.
When you start to learn something with a preconceived idea that it will be super difficult, you’re setting yourself up to fail.
Change the way you think about it. Don’t think of it as a “hard” chord, or the "dreaded F chord". In fact, don't think of barre chords in general as being scary and hard.
Instead, think of them as the gateway to being able to play any chord you want using one shape.
That’s right, barre chords are all borrowed shapes, in so much as they start off life as an open chord (namely the C, A, G, E and D chords). This is the basis for the CAGED System I've mentioned earlier. You simply add a bar with your finger across multiple strings and move the shape up the neck.
Yes, barre chords definitely take more time to master when compared to the easier beginner open chord shapes, but whatever.
Many things worth having in life don’t come at the click of a finger, do they? So, get excited about barre chords. They open up endless possibilities when playing songs on the guitar.
2. Stop relying on “cheat” F chord shapes
Okay, so I’ve included easier versions of the F chord in this article, but that doesn’t mean you should rely on them because you can’t be bothered to learn the full barre chord shapes.
Believe in yourself and put some elbow grease into it. You can only get so far winging it with the lazy cheat chords. If you want to learn how to play your favourite songs the right way (using the exact chord shapes played on the recordings), you must know how to play the full chord shapes.
You can get any chord on guitar sounding clean, slick and quick; you just have to quit beating around the bush and get working on it. You got this my friend!
This brings us to tip three.
3. 15 minutes every day
Wondering why you find barre chords hard to play? The straight answer is - you’re not practising them the right way, or you’re not practising them enough.
You have to build up finger strength and muscle memory to master any barre chord, and that includes the F barre chord. This only comes with time at the bench.
Play exercises such as the Looped Pair Strike and Freeze Method every day to help you improve the F chord.
It won’t make a dent if you aren’t consistent with your chord practice, either. Consistency is the name of the game. Set yourself the goal of working on the F chord for 15 minutes minimum every day.
Do this, and I guarantee you’ll have it licked quicker than you could imagine.
Summing It Up
So there you have it. Five different ways to play the F Major chord on your guitar. Take it slowly and don't expect over night results. Keep the faith and I suggest instead of putting them off, deliberately seek out songs you like with the F chord in to learn.
Oh, and before I forget, I promised you a diagram of the F minor chord didn't I? Here's two for you to get your teeth into:
The 'Em Shape' F Minor Chord
The 'Am Shape' F Minor Chord
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