Why is this chord one of the most dreaded for beginners? A few simple reasons:
First, it’s a barre chord.
Second, it hurts.
There is no short way of learning to play this chord other than to experience the pain of it. The tight strings under your index finger; the muffle of poorly fretted E and B strings, the strain of your middle, ring and little finger as it tries to form the E shape under you already straining index finger.
It’s a nightmare for all beginners.
Recently, I was asked: how can I master this chord?
My advice cannot be different to any other chord book or instruction manual out there. But allow me to summarise this important beginner FACT: there are only 2 ways to play the F chord in the first position (1st 3 frets) :
- The Barre Chord
- The Hendrix Way
Beyond these 2 shapes, you get different variations based on style and comfort and fingering. But all of these variations begin from these to shapes. Only when you master these 2 shapes can chord inversions mean anything to you which give you more choices on how to play an F, but that’s another lesson!
Just remember, there are only 2 ways to play the F Chord and which one you pick is a matter of taste (and to a lesser extent, skill).
It’s up to you.
The Barre Chord is shaped like an E Chord but with an index finger behind it.
There’s not much more to it than that. No need to sugar-coat it. But here are some things to aim for:
- Exercise the little finger to gain dexterity. Aim to play an F7 and F6 chord
- Selective playing of strings (ie. Bottom 3) and you get:
- An E minor (Em)
- Your first rock chord !
- Reduced pressure on your index finger so there’s no need to play a full barre chord
Jimi Hendrix pioneered a way of playing “F Chord” shapes using his thumb-over-the-bottom-E-string method.
The beauty and efficacy of this method is that it allowed Jimi the advantage of moving his bottom 3 fingers to play “add-in” fills and twiddles.
The position of the hands and fingers are shaped like a ‘hand-shake’ and therefore suffers no strain or pressure.
If you watch videos of him carefully, Jimi hardly plays any barre chords. But of course, he was Jimi Hendrix – and you’re not.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from his pioneering ways:
- The Hendrix Chord is an old shape that Blues musicians used
- It allows freedom of the bottom 3 fingers
- It reduces the need to ‘barre’ the chords
- It allows an opening from which you can begin to play ‘solo’ type fingering or chord patterns.
By mastering this shape and moving it up the neck, you are setting yourself up for advanced rhythm and solo techniques, as you get better.
Your best position will be to LEARN BOTH TECHIQUES.
WHAT COULD HINDER YOU?
Hendrix had massive hands and fingers. You may not be so endowed!
So you have to practice! A Lack of Practice WILL STOP your PROGRESS!
My advice is to approach it in stages:
- Days 1 and 3: Play the Barre Chord for 15 minutes everyday.
- Days 2 and 4: Play the Hendrix Chord for 15 minutes everyday
- Days 5 and 6: Swap between Barre and Hendrix Chords
Your aim is to swap between Barre and Hendrix chords quickly and effortlessly. It may be worth inserting an in-between chord.
Eg: 4/4 time play one chord per bar
F (Barre) – C – F (Hendrix) – C – F (Barre) – C – F (Hendrix) etc.
When I first learned the F Chord, my teacher introduced it to me without the Barre Chord!
That’s right boys and girls, I was taught a cheat! And that was the ingenious way I was also introduced to the Hendrix chord.
What’s funny is that my teacher was classically trained. But because her students were 10 years old there was no way we could do the barre chord with our little fingers.
So she decided we could dispense with the barre chord – AND – also dispense with the thumb over the E string. In effect, we played this:
The change between C and F was easy. It allowed us to develop speed and accuracy between C – F – G chord progressions.
There was only one catch: I didn’t know about Hendrix so I had no way of playing the bass notes.
One way I developed barre chord strength was to play the B-minor and F-chords. Of course, this was always done in a way that related to associated chords:
D – Bm – G – A7
D – Bm – F#m – G – A7
So again, the Barre Chord exercise is strengthening the index finger but in the context of a song.
Now it’s up to you to piece this together in the best way that suits you: You need to combine this information with:
- Your physical self (hand size, finger strength)
- Your guitar (acoustics will be harder to play the F Chord rather than electrics)
- Your music (bass note emphasis will need barre chord, top notes the Hendrix)
WHERE TO NOW?
So you’re making progress. Great. That’s a good place to be.
The F Chord is a difficult chord to learn. But it’s rewarding. I can tell you, from all that I’ve said above, that it’s an important lesson for you to learn.
It’s also a doorway to a greater level of skill.
It’s an important step towards guitar mastery.
Let me summarise what you’ll be able to achieve:
- Hand strength
- Finger Dexterity
- Advanced chord work
- Preparation for solo work
- An introduction to Blues and Jazz shapes
- A developing understanding of chord inversions (i.e. Swapping different shapes to play the same chord)
The last three points are the most important. Hand strength and finger dexterity will all come naturally from any chord exercise. But the KNOWLEDGE & UNDERSTANDING that develops from the F Chord is more than you know.
SO BEST OF LUCK!