F Chord progress

Well guys, I’m writing this one while on hold with a certain vendor that I currently want to stab in the face so just how coherent this is going to be is up for some serious debate, but I need to do SOMETHING other than listen to their shitty hold music.

I am attempting to write you a coherent post about my progress on the F Chord, but I am also listening to static-ridden hold music after having been transferred to “someone who can help me” THREE TIMES. I have now been on the same phone call for over 20 minutes with no resolution even remotely in sight, after spending a good 50 minutes on hold elsewhere, so I WANT this post to be about guitar things, but I’m pretty riled up, so all bets are off.

Okay, here goes:

As you may know from my last post, I’m snail-pacing my way through Guitar for Dummies again, and currently smack in the middle of a lesson on C Family Chords, which, naturally, includes the F Chord.

Now, in Guitar for Dummies, what they teach you at this point is what I’m going to call “Baby F”, and looks like this.

baby F

They don’t mention at this stage that there are other, more common variations of the F chord, but these days, the F chord we mostly talk about looks like this:

f barre

(Images taken from Guitar Chords World, as that’s what came up first in google image search. I’m not affiliated with them, but I also don’t want to jack their images without giving them credit for them.)

There’s another version that’s sort of a hybrid of the  two, a baby F, but with the 3rd and 4th finger positioned like the more common version and the low E not played. I can’t quickly and easily find an image for that one, but it was in one of the youtube videos I watched, so can’t possibly be all that hard to find. I don’t remember what video, but they referred to it as an “old school F”, if you’re really that interested in tracking it down.

What I’m finding, strangely enough, is that the ‘baby’ version of the F Chord is actually the hardest for me to get a clear sound out of. It can be done, but I’m notably less consistent with it. Something about keeping my pinky out of the way and holding the barre makes it feel oddly cramped. It’s also a fairly thin sounding chord, comparatively. I’m sure there are certainly places you would use it, but by and large I think the ‘old school’ and the barre are fuller and just seem like they’d be more versatile, so I’m mostly making use of them. It’s not JUST because the baby is the hardest to play, I swear!

What I’m noticing in my practice is ultimately that what we’re calling the Old School F theoretically is easier to transition in and out of when you’re working with C family chords, but the F barre chord is easier to pull a clean sound out of.

People always talk about how barre chords require ‘strength’, and I always take exception with that because I think it does way more harm than good to tell beginners that they need to be stronger. It only makes someone who doesn’t really understand yet how guitars work press harder, which causes excess tension, which makes switching between chords harder, makes chords sound muddier, and encourages them to exert way more pressure than is needed to do ANYTHING.

Let’s be realistic here – it’s in a beginner’s nature, when you use the word strength, to assume you mean ‘press harder’. And, while it may be true that you do need a little bit more pressure for a barre chord than for an open chord, and that a barre chord uses some muscles you may not be using much to play your basic open chords, the person you’re teaching that barre chord to is very likely using too much pressure for their open chords already, so they don’t actually need more pressure than they’re currently using to play a barre. If anything, learning barre chords is helping me lighten up on my open chords. After all, if I only need X amount of pressure to form a barre, and that amount of pressure is not more pressure than I’m using to play open chords, then I am obviously using way more pressure than I need for open chords, which I honestly already know, but what my brain knows and what my hand does are not always on precisely on the same page. My hands tend to lag behind my thoughts.

So, ultimately, what I’m finding is that the F with the full barre, seems to pull a reasonably clear sound out even when I’m a bit off, but the old school F sounds like garbage when I miss my target. It’s the opposite of what you’d think to look at them. The F Barre chord looks really fricking intimidating. It’s a barre chord, and you’re using 4 fingers to form it, but since the margin of error seems to be larger than the margin of error on the old school F it’s actually an easier chord to play, in and of itself. And, it’s got a fuller sound because of the use of the low E, which I just plain think sounds nicer.

Now, having said that, a chord is never ‘in and of itself’. They’re really only as useful as moving in and out of them is, and that’s a stage in the process I haven’t mastered on either version yet. I’m at the stage where I don’t have to look at my fingers to form the chord, but still have to think about where I’m placing my fingers. It means I can’t quite switch in and out of either one naturally yet, but I’m using a C Family progression from the GfD book to practice. So, in the interest of practicing both, I’m alternating and my current practice regimen is something like C-Am-Old School F-Dm then C-Am-F Barre – Dm. And, I sort of go back and forth like that until my hand gets tired.

I’ve got it in my head to look for a song that uses and F chord to learn to mix up the practice regimen and keep working on the F, but honestly, the suggestions that I’ve glanced so far for F chord songs to learn are uninspiring. In an effort to choose accessible songs that people will know and want to learn, it seems the internet has basically chosen a bunch of songs that either I’m not interested in or outright dislike. I’m definitely not going to waste energy trying to learn songs I hate, lest I have another Kumbaya-in-my-head experience, so I dunno, I’ve got to dig a little deeper to find a song that uses F that actually interests me, I guess. Or, barring that, write a darn song using F and force myself to master it that way. Whichever.

Progress is being made though, in that I am able at this stage to get both versions of the F Chord sounding clearly – with results being slightly better on the version with the full barre. But, there’s still a ways to go, since I haven’t developed a muscle memory for either version just yet. So, I’ll be around page 50 of the lesson book for a while longer yet.


4 thoughts on “F Chord progress

  1. Um ,OK. So WordPress decided to feature this post in my feed. My first inclination was to dismiss with a snarky thought, but then it seems like you got stuck on something that, like many things, is a matter of practice more than theory.

    So, my constructive comment is that you learn the shape, i.e. you fingering at a certain fret, and move it up to C#, which is the same thing but your barre falls on the 9th fret. It takes less pressure to hold the strings there and much more comfortable angles for the joints. Less chance of a sproinged tendon, as well.

    So, with all six strings available for a full strum, now you can focus on your strumming hand and work on the sound of the guitar, getting the cleanest loudest resonant booming chord you can.

    Then move the shape to the 6th fret, which is a robust Bb, but do not use the middle finger on the 3rd string, making this a “b”, or B minor.

    You’ve now started Bruce Springsteen’s Hungry Heart. When you’re ready to move the shape back to F, you’re ready for Stairway to Heaven.

    Hope this helps,

    cheers, R


    1. No idea why WordPress algorithms directed you in to my bitsy corner of the blogosphere, but thanks for reading anyway.

      I’m actually faring fine with the F chord shape as this stage, and am just still struggling moving in and out of it, which is honestly just a matter of plugging away at it until I get used to how it lands and don’t have to think about it anymore. Not so different from learning any other new chord shape – I need to train the autopilot so I can stop thinking about which finger goes where, but getting a clean sound out of the chord isn’t really a major issue anymore.

      After I wrote this, I started using Blink 182’s All the Small Things for practice. It seems the transition from G to F doesn’t require all that much readjustment, so is as good a place to start switching in and out of the barre shape as any, I figure, and since it’s a pretty fast tune, I can challenge myself to practice until I can make the transitions at that manic pop-punk tempo. If I can get in and out of F at pop punk pacing, stairway to heaven should be no problem when I feel inspired to learn it. 🙂

      Thanks for the tips, though. This is very much a learning curve blog, so any info is good info.


  2. So, not to sound creepy stalky or anything, but I got curious and visited some of your yt videos. With ears that are both aging and rock’n’roll damaged it was hard to make out some of the lyrics, but you have some good songs. I remember F. Bb was even worse, as I recall. Over the years I have learned a lot of shortcuts and ways around complicated things, and even today I use my electric guitar because it’s less wear and tear. You make a good point somewhere about not telling beginners that they need to press harder. It’s about using each finger as a little ninja warrior and focusing the chi on the fret. One last tip, if you can bear it, is practicing with eyes closed. Thank you for your hospitality.


    1. The yt vids are pretty terrible recordings, so don’t entirely blame your ears. They’re all pretty half-assed cell phone recordings of songs I’m very often playing through in full for the first time, so they aren’t all the most audible tracks in the world to start with. For ages rock-damaged ears, I can only imagine they must be a bit of a nightmare, so thanks for braving through them.

      While I don’t often practice with my eyes closed, I do work as much as possible without looking at my hands, which is the same effect. I definitely agree with you on the value of practicing blind; it’s a habit I was lucky enough to stumble into early on, as a happy side effect of interactive lessons I was using it the beginning. It’s pretty impossible to keep up with chords rolling across a screen if you keep looking down at your fingers so I was lucky enough to start practicing mostly blind from the outset and now don’t consider a new chord or technique mastered unless I can do it with my eyes closed.

      I’ve taken the long way around in working myself up to learning barre chords, so Bb will wait until F is done. Lol. Also playing ukulele has sort of let me cheat on both instruments a bit. Since F is very easy and E is hard on uke, so far I’ve been like ‘F? OK, this is an uke song.’ Which I fully admit is a ridiculous cop out caused by a beginner’s fear of barre chords that I am now working to rectify.

      Thanks for all of your insights.

      Liked by 1 person

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