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Mother of F Chords! Secrets to Dominating this Tricky Barre

Many new guitarists run into trouble when learning the F major chord. That's because it's usually their first introduction to the challenging technique of barring, or using one finger to hold down more than one string simultaneously.

Fretting two or more notes at the same time requires more strength and coordination to produce a clear tone than does fretting individual notes, so nailing the dreaded F can be plenty frustrating. Here then are 10 tips to help lessen your struggle:

1. Look to past successes. Think back to how hard it was to learn to play your first notes and chords so that they sounded clean. But you eventually did. Learning to play an F chord is no different. Keep at it until you prevail.

2. Raise the bar(re). The F chord not only ushers you into the world of barre chords, it marks your entry to the next level of play. So yes, it's going to challenge you, but you can't progress without learning it. Barre chords are a staple in guitar playing.

3. Acoustic vs. electric. It takes more strength to get a solid F chord on an acoustic guitar than it does an electric, whose strings are closer to the fretboard and therefore require less hand strength. If you can cut your F chops on an acoustic, it'll be a cakewalk to play it on an electric.

4. The string thing. If your strings are heavy, change to thinner strings. Thin strings don't require as much pressure to hold down, so they will save some wear and tear on your fingers. And if your strings are old, get new ones. New strings can make a world of difference to your playing.

5. Lower the action. The action of your guitar refers to how high the strings are placed above the fretboard. The lower the action, the less pressure you'll need to apply to the strings. If your action is too high, have them adjusted in a guitar shop.

6. Build the F string by string. Start by playing a two-string F barre (first finger flat on first fret holding down both the first string F and second string C notes). Play each string individually to make sure it sounds clear, and then start playing the strings together as a two-note chord. When you're comfortable playing this barre, add the second finger on the second fret, third string A note. Do the same exercise now with three strings, making adjustments as necessary. Once you're comfortable, add the third finger on the third fret, fourth string F and repeat exercise, ultimately playing the four-string F barre chord. (Make sure not to play the fifth and sixth strings when you strum the chord.) Don't rush this exercise. Add to the chord only when you can play each string cleanly.

7. Play further up the neck. Barre chords are easier when played further up the neck. Try fingering an F chord at the fifth fret to start. This will allow you to build up strength in your hand as you work your way back to the first fret.

8. Integrate the F. Spend time learning to make smooth chord changes with the F. Work on switching between the F and C chords, between F and E, F and D, F and Am, and F and G to start, and then work the F into chord progressions. Again, remember back to the process of learning to change between your beginner chords. That seemed impossible to do at the time too.

9. Build on the F. Once you have the four-string F down pat, it's time to expand on it with two other variations. To play a five-string F chord, keep the barre and second finger in place. The pinky finger will now play the third fret, fourth string F note while the third finger moves to the third fret, fifth string C note. (Don't play the sixth string.)

The most challenging version of the F major chord is the full-barre F. To play it, keep the fingering of the five-string F and simply extend the first finger barre across all six strings on the first fret. You'll need to apply a lot of pressure to hold down all six strings. Press your thumb against the middle of the neck opposing your middle finger for leverage.

10. Relax. You're in good company. The F is a very tough chord to play. Many guitarists struggle with it and most master it. Take your time learning the F chord and be persistent. Commit to practicing it daily until the F comes through clean. And it will. You'll see. One day you'll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

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