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I've been trying to learn the F chord for a while now, and I am having a very hard time playing the barre chord. I've read that pulling back slightly with your finger and using the body of the guitar for leverage is a good way to play them. What is the best way to learn barre chords that will set me up for long-term success?

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Imo, F is one of the toughest chords to play, when you haven't played for a while. I've noticed that you get more strength in your grip, if you slightly lift that shoulder+elbow –  Anonymous Jan 13 '11 at 21:25
    
Excellent question! –  Anonymous Jan 21 '11 at 20:41
    
Possibly a bit of a cheat I know, but my answer here: music.stackexchange.com/a/20152/9198 might have some helpful advice. I thought it would be "bad-form" to post it again here as an answer... –  Bob Broadley Jun 22 at 0:06
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19 Answers 19

One trick that will make your life easier is to place your barring finger in a way that your articulations fall on a string. The fleshy parts of your finger are not your friends! Also try slightly rotating the finger to find the edge with less flesh on it. You will need way less pressure this way. It is true that you need to strengthen your fingers, but brute-force methods have the potential of causing serious injury. One very important thing I learned after many years of studying classical guitar is that if it hurts you are doing something wrong.

Careful positioning of your wrist and fingers (also the position of your thumb is very important) might drastically reduce the amount of pressure you need, and make sure you don't have your wrist too laid back. It should be in a position that allows you to use the strength of your arm to exert pressure and not only your fingers. Many rock and folk players tend to use their guitars too low (you can tell by the thumb almost being able to touch the fretboard), and this demands more effort from your fingers.

Another useful piece of advise is using lower tension strings while you are learning. Usually very thick metal strings in an acoustical guitar is asking for trouble, and among nylon strings there are usually low tension models. They don't usually sound as good but you can switch to higher tension when you master those strings.

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I was struggling with my barre chords, but then my teacher showed me two great exercises. I've been doing them for a week or two and--it's a miracle--barre chords started sounding good!

1. Pure barre practicing

Just hold all the strings on fret 7 with your first finger and nothing else and check if all the strings sound clear. You can help with your second finger. When all notes are clear, move to fret 6. And so on, until you reach fret 1.

2. Tough barre exercise

Hold your barre on fret 7 and with the other three fingers, do this pattern, picking one note at a time:

-------------------------------------------------------------------8-7-9-7-10-7---
------------------------------------------------------8-7-9-7-10-7----------------
-----------------------------------------8-7-9-7-10-7-----------------------------
---------------------------8-7-9-7-10-7-------------------------------------------
--------------8-7-9-7-10-7--------------------------------------------------------
-8-7-9-7-10-7---------------------------------------------------------------------

Keep holding the barre on fret 7 for the whole exercise! By the time you get to string 1, your hand will hurt like hell, but that is the purpose - to get your hand strong. Rest for a while, and do the same thing on fret 6, and so on until fret 1.

Do this every day for 2 weeks--and you'll be able to play barre chords with ease.

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These are great exercises. I'll add, if you're teaching yourself, find some videos (or even better a person) that can help you with your technique. Hand position isn't super intuitive, but it makes a big difference. –  yossarian Jan 19 '11 at 22:50
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Honestly... It's probably been mentioned given there's so many responses here. But you've got to build finger strength. Start with an open bar without all the other notes and just play each string until you get a clear sound (It's gonna hurt). Than hold that for as long as you can, repeat a few times a day (It takes your muscles awhile to adjust, just like lifting weights). Eventually, add the other notes back in... repeat.

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I don't know what kind of musician you are, but here's a good way to learn barre chords if you're a songwriter!

When I wanted to learn barre chords, I wrote a song using a barred Gmajor Chord. I could have very easily gotten away with just using the standard Gmajor chord that everyone learns, but I thought that the barred chord had a better sound.

So to learn an Fmajor barred chord, simply keep on playing it. Don't stop until you've got it. Learn a song that uses it a lot, or write a song that relies on a bar chord. I don't know what kind of music you're into, but there are songs that mainly only use barre chords. The verse in"She's a Woman" by The Beatles uses 3 barre chords and is a good way to practice barred chords!

Good luck!

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Play it as much as you can. Testing each string for a brilliant sound.

AND press your finger flat against the table during the day. It will strengthen your finger muscles.

Another tip to cheat barre while you are learning: use your thumb to hit the low string. So you don't need a barre. (only works for thin necked guitars).

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Have a think about which part of the F chord you're trying to get across. It may vary for different tunes. It'd be unusual to really need all strings, so concentrate on playing just the strings you need. Leaving the top 2 or bottom 2 out makes it a LOT easier. Leave top 2 out for a nice full strummy feel or leave bottom (thickest) two out for a more tinkly sound.

The ones you're not playing : damp them with a spare fold of finger flesh

If you really need all strings and are finding it difficult, two further ideas : 1) Bit brutal : Try playing a full F on a 12 string guitar (if you have access to one). It's nearly impossible ! but great exercise and your own guitar will feel like a doddle afterwards. Unless your own guitar is a 12 string, in which case.. er... ignore this.

2) Maybe the guitar's nut holds the strings a bit too high ? This isn't uncommon even on some posh guitars. It's just like the bridge really so as you play nearer to it, it gets difficult if the action is too high around there. If you think this is the case, maybe have it sorted so the nut is a little lower ?

you can normally do this yourself by filing the string grooves (take strings out of course) with a folded bit of fine sandpaper, but it's a disaster if you go too far so be very careful !

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The error people tend to make concerning barre chords is to believe it requires strength. It does require some, yes, but the real trick is not to try to barre all the strings.

To play an F major, you don't need to barre all the strings, so in my opinion exercizing by barring a whole fret without other fingers is just the fastest way to hurt (or/and discourage)yourself. Truth is, when you play an F, you only need to barre two strings : the B and the high E.The way I do it : I press the low E with the tip of my index, I fret the other fingers (that's C with the ring finger, 3rd fret of A, F with the pinky, 3rd of D string, A with the middle finger, 2nd of G string). At that point, Im not barring the 1st fret. Then, not flattening the index finger, but bending it, I fret the last two strings with the flesh of my index finger. The curvature of the index means that you do not need to press where other fingers are already fretting (that is, the A, D and G string).

For this to work, you need to handle the guitar properly : your thumb is perpendicular to the neck, around the middle. Doing so, your other fingers face the bottom of the guitar, not the celling. When your in that position, just rotating the wrist in a counter-clockwise motion snaps the string behing the bony side of your index, facilitating the barre chord. I always explain to my students that it's as if your want to break the neck between your fingers. You're not pushing with the muscle of the palm of your hand (the one you use when squeezing a ball) but with your wrist muscles.

If you take a chord like the B minor, it's even better : you do no need to barre at all to fret the A string and the E string : you just push with the tip of your index on the A string, arc your finger and fret the E string with the fleshy bottom of your index.

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This is sort of true, but it is definitely good practice to be able to barre all 6 strings consistently wherever you are on the neck. That way you can place the other fingers where you like without ever worrying about a buzz. –  Dr Mayhem Mar 21 '13 at 8:42
    
Aren't you barre-ing 3 strings (3rd line of answer) for that F - 6, 2 and 1? –  Tim May 28 at 6:25
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There are some good ideas in the other answers (for example, working higher on the neck first, to get the chord right, then working your way down). But there are two critical physical reasons why bar chords are hard for beginners, and they don't address these directly:

  1. To get good purchase on the neck, the first finger (LH) must use the tiny muscles around its big knuckle (not the big muscles in the forearm that we normally grip with).

  2. The other three LH fingers must be independent of the first finger, even though it is working very hard to maintain the bar.

So those two things add up to a big strength and coordination challenge for the left hand. Here are a few things that will help more quickly then simply slogging through difficult changes until your hand hurts:

A) Make sure that your first finger is close to the target fret, is pushing through its middle knuckle (i.e. "arching", so that the middle strings get good pressure), and that your left thumb is offset towards your elbow - this helps the whole left arm put more pressure on the strings.

B) Do this exercise once a day for four weeks to strengthen those tiny muscles around the first finger big knuckle, and I believe that you'll see a dramatic improvement in your barring:

  • Stand with your hands hanging relaxed.
  • Extend the fingers of both hands all the way out.
  • Close the fingers to a fist.
  • Easy, eh? Now do it two hundred times, as fast as you can, making sure you snap the fingers open and close all the way each time...

If your hands aren't developed, you'll start to feel it in your forearms, probably, after 20 or 30 repetitions. Work your way up to 200. Since this exercise is "isometric" (no weights) you can't hurt yourself, so go until you are completely slowed down with the extensions, and you have significant "sensation" in your forearms.

This is going to help all of your guitar work, especially the left hand, and if you've been completely extending, you've also been working those small muscles that are essential for barring. In any case, you'll get quicker results than if you just slugged away at chord changes, in my experience.

Finally, for the independent movement of the LH fingers not "tied down" with the bar, bar up higher up on the neck and play scales with the remaining three fingers.

Remember to set yourself a long-term window for improvement - "in four months I should be able to do this" - keeping in mind that playing music is a life-long thing!

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One addition to what everyone else has said:

Before learning barre chords, make sure your guitar is set up properly. A high action combined with heavy gauge strings will make it difficult even for an experienced guitarist.

Ask a guitar player to try it out. They'll be able to tell you if it feels wrong.

If there are problems with the guitar, take it to a guitar shop to get set up properly.

I think it's easier to learn on a nylon-strung guitar, because although the neck is wider, the strength required to press down the string is much lower. It then becomes another leap to progress to steel-strung acoustics.

It's vital that you hold the guitar properly, so that you can reach the fretboard without curving your wrist too far. If you can see the fretboard without leaning your head forward, you're probably turning the guitar towards you too much.

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I did following those (hard: F is a real bastard) steps:

A) learn to play "la bamba": C, F, G.

The change through C and F will kill you. That's where we'll focus. Speed is not interesting, perfect sound is. Play the chords very slow ensuring you get perfect sound from ALL the strings. You posture can do a LOT for your playing so check accurately how to sit / stand and hold an electric / acoustic / classic guitar :) In order to complete and master step A you can use this trick:

B) push and pull on the hard chord

Put a perfect F chord and then take your fingers away from the neck (1 mm) and then put fingers back. Do it again. Again. Strum strings to ensure every string is PERFECTLY playing. Now take your fingers away from the neck more and do it again. Then even more and do it again. The more you do this the more you'll be able to take your hand completely off and get it back with strenght and accuracy.

When you're done scream la bamba as loud as you can 'til your family hates you.

and never... NEVER forget:

c) Do not mix it with Twist and shout.

Have fun :)

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Louie, Louie works, too! –  luser droog Oct 18 '11 at 10:56
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The easiest way to explore Barre chords is playing in an Alternate Tuning. There are many Open tunings that you can use. This means when you strum all the strings Open they make a chord. Thus any Barre across all the frets will be a chord as well.

There is also Drop tunings, which make 3 or more of the Strings a chord when you Barre them all.

  1. Drop D is a popular one for Blues, Rock and Pop.
  2. Drop C is popular in all the Metal Genres.
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I use G-D-d-f-g#-b, (bottom two strings swapped vs standard tuning), which I call "flat-finger tuning". It gives two sets of easily-fingered major/minor/seventh bar chords a fourth apart. The useful melodic range is a lot smaller than with standard tuning, but some of the closer chord voicings are quite nice (e.g. an F7 chord is F-F-A-C-Eb, whereas in standard tuning it would be F-C-Eb-A-C-F). –  supercat Mar 25 '13 at 17:05
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This is such a frequently asked question, I've written the following article on my website: The F Chord There's basically only 2 ways to play an F Chord: a) Barre Chord b) Hendrix Chord

BARRE CHORD The Barre chord is obviously the use of the index finger across the entire set of strings. The reason this is difficult is due to the tension of the string from the nut to the first fret... it's the hardest place of the fretboard.

  1. Play the E CHORD with your bottom three fingers of your fretting hand.
  2. Slide the E CHORD up the fretboard, one fret space up.
  3. Place your index finger across the first fret.

Some of the responses here state this as well.

HENDRIX CHORD Essentially, you are NOT playing a barre chod. You are using variations of the C Shape and using your thumb over the neck to fret the E Bass string (marked X). You are only using the index finger to fret 2 frets instead of the intire first fret.

Hendrix F Chord shape Now some people advise correctly that you can try OTHER BARRE CHORDS to get used to the feeling. This is correct.

My first chord was actually a B minor. Again, same "technique"... B minor is really an A minor SHAPE played with the bottom three fingers and using the first/index finger as the barre. The tension on the 2nd fret strings is alot less than the 1st fret so it will definitely be EASIER to perform. In addition, your index finger gets used to the pain (killing a few nerve endings!) and you will be fine.

It took me 3 to 5 days just to hold the chord. But the ULTIMATE TRICK.... is to change from other chords into the BARRE CHORD.

So coming back to the F Chord, my guitar teacher introduced the F Chord as the Hendrix shape first before getting us to play the BARRE version after we had successfully played and practiced the B Minor and F# Minor.

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The Hendrix chord is generally known as '7#9',nothing like your shape.He may have used what you portray, and put his thumb over onto the fat E, but that doesn't make it the Hendrix chord. –  Tim May 28 at 6:31
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If you want fun with barre chords, try drop-d tuning. All that means is you drop the lowest pitch string (standard: E) to a (D).

Once you do that, the first 3 strings (played open) are DAD. If you strum the guitar open then, you get a power chord (A+D is a fifth and "sounds good" together).

Now move your finger up and down the neck. If you barre the 1st fret, and strum the first 3 strings, you are playing D#, A#, D#. That's another power chord!

Barre the 2nd fret, you're doing E, B, E, yet another power chord!

It turns out that anywhere you barre on the neck in drop-D tuning gives you a nice sounding power chord.

Playing around in this configuration is good to start with because you have nice sounding chords, and only need to use 1 finger to do your barre chord.

Strum away!

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Play the open E major chord without using your index finger (only use fingers 2, 3 and 4) until you get comfortable with it.

Then move up a fret and start trying to use your index to bar all 6 strings.

That's what I did back in the day

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The way I learned was just through old-fashioned repetition. I started with fifth chords, eg F5.

$4.3.$5.3.$6.1

You can play nearly every Green Day song ever written if you learn fifth chords.

Next I moved on to the minor barre chord, eg Fm.

Fm

This took a lot of practice to get my index finger to press hard enough to make the G string ring clearly. Play some other chord and move into an Fm. Just keep practicing that transition until you can make it sound good and accurately place your fingers. Once I had built up the muscle memory and neural networks for Fm, I moved on to the major barre. For me, it was easier to learn the minor chord first and then worry about bending my middle finger to play the major third of the chord on the G string.

Then I had to learn the 5 string major barre chord pattern, eg B.

B

Practice, practice, practice, and you'll get it.

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Try learning a Bm cord first. It's the same fingering, but everything is 1 string lower so you don't have to bar the low e (you don't play it). It's a bit easier to play than the F and will help you build up some hand strength. Once you start to get that down, start learning the F again and it will be easier.

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What kind of guitar? Playing an F chord is somewhat different on my classical (wider neck but with less string tension) vs my steel string (narrower neck, but much more string tension).

You might try changing to a lighter gauge of strings which would bend easier and hopefully make it easier to do the bar.

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I would also add that the action of the guitar will make a big difference. The higher the action, the more you have to press down on the strings. Higher actions require more strength in the hand and fingers for barre chords. –  Anonymous Jan 15 '11 at 13:35
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One tip I have is to move higher up the neck. Play the F shape at the 5th fret instead of the 1st (so you'll be playing an A). It's easier to press down the strings further away from the end, and will help you develop finger strength more gradually.

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and you can try the X 8 10 10 10 X shape to make an F. –  Anonymous Jan 13 '11 at 21:19
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I think the only answer to this one is...keep doing it.

The reason you're struggling is because your hand and fingers aren't strong enough yet to do it easily. It's like weight lifting, the more you do it, the stronger you'll get.

Try playing barre chords further up the neck, around the 5th fret. You might find it a little easier than F on the 1st, then as you get stronger, work it back down the neck to the 1st fret.

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Thanks, that's great advice, starting further up the neck. I'll try it tonight! –  Anonymous Jan 13 '11 at 21:15
    
+1 Good timing ;) –  Matthew Read Jan 13 '11 at 21:15
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protected by Matthew Read Jun 5 '12 at 22:45

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