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Ok, first off, let me introduce myself: my name is Diego and I've been practising guitar(acoustic with metal strings) for about a month and a half, like five hours the day.

Well, to the point: Recently, I've been practising a song which has some barre chords(F,Gm7,Bb and the G with barre), which I don't care to practice, except by the bloody F chord... Let me explain...

In general, when I find a new chord, the first I do is to make it sound alone with different finger and hand positions, until I find some position in which all strings sound fine and my hand is comfortable(when possible). Second, I try to change fast to it. And that's it.

But with the F chord I can't do it, because the amount of strength it requieres is such that I just can't imagine changing to it. Specifically it's the second string the one which doesn't sound at least I press really hard on the first fret. For the rest of the strings, I can proudly say that after 1 whole day practicing, almost 90% of the time sound good.

I've come to think that it may be a guitar problem, so my first question is whether you also had complication with that string when doing the F chord. If it's not a guitar problem, I was starting to think another idea. As far as I know, the Capo's function is to lower or raise tones, which can be done also changing the strings tension manually..My idea is to loose the strings a semitone or a whole tone(to make it easier to press them), and then using the capo to compensate it, so that it sounds the same, so my second question is whether it'll work. I don't know if what I've just said is stupid, so forgive me if so...

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    IFinger strength will come. Make sure your thumb is pushing up against the bottom on the neck. You may want to look at some pics of correct hand position. You shouldn't need to press too hard to get clean sounding notes. A side note... I found that leading my chord changes with one finger helps the rest of the fingers fall into place faster and more accurately which helps me play cleanly. – Michael McCain May 30 '16 at 2:09
  • You can get some tips and information on the "Guitar Principles" website: guitarprinciples.com/about-chords/easy-bar-chords# (NOTE: I am not affiliated with them, just wanted to point to that source of information) – Wim Deblauwe May 30 '16 at 8:20
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    Note that the F major barre and Bb major barre chords at the first fret require more strength than any other chord. In terms of building your finger strength, those are the last chords you will be strong enough to play comfortably. So definitely be patient about it. – Todd Wilcox May 30 '16 at 15:13
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    @ToddWilcox - spot on. I often wonder why tutors use the key of C as a start point for guitarists, as the F chord (so to speak...) has to be met so soon. – Tim May 30 '16 at 17:53
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    @Tim Good point. G major and D major are clearly better for beginners. Plus G major's relative minor is E minor, which of course is a good start on E minor pentatonic blues riff and access to half of the Led Zeppelin catalog (among other things). – Todd Wilcox May 30 '16 at 18:39

10 Answers 10

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Just about every guitarist struggled at some point with barre F. I only ever had one student who simply played it perfectly from the beginning. Despite what some people say, callouses won't help, and squeezing the life out of the neck won't either.Sounds to me like the guitar action is in need of some fettling. If you can put the capo on about fret 4 and play the barre chord on 5 comfortably, then it's the action. There's plenty of answers on that on this site.

Yes, it's a good idea to tune down, or put thinner strings on the guitar. It's not necessary to then capo, unless you're playing with others, or are fussy about it sounding in concert pitch - or have absolute pitch!

You should be able to actually play a clean barre F chord with NO thumb on the back of the neck, if the guitar is as it should be. I'm not saying do this when you play, only that the thumb pressure ought to be minimal. A lot of players end up with RSI because of this idea. To practise, try to hammer each chord on, so that all fingers arrive on strings at the same time. Doing it a finger at a time will slow you down eventually. Have you tried playing the problem chords on different guitars?

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    I think you could put in a little bit about ideal finger position. I.e., when trying to eliminate buzz while fretting a chord, it's important for the fretting to be done in the right place between frets where buzz is eliminated (fretting closer to the bridge) but minimum pressure is needed (closer to the nut). Accurate finger placement is key to playing with minimal effort. – Todd Wilcox May 30 '16 at 15:16
  • @ToddWilcox - thanks, you're right, I could; but felt that those parameters have been covered in numerous other answers to this, and similar questions. – Tim May 30 '16 at 17:51
  • @Tim I think it's the action.I've been reading about it and apparently there's no standard, but it's a taste thing. Anyway,I've just measured at the 12th string(from top of the fretboard to bottom of the low E) and I got 0,5 cm=3/16 inch. At 1st fret I get 0,2 cm=1/16 inch. I remember have tried to learn Michelle once, but gave up because it costed me a lot to press the strings at the 8th and higher frets... So, what do you think of the measures? Can you suggest me some page on how to lower the action(both at the nut and at the sound hole,specially this last)?... – Diego Jun 1 '16 at 6:24
  • ...Or maybe it's better that somebody else see that? – Diego Jun 1 '16 at 6:25
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    @Diego - On some acoustics it's easy at the bridge end, as there are adjusting screws to take it up or down. However, the only way on a lot is to remove the saddle (the white pastic/bone part) and file it down. Trouble is, it might then be too low, so you'd have to start again, or you could put packing under it, which sometimes affects the sound.At the nut each slot is a different width, so it's not an easy job, and - same as before, if you go too low, the whole nut needs replacing. Unless you have the tools and knowhow, best leave it to an expert. – Tim Jun 1 '16 at 6:56
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Try experimenting with different points of contact. For instance, pressing down with the index finger flat against the string like this

'Flat' position

will likely result in a few dead strings since you are using the fleshy part of the finger. Instead, try rotating the index finger slightly so it is more the side of the finger that is in contact with the strings:

Rotated fingers

Note the different angle. Now, a less fleshy part of the finger is being used, resulting in a more secure grip.

Another thing to try is using a different part of the finger to form the bar, see below for an exaggerated example.

Alt. grip

This can give an advantage for some chords, depending on which strings need to be barred.

  • Everyone's fingers are shaped differently. Thus, it's important to experiment, as johannes suggests. My problem is that the palm side of my fingers are very strongly indented at the joints, so I really need to have a different finger postion for every different barre. – Scott Wallace Jun 6 '16 at 17:42
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You'll get the F chord with the bar chords, it just takes time. When I first started learning, I started off with open chords (non-bar), gradually introduced the F chord and then went on to bar chords..

Anyway, it's more of a leverage thing, rather than a "guitar problem" imo. What you do with your thumb/finger placement and wrist angle has a lot to do with how easy you can make it on yourself (everybodys body mechanics are a little different, too - ALSO, you mentioned you are playing an acoustic steel string guitar, and acoustics are tougher to learn F chords on, as oppose to electric or classical..) Finally, practice helps, as I guess you know, so allowing your fingers the opportunity to get used to the idea of the F chord and then refining your approach as you go is not a bad idea..

But all that said, never forget that the F chord is not always played in first position near the nut... same goes for all playing.. I mean, there are many other ways to play the F chord that sound much better, other than in first position.

After a few months of playing, when I first started years and years ago, although my fingers did not callus up like my finger tips, they toughened up slightly, which did make general performance a bit easier.

As a potential practice exercise, maybe try making bar chords up at higher frets like the 5th or 7th fret (its easier up there usually for most) and gradually move it back to the 3rd or 2nd fret, where as you probably know, its a bit tougher to make the chord sound right.

I figure you'll get some better answers but thought I'd share my thoughts, good luck!

4

Do check your guitar's action (or get it checked). If your strings are too high, that won't help.

Technique is a big deal. Rolling the barre finger to be barring with the more-bony outside of the finger is essential. Make sure your elbow is closer to your body, which rolls your wrist into the right position to put your finger in the right position and gives you better mechanical strength. And crucially, make sure your thumb is properly on the middle of the neck, not wrapped around the far side, otherwise a full barre is always going to be next-to-impossible. If your thumb isn't on the middle of the neck for normal chords, you're going to have to move your thumb to make that barre, and that's going to massively slow you down.

Edit: Check the pictures in @Johannes's answer for how elbow position affects your hand position. Worth a thousand words. :)

(Sure, some people play with their thumb wrapped around the neck, even fretting the low E or A with their thumb, and they still manage to change smoothly to barre chords. Jimi Hendrix played guitar with his teeth and with the guitar behind his head. When you're as good as Jimi, Leadbelly or all those other greats, of course you can do whatever you want. Let's assume you aren't up to that standard yet ;) so start with regular technique which will always work.)

But for barre chords, there really is a massive strength element. If I put my left and right hands next to each other, the muscle at the base of my left thumb is clearly very overdeveloped compared to my right thumb. I'm nothing special, but after about 10 years of playing I could fairly comfortably hold a barre chord for an entire 4 minute song on an acoustic guitar strung with 12s. That simply doesn't happen overnight.

The first thing is being able to get the barre naturally just for a couple of beats. Slow everything else down to the speed it takes you to get the barre change. Skip a strum or two whilst changing if you need to. Hold it for a beat or two, then move off, because that's all your hand will manage. It's good for this if you can find some songs which are almost all "normal" chords and just throw in one barre, because that lets your barre muscles rest in between times. Then just keep working those songs until the changes are smooth and your fingers are holding it cleanly.

When you're getting there with those songs, start throwing in songs with a few more barres. "Hotel California" is a classic intermediate barre-chord song. Once you've got that then you're pretty much flying, so find your own sky after that. :)

3

Lowering the guitar a tone and adding a capo is how I play my guitar now most of the time. Partly to make chords like F more accessible and partly to play with looser strings. You are right in your thinking about the capo making the action lower, and making chords easier to reach and play. I could suggest playing the F chord slighly differently by trying to reach around the neck with your thumb and instead of barreing the lowest "E" off , use your thumb, and play the rest of the chord openly, sometimes this makes it hard to play the highest E on the first fret, but it is an "alternative" way of playing an F. It takes a different wrist angle and can fit into other chord sequences more comfortably once you know it.Here is an image link. Look, no barre.--

http://www.drbanjo.com/chords/f_chord_thumb.png

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When I was struggling to play barre chords, I found that what helped me a lot was - every so slightly - just rolling my index finger backwards (that is, towards the head of the guitar.) This way, instead of the fleshy underside of my finger contacting the guitar, and muting the strings slightly, also leading to buzzing in many cases, I could use the harder, bonier side of my finger to make a cleaner sound.

However, I think every guitarist struggles with barre chords, especially F, at some point, the only thing you can do is practice; I remember, I used to find it soooo difficult, but then there came a point when I was just able to do it, almost instantly, just like that, and now I find it extremely easy both to play and to transition to. However, this would not have been possible were I not constantly practicing.

Another thing I noticed while I was still struggling with the chord was that the position of the finger across the frets mattered quite a lot; try moving your finger towards the "top" (closest to the higher frets) so that it is nearer the metal separating the frets; this reduced a lot of buzz for me.

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Try this:

  • index does a barre on the first two strings
  • middle finger on third string
  • little pinky finger on 4th string
  • ring finger on 5th string
  • thumb on 6th string

Of course it requires a bit practice, but as does any other method I guess. But once you get it, you realize that this position seems very natural

  • excepting the thumb, this is how I played an "F" for the first few (six) months, when I was learning. I still use this pattern a lot, since it is very easy to "roll the index upwards" to allow the high E to ring open, nice modification of the chord. – Yorik May 31 '16 at 19:50
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I basically never play barre chords this way (full barre with the first finger) ...for the same reason you found - it is difficult to barre across all six strings without buzzing, especially if you don't use light strings, low action etc.

If you think about it mechanically, it is quite inefficient to need all this strength in the first finger, when it's only actually making three of the notes from those six strings.

An alternative technique is to fret the bass string with your thumb (by hooking it over the top edge of the fretboard) - then you need only barre the lightest two strings with your first finger.

If you are studying classical guitar I expect this technique is considered unacceptable, but for other styles it is very practical and much easier on the hand.

  • If it's difficult to barre across all six strings without buzzing then you need to build up your finger strength. It's honestly not bad once you get your fingers up to that strength and using your thumb because it's easier is never a good thing. – Dom May 31 '16 at 13:21
  • Certainly there are some styles of playing where it would be inappropriate as you'd have to switch between thumb and non-thumb grips. But to assert that "using your thumb because it's easier is never a good thing" is simply false. For some styles there is no downside to the thumb grip and, since it effectively gives you an extra finger, certain techniques are impossible without it. This is all separate from the issue of building up finger strength, which truly is always a good thing. – blueskiwi May 31 '16 at 14:05
  • This way of playing an F is a lot easier for a beginner (leave off the thumb is you can't wrap it around). The strength will come. – Yorik May 31 '16 at 19:52
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    for a beginner maybe I would still recommend trying to do it the 'proper' way, in the sense that 'eating your vegetables' is good for you. but I'd also encourage not to get hung up on correctness, this is a very practical technique used by many great players. I'd also point out that you have six strings and only four fingers... using the thumb is essential for some voicings eg 'jazz' chords. I'd also go further and say I hardly ever play all six strings of a plain major chord, especially when playing in a band... – blueskiwi Jun 3 '16 at 11:32
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I believe an F chord is difficult due to the length of the neck and the angle that is required of your wrist. Notice how much easier each chord is to make as you go up the neck. And even with light gauge strings it is easier but still hard. Try bending strings for an open E pentatonic pattern.

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Here are the voicings I typically use for an F chord:

%X/X.3/3.3/3.2/2.1/1.1/1[F]


%X/X.3/3.3/3.2/2.1/1.0/O[Fmaj7]

Here I use a thumb over the neck:

%1/T.3/3.3/3.2/2.1/1.X/X[F]   

I agree that barring the F so close to the nut is difficult and usually unnecessary.

Another advantage of the first F voicing is that it leads to an easy transition to the C chord.

If you don't mind voicing the F chord higher, you could capo at the 3rd fret and play the F chord as a D chord. Then you have to transpose the whole tune up to D but I do this so often--to take advantage of open strings ringing--that I can transpose on the fly if I'm reading chord charts.

  • the tabs are wrong, these aren't F chords (some of the fingers are shifted one string over) more like a sort of Bb minor – blueskiwi Jun 3 '16 at 11:21
  • Thanks @blueskiwi. As you can tell, I'm still getting the hang of jTab. Errors corrected. – pro Jun 3 '16 at 15:52
  • no prob! personally I like to barre the top two strings with my first finger in the 'thumb' version – blueskiwi Jun 4 '16 at 13:23

protected by Matthew Read Jun 1 '16 at 3:07

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