“The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat.”
The modern equivalent of “the agony of defeat” is the struggle face.
If you want to see a musical struggle face – complete with grimaces, grunts, groans, and tortured expressions – just watch someone wrestle with a problem guitar chord.
Of course, all guitarists have problems playing certain chords. For some folks, the biggest problem is reaching the ring finger for the C chord. For a lot of guys, it’s trying not to get jammed up on an A chord. For me, it was always accuracy on a B7.
But a univeral issue for almost every guitarist is how to make the F chord sound…well, not completely terrible. (Cue struggle face.)
Fortunately, I’ve got some answers that may make the struggle just a little more bearable.
This Is Gonna Suck
You know that feeling you get when you see the F chord on the page and you just know bad things are bound to happen when you try to play it?
Welcome to the club, bro. You are not alone.
Guitarists generally dread the F chord, and for good reason: it’s pretty miserable at the beginning.
F is notoriously difficult to play cleanly and therefore most guitar students will avoid it for as long as they can. And although you can play this beast in a few different ways, all of the grips require a fair amount of finger strength, dexterity and leverage for proper execution.
Unfortunately the F chord is extremely common, so you can’t avoid it forever; at some point, you just have to commit to learning it properly.
The JB Method
After careful consideration of the big musical picture and the physical skills required for proper execution, I’ve come up with a method that will help you dominate the F chord.
1 – Embrace the suck.
First, we have to be completely honest with ourselves: the process for learning the F chord will be a major challenge. It will require copious amounts of patience and diligent work, as well as a boatload of tolerance for bad sounds, ’cause it will likely sound pretty rough before it sounds good.
2 – Find a substitute.
I’m a big fan of using a substitute that will work pretty well until the F chord is playable. That substitute is Fmaj7.
Now, I’m not saying that Fmaj7 is a perfect substitute; the open E string does not sound correct with many songs that require a basic F chord. The sound of Fmaj7 is also too sophisticated and dreamy, whereas the sound of the standard F is straightforward and strong.
But desperate times call for desperate measures, my friend.
So if you want to play songs that require an F chord – and you don’t want to wear a constant struggle face – then go ahead and substitute the Fmaj7. You and I both know that it is not totally correct and that you will replace it later with the proper F chord.
3 – Assume the positions.
Another reason I like to use Fmaj7 initially is that it sets you up in the basic hand position for an F chord.
The diagram above gives you the most basic Fmaj7, using fingers 1, 2 and 3. Upon closer inspection, it also requires that strings 5 and 6 be muted.
Muting both strings is pretty difficult, though, unless you can wrap your thumb around to kill them off. (Good luck just trying to miss them with your pick.) Another option might be to bump string 5 with the tip of finger 3 and mute only string 6 with the thumb.
But I think the best option – musically and technically – is to use a variation of Fmaj7 that is pretty common: Fmaj7/C.
In this variation, you must reach across to string 5 with finger 3 and then tuck finger 4 behind it, to grab the note on string 4 that was originally played by finger 3.
There are a number of benefits to this variation over the more basic version of Fmaj7.
For starters, it uses five strings instead of four, which translates to a thicker sound with more bass and more closely resembles the fuller F chord variations we’ll examine below. Plus, you now only have to mute string 6 since you’re playing string 5.
Fmaj7/C also makes for a professional transition from your standard C chord, in that both chords have finger 3 on string 5 and finger 1 on string 2. Check it:
Lastly, this variation teaches you to similarly handle a typical C chord variation, C/G:
[Very Important Technique Tip: With these variations, reaching across one more string with finger 3 and tucking in finger 4 may encourage your fingers to flatten and lay down on the strings. This will compromise the sound of the chord, so be sure that you are up on the fingertips with a rounded hand position and as much room as possible between your palm and the back of the neck. Even with your thumb wrapped a bit to mute string 6, you must try to maintain the rounded hand position; otherwise you are likely to mute the open string 1 for Fmaj7/C and C/G.]
In Part 2 of this lesson, we’ll examine how we can use the Fmaj7 substitutes to transition into the standard F chord variations. With video!
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