Home » The F Chord On Guitar – 5 Easy Alternative Voicings

The F Chord On Guitar – 5 Easy Alternative Voicings

F Major is a chord that presents a bit of a headache for beginner guitarists but there’s no way around it, to progress on the guitar you’ll have to get comfortable playing it. In the following article, we’re going to explain why F Major is such a challenging chord, and provide some useful tips for getter better at playing it. But first, we’ll demonstrate 5 easy F chord voicings you can use while developing your finger strength and dexterity. 

What is an F Major Chord?

Beginners are often surprised to learn that there are many different ways to play the same guitar chords on the fretboard. After all, while there are at least 120 frets on your guitar’s fretboard, there are only 12 notes used in western music, and from these 12 notes, all music, including scales and chords are built.

That means there are a number of different shapes we can utilize on the guitar to play chords. Different shapes used to play chords in this way are known as chord voicings. The most common chord voicings (the ones most often seen in chord books, or online) are popular because they are easier to play (e.g. the placement of the fingers is less challenging than other voicings) and/or sound better than other voicings.

So what is an F Major chord?

F Major is a triad, meaning it consists of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th scale degrees of the F Major scale: F (root), A (major third), and C (perfect fifth).

If you are unfamiliar with the terminology used above e.g. scale degrees, root notes etc. you can read all about how chords are constructed here

With this in mind, to play an F Major chord we need to locate F, A, and C on separate strings in shapes we can reach with the fretting hand.

Notes of the fretboard. F, A, and C are highlighted in orange.
Notes of the fretboard. F, A, and C are highlighted in orange.

The notes in orange above are the notes that make up an F Major chord.

Of course, while you could play join the dots using the fretboard diagram above, it’s not quite that simple. For example, we can see the notes F, and C available on the 1st fret on the 1st and 2nd strings and the A available on the open 5th string.

However, try strumming that voicing while muting the 3rd and 4th strings (G and D are not notes included in an F Major chord) and you might find it trickier than other, more common voicings.

So, as we can see not all voicings are useful.

Some voicings also just won’t sound all that great, despite being the correct notes. For example, most common chord voicings repeat notes that the chord is constructed from, which makes the chord sound richer/fuller as there are more strings being played, incorporating more than one octave, making the chord sound a little more sophisticated despite containing repeat notes.

If we take the example below of the standard open F major chord most beginners have trouble with we can see that the root (F) is found at the 3rd fret of the 4th string. But, it also appears on the first fret of the 1st string, however, it is an octave higher in pitch.

F Major Chord Diagram

If you are unfamiliar with chord diagrams click here for a quick explanation.

Easy F Major Chord Voicing no. 1

F Major Easy Chord Voicing Diagram

Taking the example above, it’s logical that the first (easy) chord voicing we can use to play F Major is to simply leave out that repeat F (root) on the 1st string.

By doing this, we no longer need to barre the B and high E strings using the index finger (represented above with the number 1) however, you will also need to avoid playing or instead mute the high E string, as E is not part of the F Major chord.

Fmaj7

Fmaj7 Chord Diagram

Alternatively, if you do include the open 1st string (E) this results in a Fmaj7 chord. Major 7 chords can (in many cases) be used to replace Major chords and will generally sound more sophisticated. 

Fadd9

Fadd9 Chord Diagram

From Fmaj7 it’s easy to transition to a Fadd9 which simply means the 9th degree of the major scale is included in the chord. In this case, G is the 2nd note of the scale in the next highest octave hence it is referred to as the 9th scale degree, despite the Major scale consisting of 7 notes.

To play Fadd9 from Fmaj7 we simply fret the 1st string at the 3rd fret using the pinky (4th finger).


Easy F Major Chord Voicing no. 2

F/A

The next ‘easy’ F chord replacement is the F/A chord. This is still very much an F Major chord but is known as a slash chord or first inversion of F Major.

This simply means the root note is no longer the lowest note of the chord as we have removed the root note formerly found on the 4th string. 

We can play this voicing without needing to barre the 1st and 2nd strings with one finger. Instead using both the 1st finger (index) and 2nd finger (middle finger) indicated above as 1 and 2.

As the A (the major third) is now the lowest note of the chord it is known as the first inversion. If the perfect fifth (C) was the lowest note it would be the second inversion of F Major, which is also a common voicing for F Major as shown below, although I wouldn’t include it in a list of easy alternative F Chord shapes.

F/C Chord Diagram

However it can also be made easier by removing the 1st string, thus removing the need to barre the 1st and 2nd string, as per the example below.

F/C Chord Diagram - 2

This voicing is great if wanting to add more bass to the typical F Major chord, which as it usually is only played on the top four strings can sound a little thin compared to big open chords such as G Major.


Easy F Major Chord Voicing no. 3

F Major (E shape)

F Major Chord Diagram - E Barre Shape

Most people when learning guitar start on an easy chord, E Major and it’s even easier cousin the E minor chord.

If you are a beginner however you might not be aware that if you slide your fingers up one fret and only let the fretted notes ring out (mute the 1st, 2nd, and 6th strings) you are actually playing F Major second inversion as there’s no sharps or flats between E and F.

The diagram above demonstrates this. And, from here it’s simple to see how we can also play F Major as a barre chord which as we’ll touch on soon is arguably more difficult to play than open F Major.


Easy F Major Chord Voicing no. 4

F Major (A Shape)

We can also use the A shape to play a root 5 F Major barre chord. If you are familiar with the chromatic scale (the scale that comprises all 12 notes in music) you will know that as we ascend up the 5th (A) string we can find our root note (F) on the 8th fret and can complete the chord by holding an A shape by fretting the 3rd, 4th, and 5th strings at the 10th fret, as per the example above.


Easy F Major Chord Voicing no. 5

F5 (F Power Chord)

F5 Chord Diagrams

A lot of people tend to think of power chords as ‘dumbed down’ versions of regular chords only used in rock and punk, but this sells them short.

Power chords can be incredibly useful, as they comprise of only the root and 5th, they are neither major nor minor as they omit the 3rd which would otherwise define the chord’s quality.

This means they can be used as replacements for both major and minor chords. Above are two simple voicings you can use, example two includes a second root note to add more depth to the chord.


Why Learn Multiple Voicing of Chords?

Hopefully, the 5 easy voicings above allow you to play F Major but you should also learn the more common F Major shape and F Major barre chords in root 5 (already listed above) and root 6 positions.

The benefit of knowing numerous chord voicings is it allows you to unlock the fretboard and play chords in multiple positions, which, based on the song you are playing may be more efficient, provide more economical shapes for your fingers or simply provide a richer sound.

With that in mind, I’ll quickly explain below why the F chord is tricky for beginners and then provide some tips on how you can improve it.


Why is the F chord so hard to play on guitar?

To play an open F Major chord the guitarist must barre the high E and B strings at the first fret using one finger, the index finger. As string tension is highest at the nut (and saddle, the endpoints of the strings) it can be difficult to push down both the high E and B strings at the 1st fret with one finger. It’s also a hard chord to play in root 6 barre form as this requires barring all the strings at the first fret.

Below are the two most common voicings used when playing F Major. As you can see, in example 1 a mini-barre of the high E and B strings is required. In the second example (F Major barre chord) the entire first fret is barred.

As string tension is highest in this position it is difficult to press down all strings evenly without the necessary finger strength that comes with playing guitar.

F Major Oepn Chord and F Major Barre Chord Chart side by side

When this occurs, you are likely to hear one or more strings buzz, or simply not ring out cleanly, making your chord amateurish.

Why is String Tension Highest Near the Nut?

If you take the example of a skipping rope. Tension is highest near the two endpoints but towards the middle of the rope tension is lower and the arc of rotation increases.

This is how guitar strings also work with regard to tension. The closer you are to a fixed point the higher the string tension because a fixed point such as the nut and saddle absorbs less of the inherent tension in the strings. This is why playing F higher up the neck is easier, there’s less tension and as a result, the strings require less effort to push down onto the fretboard.

It has nothing to do with scale length, generally speaking, the longer the scale length e.g. the longer the string the more tension required and has nothing to do with the length of non-vibrating string e.g. a section of string behind the nut leading to the tuning posts. 


F Major is also a tricky chord transition

If voicing the chord wasn’t hard enough, it’s also a difficult chord to transition to and from as most chords utilize the fingertips, but as you are required to perform a mini-barre you must transition to use the pads of the fingers instead of the fingertips.

As an example, let’s say we are playing an I, IV, V chord progression in the key of C e.g. C (or Cmajor7), F (or Fmaj7), and G (or Gdom7). The C chord is played with the fingertips, all fingers involved in voicing the chord are pressing down on one string only. 

However, when transitioning from C to F Major we quickly need to lay the index finger flat to accommodate the high E and B strings and then when moving on to the G chord we use the fingertips again, despite the fact that we now need to hold down the high E and B strings both at the third fret.


How to Improve F Major

Below are some quick tips you can incorporate into your playing to improve F Major, along with barre chords in general for the most part. Some require physical changes to the guitar e.g. changing strings, lowering action while some are based on technique and are easy to understand yet difficult to pull off, and some, especially if you are a beginner are essential to get right from the beginning to avoid forming bad habits.

Remove tension from your neck and shoulders

Try to be relaxed when you play guitar. Posture is important, as having good posture will reduce a lot of the tension in your neck and shoulders which affects your arms and hands.

Practice Makes Perfect

Nobody wants to hear this but perseverance is key. Tommy Emmanuel once said, don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong.

Another thing most experienced guitarists will understand is trusting in your muscle memory. Repetition is key, but once you have practiced to the point where you are getting tired put the guitar down and come back tomorrow. It’s amazing how you will often see improvement overnight when you pick up the guitar again due to muscle memory, it’s literally like improving in your sleep.

Change Strings

One simple way to reduce the effort required to play F Major as an open chord or root 6 barre chord is to change to a lighter gauge of strings.

Even changing from 12’s (the most common gauge) to 11’s can make a pretty big difference, reducing a significant amount of tension. Keep in mind, if you do change from heavy to light gauge strings this may affect your neck relief which in turn affects action. Speaking of which…

Lower your Action

Action describes the distance between the underside of your strings and the guitar fretboard. Reducing the action means you have less distance to push down the strings, however, this can also result in fret buzz i.e. the rotational arc of the strings, especially toward the middle of the neck is such that comes into contact (buzzes) with the fret wires. Try to find a compromise that avoids this while making the guitar easier to play.

Also, keep in mind, a higher action often provides great resonance which in turn affects sustain.

Thumb Position

This is especially the case when playing barre chords. Try to position your thumb (back of neck) in line with your index finger (front of neck/fretboard).

This makes the strings easier to push down as the thumb and index finger are working together, directly opposite one another, pinching the string. If the thumb is off to the side, it requires more effort. This can be a difficult (bad) habit to break, so definitely one to be aware of as a beginner.

Angle of Index Finger

The index finger is the finger used to barre the strings when playing barre chords. If we lay the index finger flat the fleshy part of the finger barres the notes at the first fret. However, rolling the finger slightly so the harder edge of the finger is used to press down the strings helps provide a more rigid surface, making it easier to push down the strings.


Summary

The F chord is not an easy chord for many, especially in the beginner stages of the guitar. However, as a beginner guitarist, it’s essential to learn. Many common beginner songs such as ‘House of the rising sun’ by the Animals, or ‘Hide your love away’ by the Beatles, to name just two, utilize F Major.

So, if you are currently struggling to play the chord cleanly try using one or more of the 5 easy chord voicings listed above, but also practicing F major in the standard open position and as both root 5 and root 6 barre chords using the tips listed above.

About Marty

My name's Marty, I've been into guitars for over 30 years. Theacousticguitarist.com is my blog where I write about acoustic guitars, music, and home recording.