The Dreaded F Chord
Being able to play F is a really important step and one that might take a month or more of frustration. I found it really hard when I first learnt it—really hard. But I often see students that try it during a lesson and can play it perfectly straight away, so try it and see how you go. This chord leads later to playing barre chords (which is the point at which you will ascend from being a beginner to an intermediate player!).
It's time to face the F Chord
Try not to let yourself get discouraged if you find it hard. Try and think back to how hard it was to play your first chords and make them sound good. This one is no different really; once you get it you'll wonder why you ever had a problem with it at all!
If you have an electric and an acoustic guitar I would recommend learning this chord on your electric, which you'll probably find a lot easier. Get the technique good and you hand comfortable with the grip, and then move to acoustic; you're going to have to press a lot harder and have more finger strength, but your technique will be solid!
There are a few ways of playing this one. I'm going to try and introduce you to the hardest one first and see how you get on. Then we'll make it a little easier. When we learned the A chord with a barre, we held down more than one note at once with our first finger. For the F barre chord, you need to hold down all the strings at the first fret, with your other fingers in the positions shown:!
If you're really struggling to get the barre, there are a couple of things you can try:
If you have very old or very thick strings, then changing to nice new thin strings (9s on electric, 10s on acoustic) will almost certainly help because thin strings are easier to press down.
Make sure your ‘action' is not too high, meaning that the strings are too far away from the fingerboard. This is usually adjusted in a guitar shop as part of a set-up. You'll have to pay for it, but a good set-up can make even a cheap guitar nice to play, and is usually worth the money.
Barre chords are easier when they are played further up the neck, so playing this shape at the 5th fret (which would make it an A chord actually) might be easier and allow you to build up the strength in your hand enough to go back to F. If not then try one of the variations opposite.
The first F chord above sounds more full then the one below but its lowest note is a C note, so some people find it sounds strange. I don't; I like the sound of it better and in fact, I found it easier to play then the ‘mini' variation shown at the bottom. For that chord, your 3rd finger should mute the fifth string; later, you might like to mute the thickest string with your thumb (but don't worry about that just yet, unless it comes really easy!).
"My B string buzzes"
Oh, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that! It's just because your barre is not strong enough yet. You should make sure that the barre is rolled a little onto its side. Most likely it's just going to take some time to get your muscles strong enough to hold your finger in place.
"I can play it, but it's so slow to get to it, I'll never be able to use it in a song"
Think back to your slow changes when you started. Most people need to spend quite a lot of time doing One-Minute changes with the F to even start to get the changes smooth. It's going to take you some time, but once you are over this hurdle the rest is plain sailing!! :)
“Perhaps I need to buy one of those hand-strengthening machines”
No you don't, just practise more! Those things are a waste of time. Do your workout on the guitar!
Once you have this sorted we are going to look at changing to and from F.