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Four Fingers and a Chord (Guitar Lesson)


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David Isaacs

Four Fingers and a Chord

The mighty and intimidating F chord is one that most beginners see as a major hurdle in learning the basic chords on the guitar. Dave offers some ways to make the F chord more approachable. Once you examine the wrist and finger position for the F chord, you'll put it in a nice musical context for your practicing fun!

Taught by David Isaacs in Beginner Guitar With David Isaacs seriesLength: 15:35Difficulty: 2.0 of 5


In this lesson, we’ll tackle one of the major hurdles all beginning guitarists need to conquer: the F chord. What makes the F so challenging? It’s the first of many bar chords you will need to learn in order to complete your chord vocabulary. We’ll then move to another strummed shuffle that will give you a good workout playing that F chord in a common setting.

A bar (properly spelled “barre”) is when one finger covers multiple strings. Most often it’s your index finger, as it is in this case. This isn’t easy for a beginner, but having an understanding of the mechanics involved really helps. Yes, you need a certain amount of pressure to hold down more than one string with the same finger. But that pressure can be maximized when you use the right hand position.

Take a look at the chord diagram at 00:23 and you’ll see how there are two notes on the first fret, on strings 1 and 2. The breakdown that follows illustrates an important concept: that the position of your finger can affect the amount of leverage you have to work with. Notice at 1:00 that while the chord only requires two notes under the index finger, in this case the finger covers three. Some people may find that covering only two strings works better, it really depends on the proportions of your hand – but most of the time, covering three strings and bending back just a little at the knuckle holds down strings 1 and 2 more efficiently than using just a two-string bar.

Also notice that the index finger doesn’t lay straight across the strings but at a slight diagonal. Again, the goal is to maximize leverage, and that slight angle creates a little more pressure while allowing the other fingers to extend more easily than if the index was completely straight. Experiment a little with the index finger alone and see what works best. If you’re really struggling, it’s possible that your action – string height – may be a little too high. In general, it’s important for your guitar to be “set up” for maximum ease of playing. As you become more skilled you may choose to raise the strings for a variety of reasons, but for now it’s best for the strings to be as light and low as possible.

The F chord, like all bar chords in general, also requires a slight drop in the wrist. Note the hand position at 3:57. That bent wrist allows the fingers to extend more easily, helping both with the index finger bar and with the reach of the middle and ring fingers. When you practice the transition from, say, C to F, your wrist should move: dropping for the F chord, and returning to a more level position for the C. Your thumb should simply slide up and down as you do this, led by the movement of the wrist.

At 6:16, a new variation on the G chord is introduced. This illustrates the very important point that there’s more than one way to play a chord! In this case, we’re changing the fingering so that only the ring and pinky are used, holding down the 6th and 1st strings at the 3rd fret. This might seem like a big stretch at first, but you’ll probably find that allowing the pinky to bend at the knuckles while extending the ring finger with a very slight curl helps you reach both notes comfortably. You can see this clearly at 6:20. The ring finger should lightly touch the A string, muting it so it doesn’t ring. You can add the middle finger to the 5th string 2nd fret if you like, but just as we found with the G7 chord a while back, that middle finger note doesn’t change the sound much at all. Given this, it makes sense to use the simpler, two- finger version.

Our track, “Lopealong”, uses the C, F, and G chords in a shuffle rhythm. Just like we saw before in “Mountain Laurel”, this tune uses an AABA form: an initial section (in this case, a 12-bar blues form in C) which gets repeated, followed by a contrasting B section, and wrapping up with the return of the first A section.

Understanding form is a really important part of learning songs, because form organizes the music. When you see the form, you can recognize more than just an arbitrary series of chords but a clear pattern. You’ll also find, as we’ve observed before, that these patterns show up in different songs – we’ve used the 12-bar blues pattern three times so far in this course. It’s not something you need to be thinking about constantly, but start listening for the form when you hear a song and it shouldn’t take long for you to start to recognize familiar sequences and patterns. This is once again part of musicianship – the skills of being not just a guitar player, but being a musician. It’s all connected, and everything we’re doing is moving towards connecting those dots.







Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.


nedlownedlow replied on November 23rd, 2016

This F chord thing is very discouraging. I can't even come close

markh4859markh4859 replied on October 29th, 2016

Hi David, love your lessons and learning. I'm an old dude with arthritis - can't bend finger#1 to play a c or an f chord. Can I cheat and only play the lower portions of each chord, or would this sound like crap if playing with real musicians?

jboothjbooth replied on November 9th, 2016

You certainly can! I would also recommend over time trying to play it the "right" way, but on guitar it's all about th sound. If something sounds good / right to you, play it. Just a note, in Steve Eulberg's beginner guitar series, he talks about how to play chords with less fingers. Also Randall Williams has a great series for playing guitar for people with injuries, soreness or disability. You might want to check it out and see if any of those fingerings help you out.

RetreadRetread replied on June 21st, 2016

I am 61 myself, I played a little bass guitar in high school but have lost all the skills since. So after becoming disabled a couple of years ago I needed a hobby or just something to do before I died of boredom, so I thought I would learn to play rhythm guitar. I have only been playing for a couple months and am really enjoying learning to play. So I am also a true beginner. Right now just focusing on the proper finger placement for cords, memorizing the notes and cord progression. So you are so very right about never too old to learn something new. This site is great tool for learning to play the guitar. Oh, I too started learning with David. I think he is a very good instructor. So strum-on folks, I try practice every chance I get (at least 1 hour a day at minimum).

barbclawsonbarbclawson replied on May 3rd, 2016

I bought my first guitar one month ago (am a true beginner- have never played) and a postcard advertising JamPlay came with it. So I did the first couple free lessons w/ David and decided to jump in and have only been taking his lessons so far. I REALLY like his style (and dry sense of humor!) and cannot believe how much fun I am having! I like the mix of fingering (playing tablature) and strumming. Such a blast!

barbclawsonbarbclawson replied on May 3rd, 2016

p.s. I am 63 so you're never too old to learn something new!

Time TravelerTime Traveler replied on March 23rd, 2016

I have been learning online for right at a year. I tried Guitar tricks and did lean from them. But when I downloaded Jam Play I thought why not run over the beginner stuff and see if I can pick up some stuff? I am glad to say I have picked up quit a few new things. I hate the F chord well this F but I really like the Idea of barring the first 3 stings. David is a good teacher. Even though I know most of this stuff already. I think it has been well worth reviewing it with David. Thanks man!

Southern CashSouthern Cash replied on September 28th, 2015

Some of my Coldplay songs are much like Lopealong, but done more with a hybrid pick than a srum on the higher notes.

Don.SDon.S replied on September 27th, 2015

New F to me, but easier than the full barre I had been always migrating towards. Most times I had used X X 3 3 2 1 0

noisystemsnoisystems replied on June 14th, 2015

Pick is moving during the strumming. My case, the pick is rotated and or shifted between my T and I finger during the 12-bar strumming. So I use my I and M finger together with Thumb. But it is not comfortable. How do you keep your pick during the strumming for good sound? P.S. Your talking manner is very clear so very easy to understand for me[ I am Japanese. ] thanks.

Beginner Guitar With David Isaacs

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Whether you've never played before, or your coming back to guitar after brief startup attempt, you'll find everything you need to get going in this series. David uses real musical examples to teach even the most basic concepts and techniques.



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Lesson 3

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Your First Song!

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Lesson 5

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Power chords are some of the most simple and ubiquitous tools for playing and making great songs. Learn the most basic shapes and put them to use right here! Dave also discusses the beginnings of strumming...

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Lesson 6

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Lesson 7

Two Finger Chords & More

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You will be introduced to a simple A minor scale and then learn a song that helps you get your new scale under your finger tips!

Length: 12:08 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 9

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Length: 10:37 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 11

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Lesson 12

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Lesson 13

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You've probably heard it before, but most songs out there can really be played with just 3 or 4 chords. In this lesson, Dave gives you the tools to play most of the songs you know and love!

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Lesson 14

Rhythm & Charts

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Lesson 15

A Taste of the Blues

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Length: 12:03 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 16

Major Pentatonic Music

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Lesson 17

Four Fingers and a Chord

The mighty and intimidating F chord is one that most beginners see as a major hurdle in learning the basic chords on the guitar. Dave offers some ways to make the F chord more approachable. Once you examine...

Length: 15:35 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 18

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Length: 15:34 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 19

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Dave works you through eight different strumming variations, discusses how to feel the groove while keeping the rhythm, and shows you how to take a handful of examples and create any strum pattern you...

Length: 14:18 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 20

Complete C

Look at the C major scale once again. This time however, you'll get to complete the first position C major pattern. You'll play every note within reach of your first 4 frets. You'll also learn a catchy...

Length: 16:28 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 21

The Return to Chords

Work in the Am, Dm, and Em chords and play them in a melancholy, yet soothing example. You'll also get to work on your basic strumming.

Length: 12:18 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 22

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Length: 13:53 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 23

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Lesson 24

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Lesson 25

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Lesson 26

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Chords that don't have any open strings in them AND chords whose open strings fit comfortably within the chord all called "moveable chords". Learn how to play a couple chords up the neck.

Length: 15:31 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
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Moveable Pentatonic

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Lesson 28

Syncopated Strumming

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Lesson 29

And Now...Barre Chords!

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Lesson 30

Advancing with Blues

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Length: 14:47 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
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Lesson 35

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Lesson 36

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Here You Are

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About David Isaacs View Full Biography Nashville-based Dave Isaacs has made a name for himself as one of Music City's top guitar instructors, working with both professional and aspiring songwriters and artists at his Music Row teaching studio. He is also an instructor in the music department at Tennessee State University and is the coordinator and artistic director of the annual TSU Guitar Summit.

A seasoned performer as well, Dave has released eight independent CDs and gigs steadily as a solo artist, bandleader, and sideman. He continues to write, record, and perform as well as arranging and producing projects for other artists.

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