Practice Tip #17

How to play F#m (F sharp minor)

November 18, 2018

Video Overview

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Editor’s notes

In this lesson, I’ll teach you how to play the F#m chord (F sharp minor). This is usually one of the very first barre chords you’ll run into while learning how to play ye olde guitar - the others being F-major and B-minor. Unlike those two chords, you’re only using 3 of your left hand fingers for the F#m - which makes it more approachable for beginners, I would argue. I’ll teach you how to play it, show a simplified version, and give a through practice exercises you can use to get fully comfortable with this chord. Let’s do it!

How to play the chord

In tablature form, the chord looks like this. From thickest to thinnest strings, the frets we’ll playing are 2-4-4-2-2-2. Your left index finger is going to play all of the 2nd fret notes, by barring them. Your left hand’s ring and pinky fingers will be used on the 4th fret notes.

E –––2––––  <= left index finger (barred)
B –––2––––  <= left index finger (barred)
G –––2––––  <= left index finger (barred)
D –––4––––  <= left pinky finger
A –––4––––  <= left ring finger
E –––2––––  <= left index (barred)

Simplifying F#m: 4-string version

If the full 6-string version is giving you a hard time, I recommend starting by just playing the thinnest 4 strings. From thickest to thinnest string (of the 4 strings), this would be 4-2-2-2. Note, your left ring finger is what you’ll use on the 4th string - which is different from you use in the full 6-string version (where your pinky plays that note).

E –––2––––  <= left index finger (barred)
B –––2––––  <= left index finger (barred)
G –––2––––  <= left index finger (barred)
D –––4––––  <= left ring finger
A ––––––––  
E ––––––––  

Simplifying F#m: power chord version

Another angle you could take in simplifying F#m is to only play the thickest 3 strings. This is beneficial because no barring is required at all! Also, utilizes the very helpful “power chord shape” that is often used on the thickest 3 strings. The shape looks like this. It could be used to replace a 4- or 6-string version of F#m, though it won’t sound as full. Finally, I should note that all power chords are neither major nor minor (because they only have the root and the 5th, lacking the “third” tone which determines major vs. minor).

E ––––––––  
B ––––––––  
G ––––––––  
D –––4––––  <= left pinky finger
A –––4––––  <= left ring finger
E –––2––––  <= left index finger

Building up barre chord strength

If you find yourself totally stumped by the barring technique, here’s some advice. First, check out the video I made Barre Chord Strength Training, where I show you the practice exercise that I used to finally get over the barre chord hump. Understand that it may seem impossible at first! Don’t let that stop you.

The exercise I outline in that video involves barring just 2 strings (with your left index finger) at a time, until you’re comfortable with it. Then, barre 3 strings… be able to play the 3 strings clearly, over and over. Then go to 4 strings, then 5, etc. This will take a few days (or weeks) - but even a few minutes of practice every day will get your muscles where they need to be. Persistence is the most important thing here.

E –––2–––  –––2–––  –––2–––  –––2–––  –––2–––
B –––2–––  –––2–––  –––2–––  –––2–––  –––2–––   Start off on the far left, only barring
G –––––––  –––2–––  –––2–––  –––2–––  –––2–––   2 of the strings. Then add the 3rd string
D –––––––  –––––––  –––2–––  –––2–––  –––2–––   (etc). Find the place where you start to
A –––––––  –––––––  –––––––  –––2–––  –––2–––   have trouble, and focus on improving that
E –––––––  –––––––  –––––––  –––––––  –––2–––   before moving on.

Fingerpicking exercise using F#m

Here’s a fingerpicking exercise you could use to move between A, F#m, D, and E. See my video lesson for reference. Even if you strummed these chords (instead of fingerpicking), the practice benefit would remain the same. The main idea here, when learning something new, is to mix it up with other things you already know - hopefully in ways that sound pleasing to the ear. Because playing one chord over and over is going to get old, fast.

E –––––––––––––––––––––––2–––––––––––
B ––––––2––––––––2–––––––3–––––––0–––
G ––––––2––––––2–––––––2–––––––––1–––
D ––––2––––––4–––––––0–––––––––2–––––
A ––0––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E –––––––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––
    A        F#m     D       E

How learning F#m makes an A-major barre chord easier

As I show in the video lesson, there’s a very useful technique that is unlocked if you get the F#m barre under your control. Specifically, you can use just your left index finger (barred on the 2nd fret of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings) to play an A-major chord. Note, you’re only playing the middle 4 (of all 6) strings. This frees up your left middle and ring finger to add flourish notes - as I show in the tab below. Many, many, many songs use this technique! Again, see my video lesson for reference.

E –––––                                 E –––––                        
B ––2––  <= left index (barred)         B ––3––  <= left middle
G ––2––  <= left index (barred)         G ––2––  <= left index (barred)
D ––2––  <= left index (barred)         D ––4––  <= left ring
A ––0––                                 A ––0––                        
E –––––                                 E –––––                        
    A                                       A*                                                  

Songs that use the F#m chord

There are obviously many songs that use this chord. Here’s the first few lines of a few that come to mind - where F#m is part of the main chord progression. If you know either (or both) of these songs, I wanted to share them as an example of something to strive for - i.e., being able to play through these chord progressions, F#m included, to

Tuesday’s Gone by Lynyrd Skynyrd:

A             E     F#m           D
...Train roll on..... on down the line, won’t you
A                 E       D
...Please take me far... away
A                     E      F#m           D
...Now, feel the wind blow..... outside my door, means I’m
A                 E           D
...I’m leaving my woman... at home

Lookin’ Out My Back Door by Creedence Clearwater Revival:

A                            F#m
Just got home from Illinois, lock the front door, oh boy
D          A               E
Got to sit down and take a rest on the porch
A                    F#m
Imagination sets in, pretty soon I’m singing
D         A              E           A
Doo, doo, doo... lookin’ out my back door

Good luck!

I hope this was helpful for you. As always, it’s best to see my video lesson for reference. Please let me know what questions you have, and until next time - best of luck!

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