Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Baby F chord

Two comments: (1) I find it easier to use a full Barre on the f chord instead of just the index finger. The problem I am anticipating, however, is that it might be more difficult to change from a c chord to the F chord if I use the full barre.

(2) In one of Ben’s lessons, I notice that he is only fretting the top 4 strings with the index finger, the middle and the ring finger. Is that the best way to play this? It is certainly easier than fretting 5 strings with the baby F.

sure would appreciate your comments…Thanks!


I definitely agree with that. It will be tougher to get a good clean barred F when switching quickly from a C. In fact, in some of Ben’s arrangements, he will use a single transitioning note, to make the switch sound more pleasant. A good example is his switch to the F barre in “How Great Thou Art”.

Just as an antidote, Ben talks of how in his early guitar playing years, he completely avoided the F for two years.

If I’m understanding you, is he not using his pinkie at all? If he’s not, I believe that would be an F7.

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@barry2 and @Treblemaker Have you ever used your thumb over the top of the strings one of the chords that I think its called is a F add 9 (Not got the charts in front of me but sounds right) which is relatively easily made using thumb over which lends itself to move into a C Chord fairly quickly and vice versa . I admit that its not so pretty if picking but as a transition / strummed sound it works well for me. Have just sat here and tried it lots of F chords to C using thumb over the top. Hope that helps. Think that the sessions done with Tony Wray on here are about this.

Although I think that his EM9 ? is hard work!


Hi barry 2

There are no “rules” but I would recommend following Ben’s fingerings for the F chord

(1) With the “baby” F chord shape, you can develop the melody or licks, whilst still holding down many of the notes of that chord, which will give you the full and rich sound that is so characteristic of bluegrass. I won’t explain all the advantages as you’ll appreciate them more as you follow along with the lessons and learn more of Ben’s tabs. Stick to Ben’s fingering is my advice.

(2) You are going to discover that much of the distinctive sound for bluegrass comes from using partial fingerings of some chords. That you are not losing anything from not including holding down the bass notes which you will get from a bar. Bluegrass has a very fluid and open sound, and makes the most of open strings ringing out. Bar chords can sound a bit choppy and flat. Use them if you like them, but they are hard to transition between and don’t always fit into the overall sound of the song.

Good luck learning and I hope this helps.


Sorry to go on.

You will also find out that you will simply not be able to add many of the ornamentations - Pull offs and hammer ons that you can do whilst holding the baby F shape. You will only be able to hold the whole chord barred F chord, which will severely limit the options available to you when you need to use an F chord in a song.

Also your middle and ring finger share a common shape when holding down the C chord and F chord. You can even use this shape on a G chord. So as you get familiar with the common combinations for making runs or licks with this shared shape, you will find advantages in already being familiar with some of the other fingerings because you will commonly need or use them when playing the melody or a lick.

Trust Ben’s fingering advice. He has carefully considered the “easiest” or even the only way to achieve the sounds you want.

All the best!

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Thanks so much! your comments are very helpful.

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Thank you so much!

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Wow! How could someone avoid an F chord for 2 years? Well, at least that gives me some hope


Seldom use the thumb over. Just never worked to well for me. I’ll often see people play an F# over a D with their thumb.


Hi all,

@Treblemaker @barry2 @worldatlas

Yes Tony Wray’s lessons or chat with ben are about these sorts of things .

Don’t let the title lead you I am sure that there are F chords in here. Fmaj9/G Fmaj9/C also the F add is an option.

Thumb over allows for percussion on the F# not only for D/F# but A/F# etc.

I always struggled with the barre that end of the neck so liked the thumb over.

Happy playing.


Thanks for replies Barry, experiment have put one of the lessons on here further down. Just dug my own journal out and there was also a G11 Sus 2 Chord that makes thumb over work easier.

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Hey Barry,

I may amuse you that I taught myself to Travis Pick (a finger style) three time over the years

My first attempt was from a book, I ignored the suggested fingerings and went in with a classic guitar style, where I used every single finger available to me and my thumb. I stupidly thought Travis Picking was a hillbilly shortcut. I learnt to play like this too and sounded okay.

It was only later that it dawned on me that I had taught myself to do it wrong. As I tried to advance my own (sophisticated - advanced) style got in the way. The overall sound was wrong too. I couldn’t get the groove or drive of any of the tunes I was listening to. They sounded similar but were fundamentally wrong.

I had to start over all again - It took a little while and it drove me bananas - wishing I’d followed the clear advice in the book on my first go round.

About 3 years later I had to re-learn all over again. I got interested in a technique called hybrid picking on electric guitar. It offered a lot of advantages so I resolved to learn again. It wasn’t as big a switch over from the weird classical style I’d mistakenly taught myself. But I managed to make the transition over a few months.

So I learnt that sometimes its best to accept someone else’s advice. They probably can’t explain all the reason you should - because you simply won’t appreciate them fully until you reach the obstacles you encounter for yourself as you learn.

Good luck with the baby F - You won’t regret it

It is actually a very sophisticated technique - completely movable just like the bar chord and you’ll get to enjoy it.

So all the best with the baby F - That baby’s grown into a noisy teenager with me!

Hi World Atlas,

Thanks for your comments. Regarding the baby F chord, I have actually been much more successful using the full barre F. The baby F for me seems slower (and painful!)

Another thing…you mentioned hybrid picking. Someone showed me that years ago (Since that tiime my playing has languished, but now I am starting again and re-learning).

I thought I might try hybrid picking as an alternative to Ben’s 3 sessions on alternating thumb, and it seems to work ok, and for my money, it gives me a better base sound as well as a better sound from the fingers as well because the position of the hand is more conducive to a better “pluck” (most of the time with fingernail, but not necessarily so)

Thanks for mentioning hybrid picking. I have asked 2 or 3 instructors if they knew what it was, but you are the first who acknowledged that it exists!

Tell me what you think of using the hybrid method INSTEAD of the bare alternating thumb system.

And thanks again for your reply!


Hi Barry,

Great to hear from you and good to know that you found my comments about hybrid picking interesting. I shall try to tell you want I think about it.

I got really interested in hybrid picking around 2007 after a got myself a lovely telecaster. After watching too much YouTube and wanting to learn old school early 50s rock and roll. The YouTube algorithms then also brought up some videos where I discovered chicken picking, James Burton, Brent Mason and Albert Lee. I got really interested in learning to hybrid pick on electric guitar and I quickly realized that you could use this hybrid picking technique to play lots of the Travis picked tunes that I already knew.

With hybrid picking alternating the bass notes with a regular pick instead of your thumb is pretty straight forward - though it does take some time to adjust. The only downside is that your index finger (which is supporting the pick between the thumb) becomes redundant when picking the melody notes. I used to use my index finger as one of the fingers to play the melody when I first learnt pick in the traditional style. I now play the melody with the middle and ring fingers only. I do sometimes use my little finger, but mostly on electric as you simply don’t get enough articulation on an acoustic with your little finger.

I do also still sometimes Travis Pick traditionally with my thumb - as you never seem to forget how - but my index finger just hovers above the strings - not sure what to do with itself now it is not needed to support the pick. I can still use it to play the melody, but my ring and middle finger timing gets quite confused if I do as they are so used to doing all the melody work now. There are some vamps and rolls that you learn to do without too much thought (if you practice a lot) - My index finger just isn’t up to it anymore - though I could probably teach it.

I shall try to sum up what I think about the various approaches.

Traditional Travis picking with a thumb pick gives the greatest punch to the bass notes. It is the sound that was originally heard and if you are trying to accurately replicate a Doc Watson, Merle Travis or Chet Atkins style then this is what you need to learn.

Hybrid picking with a pick is smoother and faster. It is very comfortable and easy to do - you don’t have to move your hand or fingers as much - so its quite economical. It also seems to offer some technical advantages for ways of playing that you couldn’t easily do with Travis style. It’s much easier to move a regular pick through any of the strings (not just the bass notes) than weave a thumb pick in an out of all six strings. There is also plenty of scope for experimentation and cross over electric guitar techniques. The biggest downside for hybrid picking is that I think it lacks some the attack to the bass notes of the traditional style. It works brilliantly on an electric guitar and you can play some incredible Travis style stuff. I’d say that it’s a bit smoother and mellower than the traditional Travis style on acoustic. You can also transition from Travis picking to straight flat picking without missing a beat.

Finally, when I first began to hybrid pick on acoustic not many people seemed to be doing it. I’m pretty sure that quite a few younger players out there are doing this now because it’s a more well known technique. We’ll probably all witness an amazingly gifted young hybrid acoustic player who will astound us all with their modern and original interpretations of the Travis picking style come out sometime in the future. Who knows?

All the best and whatever approach you use, keep practicing!

Hi again Barry,

I quickly looked for a YouTube video which showed some of what I tried to tell you about the advantages or benefits of hybrid picking. That’s it’s more versatile. That you can move from Travis picking, to strumming rhythm, to flat picking in any order.

This video isn’t bluegrass or strict alternating bass notes- it’s a modern country style - but what he demonstrates may interest you.

Before joining this site I had stumbled across what is described as a Southern heavy classic rock boogie band (take you own Pick ($35:wink:) on the words. They have a guitarist called Charlie Starr he seems to incorporate a lot of techniques being described. They are called Blackberry Smoke. Seem to have a few mellow numbers worth a listen to!

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Wow! thanks for your most helpful and inciteful comments! And Ben thinks its totally ok you use the hybrid style in lieu of the traditional alternating thumb.

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Terrific! what a find! Thank you

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