Capo Conversion Made Easy

author: kassen0921 date: 01/17/2012 category: music theory
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Capo Conversion Made Easy
Before you start reading this, I assume that you have little or absolutely zero knowledge about the topic. Well if you are not, you might want to stop right here because you probably have already learned it and perhaps you are very much better than me. (Feel free to point out mistakes and leave comments.) I've been always been in doubt about how the capo works ever since I started playing the guitar, so every time I just follow tab instructions blindly. Then, I started reading articles about it and eventually I figured out how it really works. It's actually not that hard if you figure it out in simpler ways, instead of complicated and sophisticated ways taught in theory lessons. So, I thought about writing this to help fellow guitar players out there whom are still in doubt and unclear about the whole thing. First of all, you have to know which chords are in which key before you start transposing. Chords are formed according to this pattern: major, minor, minor, major, major, minor and 7th. For example, in the key of C, the diatonic scale consists of notes C, D, E, F, G, A and B. Hence, according to the pattern, the chords in key of C will be: C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am and G7. Below are the chords in various keys:
Key of C: C, Dm,  Em,  F,  G,  Am,  G7 
Key of D: D, Em,  F#m, G,  A,  Bm,  A7 
Key of E: E, F#m, G#m, A,  B,  C#m, B7 
Key of F: F, Gm,  Am,  Bb, C,  Dm,  C7 
Key of G: G, Am,  Bm,  C,  D,  Em,  B7 
Key of A: A, Bm,  C#m, D,  E,  F#m, E7 
Key of B: B, C#m, D#m, E,  F#, G#m, F#7
Then, you have to know what happens when you add a capo on your fret board. When you add capo, the key rises by one semitone. There are 12 semitones: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, Bb, Db, Eb, Gb and Ab, they are arranged like this (refer to the first string of your guitar): (1st fret) E - F - Gb - G - Ab - A - Bb - B - C - Db - Eb - E (12th fret) Now, pluck the first string and you will get an E note. Place your finger on the 1st fret, pluck it, you will get an F note. Place your finger on the 2nd fret, pluck it, you will get a Gb note. Hence we know that as we go down the fret, we increase the tone. Let's say you are playing in key of C without capo, what will happen when you place capo on the 1st fret? The key increases by one semitone, and now you are playing in key of C#. If you are playing in key of F without capo, what will happen when you place capo on the 3rd fret? The key increases by three semitones, and now you are playing in the key of G#. You just have to follow 3 main steps: determine the original key, determine your desired key, and then calculate number of semitones between the desired key and the original key. Refer to the table below if you still don't understand:
w/oCapo CDEFGAB 
Capo 1C#D#FF#G#A#C 
Capo 2DEF#GABC#
Capo 3D#FGG#A#CD 
Capo 4EF#G#ABC#D#
Capo 5FGAA#CDE 
Capo 6F#G#A#BC#D#F 
Capo 7GABCDEF#
Capo 8G#A#CC#D#FG 
Capo 9ABC#DEF#G#
Capo 10A#CDD#FGA 
Capo 11BC#D#EF#G#A#
Capo 12CDEFGAB 
After you know how exactly a capo works, you can now start transposing! How? By applying the two main things I mentioned above. For example, you are given the tab of this song which is in the key of F and the chord progression is Dm - Bb - F - C. If you want to play this song using C chords, then C key is your desired key. Calculate the semitones between the desired key and the original key to determine the location of the capo. The capo should be placed on the 5th fret (as C - C# - D - D# - E - F). Then, you determine the new chord progression. According to the key scale, the chord progression Dm - Bb - F - C is (VI) - (IV) - (I) - (V). The progression (VI) - (IV) - (I) - (V) in key of C is Am - F - C - G. Hence, with capo on the 5th fret you play the song using Am - F - C - G. Another example, you want to play a song in D key with chords D - A - Bm - G using C chord. Use C key as your desired key. Calculate the semitones between the desired key and the original key to determine the location of the capo. The capo should be placed on the 2nd fret (as C - C# - D). Then determine the new chord progression. D - A - Bm - G is (I) - (V) - (VI) - (IV), which is also C - G - Am - F in the key of C. It's pretty simple right? Just keep on practicing and you will face no problem transposing chords in the future. I hope that my explanation is simple yet clear enough for you all to understand. Comments and criticism are more than welcome. Cheers and rock on!!! :) -Kassen
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