Capo

What is this? Why use capo and how to play with this?

9
This lesson provides details of the uses of capos and I hope that it will be useful to all readers. It is not essential to understand music theory to use a capo, although a basic knowledge of theory is required for the "advanced" part of the lesson. For those that wish to learn theory, there will be a lesson on this in a future newsletter. What is a capo? A capo is a mechanical device that attaches to the neck of a guitar and acts as a "moveable nut" - the same effect as playing a barre with one finger. It is derived from the Italian "capo tasto" or "capodastro" which literally means "head of fingerboard". Capos have been in use since the earliest fretted instruments - carvings show that Egyptians used capos probably made of twine or sinew tied around the necks of their instruments. Why use a capo? 1) Have you ever noticed that some songs are a little too high or a little too low for you to sing? 2) Do you struggle to play songs with chords like Eb Ab and Bb? 3) Are you tired of playing the same licks and chords all the time and want a "fresh" new sound but still play exactly those same chords and licks? Whilst a capo will not solve all of your problems, it certainly can help you with those outlined above. Even if you answer no to the above questions, a capo is still worth experimenting with - you never know, it may provide the inspiration you've been looking for. How a capo works. The actual mechanics vary between the different makes of capo. For instance, I use a Shubb capo which consists of a curved metal bar with one "hinged" arm and one pivot arm in a curved "E" shape. The capo is placed just behind the fret. The main bar is fitted with a rubber sleeve which covers the strings, and the hinged arm fits behind the neck. The pivot arm has an adjustable screw which pivots on the hinged arm locking the capo in place. The adjustable tension screw can therefore be adjusted to fix the capo at different positions on the neck without using excessive force which could cause damage. If we place the capo behind the first fret, all the strings have been raised by a semi-tone. If we play a G chord shape, you are really playing a G#/Ab chord. If we place the capo behind the second fret, all the strings have been raised by a tone. If we play a G chord shape, we are really playing an A chord. If we place the capo behind the third fret, all the strings have been raised by three semi-tones. If we play a G chord shape, we are really playing a A#/Bb chord and so on. Can you spot the pattern? If we place the capo at fret "x", whatever chord we play will be "x" semi-tones higher. This principle also applies in reverse, so that if we place the capo at fret "x", we play a chord "x" semi-tones lower than the one written. For instance, suppose a song has Eb, Ab and Bb chords in it. We could; Place the capo at the first fret and play E, A and B chords respectively, Place the capo at the third fret and play C, F and G chords respectively, Place the capo at the sixth fret and play A, D and E chords respectively etc etc. It is important to remember that any chords and tablature are played relative to the position of the capo - for instance, if the capo is placed behind the fifth fret, a G chord will written as 320003, even though the actual frets are 875558. If you visualise the capo as the nut, this approach makes sense, and allows you to think in terms of more familiar keys, chord shapes and patterns. Advanced Use of Capo - Transposing to Other Keys. Although this is the advanced part of the lesson, it is actually an easier and quicker way to use a capo. The only reason this is advanced is because it considers the use of keys rather than individual chords. It is not appropriate to explain this here, hence there is a separate lesson called "introduction to music theory" which will follow in a subsequent edition of COWPIE. As stated above, we can see that a capo allows us to use familiar chord shapes in unfamiliar keys. Whilst these can be worked out by subtracting semi-tones on a chord by chord basis, it is much easier to think in terms of the key and chord position. For instance, if we take the key of Bb:
1  2  3  4  5 6  7
Bb Cm Dm Eb F Gm Adim Bb
Thinking in terms of chord positions rather than names, if the song contained Bb Eb F and Gm minor chords, we consider these as 1, 4, 5 and 6 position chords. We can now decide which key we want to play in. If we want to play in the key of G, for instance, this is three semi-tones lower, therefore we place the capo behind the third fret. If we want to play in the key of E, this is 6 semi-tones lower and we therefore place the capo behind the sixth fret. We now play 1, 4, 5 and 6 position chords in the key that we have transposed to. Similarly, any scales should be also be played in the key that we have transposed to. It is important to remember that when we say we are transposing to a new key, although we are thinking and playing in terms of more familiar chords and keys, we are still really playing those original chords in the original key. I hope you have found the lesson useful and are keen to start experimenting with a capo.

20 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    billcunard
    Being a beginner, very useful. I have bee playing a lot of Ben Harper and a capo sounds like the antidote for re-tuning all the time.
    alexandria25
    tnx 4 da info! im starting to play using capo just a while ago after some years.. ...thanks again..
    gavz_verdikt
    I love the capo.. it helps me play it for Wonderwall and Youre Beautiful But 1 problem- how do i shift it from one fret to the next immediately??
    mmorgan0220
    Good lesson, but your instruction in paragraph 9 is a little off. "For instance, suppose a song has Eb, Ab and Bb chords in it. We could; Place the capo at the first fret and play E, A and B chords respectively...". You actually need to play D, G, A respectively to be in Eb.
    MrRoundel
    mmorgan0220 wrote: Good lesson, but your instruction in paragraph 9 is a little off. "For instance, suppose a song has Eb, Ab and Bb chords in it. We could; Place the capo at the first fret and play E, A and B chords respectively...". You actually need to play D, G, A respectively to be in Eb.
    These guys had me scratching my head trying to figure that one out and I came up with the same question you did. Inaccuracies such as this are super-counterproductive to those trying to learn such techniques. They really should correct it.
    sarabarraj
    hi if i am playing with the capo on the 6th fret what key am i singing in? thank you!
    roman919
    If a guitar has a capo in second fret playing in the key of "G" but original key is "A" does the band play in key of "A" while guitar plays in key of "G" i want to play in key of "G" but I don't know if u can play in "G" while the band is playing in "A" please help
    SpekkyTom
    A capo can also be used to lower the action on your guitar, thus making it easier to play. After the capo is clamped onto the guitar as a 'moveable nut', the gap between the strings and the fretboard is reduced. This can be helpful if you're just starting out and are struggling to press the strings down to form chords such as G, C, or especially the F Barre chord. You could de-tune a whole tone to: Then place the capo on the second fret, (You'll be back in standard tuning now) and then forming the familiar chord shapes from there. Hope this helps.
    *21*
    If the song is too low for my voice how do I make it high enough for my voice without compromising the song?
    killjoy
    If you downtune 1 whole step to D tuning and then place the CAPO on the second frett you will then be back at standard tuning. This might help if you play alot of downtuned songs and a lot of standard tuning
    amnon
    "oasis - wonderwall" is a great capo song put capo on fret 2 and search for it here at u-guitar.com ! i had much fun and nearly every song i played yet with capo on fret 2 sounded more happier.
    JIMIGATOR
    hah- i;ve been playing 27 years and i'm finally using a capo!! then again- i'm finally playing alot of country music- if you do get a capo- spend an extra 8 or 10 dollars to get a nice "clamp on" thats ez to take on and off! Love this site and the info-