What Is a Capo?

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.

What Is a Capo?
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Introduction

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.

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.

66 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Ipkwhorz
    um still dunno what capo is...but I'll learn I just started two days ago so give me some time =)
    Thatoneguy123
    wow i never knew how to use that thing i had I still tried to play on the frets above the capo. I thought u just had to lightly set it on i was clueless what to do! Great guide for newbies.
    BreedsNumba4
    Just some information for the people who use guitar pro. Download The Eagles Unplugged version of Hotel California. The 12 string has a great sound to it in this song, and you can immitate the 12 string melody by placing your capo on the 2nd fret. Give it a try. Its a great song to learn if you want to put your capo to good use.
    Shanksta_ver0.7
    i live in australia and capos range from $8 through to $50... i bought a grat ashton clamp style one for &25... but my friend got a really good one for $15...
    Clandestine1
    I've been playing for 3 years and I've had a capo for about 2 1/2 years and this is the first time it ever made sense to me Great article, and to those people who said it was too long, you need help...
    Shanksta_ver0.7
    also a lot of red hot chili peppers songs use capos... try them out.... like under the bridge... and anything that sounds high can be played with a capo... you can even try playing snow ((hey oh)) with one too... but you'll need another guitar to play the rhythm section.
    inXP
    darkcontender : very good article.. i dont have a capo so i use a pen and a rubber band.. =p it works well tho.. but its so hard to put on and remove so i guess i'll buy myself one sometime.
    ya, maybe you should.
    blueguitar7
    can i put a capo on one string? becuase 4 the song i want i only need it on e and without it it sounds bad
    Bryce-433
    The long side of the capo goes on the neck or behind the string. I don't use one though, they're a pain in the butt with the stuff I play.
    darkcontender
    very good article.. i dont have a capo so i use a pen and a rubber band.. =p it works well tho.. but its so hard to put on and remove so i guess i'll buy myself one sometime.
    tbs_7424
    blueguitar7 wrote: can i put a capo on one string? becuase 4 the song i want i only need it on e and without it it sounds bad
    you could just tune the string up to where you need it...
    arry2002uk
    Great lesson! You've proven that it doesn't take a load of tablature to teach newbies a thing or two about their chosen instrument. It's one of those topics that a new player will find embarassing to ask but needs to know... Fantastic!
    Insignia707
    I'm a novice and already bought a capo when i read this.. only because i saw a tab that i really wanted to play that said "capo" on two. It took me awhile to do research and found out what it was used for... but then i read this and i wished i had this article to begin with it would of saved me like 40 minutes. Good article. Kudos.
    jayw
    @Leaderofdeath, G# and Ab are enharmonics; more theory. Basically, they're the same note, with different names. If you look at a piano/keyboard, you can have C# and Db, but they're the same. Wow, this is plagiarized...O.o http://www.gospelmusic.org.uk/resources/... htm "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." I still don't understand the above though. Doesn't putting a capo on raise the strings? So would Eb, Ab, and Bb become, with the capo on first fret, E, A, and B?
    Guitar Hero X
    No offense,but honestly i would say:Screw that long explanation! If i'm explaining it,i would just say:It's just like an extra finger to barre a fret,makes playin MUCH easier
    Dark2Shadowz
    yeah, good guide..for as far I understand it...well..I'm dutch..so my english is not perfect...and can you help me?? 'cause I really want to play a song but that's with the capo on third fret en than I need to play the following chords Em, C, G, Am, D, and B but if that's with the capo can you do it also without the capo and if that's possible which chords do I need to play instead of those I just mentioned??? thnx
    FordChick73
    Thank you for this great write-up of the capo and its use. I was at a loss when trying to transpose a song for my homework this week (to practice playing with a capo), but after reading this, I feel like a pro! lol. So thank you. I appreciate it!
    ledmetarvana
    The capo is a real life saver it helped me learn a new batch of songs such as here comes the sun . !
    leaderofdeath
    hello, i`m a korean so, i can`t english well so, forgive my shaky english kkkkk. above: "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" why becomes a G#/Ab? not a G#? and in my opinion above: "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" here,if place the capo at the first fret and play D, G and A chords respectively because, place the capo at the first fret meens all the strings have been raised by a semi-tone thus, you have to down as if, 10 +1-1=10 53 +1-1=53 thanks for your information
    David34343
    tbs_7424 wrote: blueguitar7 wrote: can i put a capo on one string? becuase 4 the song i want i only need it on e and without it it sounds bad you could just tune the string up to where you need it...
    If the higher note is F or maybe F#, but don't go past that tuning on that string or your face will look like a slaves back with the whipping you'll get from that string, it hurts. Anyway point is don't tighten the string too much just to get a higher note at the risk of self harm/ being emo. I always get so off topic.
    harveyboy
    good article. i play alot of praise and worship music and a capo makes it easy to change the key to our singers vocal range. i would like a chart for key vs. capo position and chords related to capo.
    StuBolero
    the blues guys I lived with down in Louisiana called this a "guitar lobster" or a "fret lobster" when I was growing up. I think that's a cooler term than capo even if thats what its really called.
    electric lava
    can you use an elstic capo?cos someone gav me one and i dont know how the hell to attach it
    electric lava
    i hav a capo and i still dont know how to attach it. what use is that? maybe im just an idiot...
    robertc
    to get it on specific strings, just flip it over and put the back on the string you want.
    electric lava
    i hav a capo and i still dont know how to attach it. what use is that? maybe im just an idiot...
    uga_fan25
    you can also capo just the four lowest strings on the second and fourth frets for some cool airy sounding chords.
    zx7r
    Good lesson. It describes capos well for those without a clue.;
    FlyingPick
    Are there different types of capo's that press down on specific strings or can you change around which string you want to press down?
    BHD
    David_4586, if you don't have the dedication to do research then how do you expect to be a good guitarist? I think that was a good article so I'll be buying myself a capo and experimenting.