A Capo is a very powerful tool to have in your guitar arsenal. Personally, I use one a few different situations.
My music is in one key and the song will be sung in another key.
Rather than transposing on the fly (as I play) or taking the time to rewrite my chart or sheet music, I can use the capo to transpose my existing chords to the singer’s key.
I want a higher pitched sound when I finger pick.
For example, when I fingerpick some songs, I prefer a mandolin type sound. To my ear, it just sounds prettier. Often the notes, may sound a little muffled when finger picked with bare fingers, and the capo helps them stand out more. Two examples, from my set list, are Amie (Pure Prairie League) and The Wedding Song (Paul Stookey).
I like playing a particular chord progression in a different key.
We all have some accents we like to use and may not be familiar with playing them with certain chord forms. A capo lets you maintain your playing style in the required key.
You have to play a song in a key you’re not comfortable with.
The capo will give you the chance to play along, learn, and give you a good chance to practice new material at your own pace.
Using a capo works two different ways, depending on your approach.
First, let’s say that my sheet music is in the key of G, using G – C – D, and the song will be sung in the key of A. I can put my capo on the second fret and G – C – D will actually sound like A – D – E.
Here’s what is happening. We know that there are twelve notes in music, A (A#/Bb) B C (C#/Db) D (D#/Eb) E F (F#/Gb) G (G#/Ab). Each time I move my capo up one fret, I am raising the notes played, and the chord, up to the next note. So, in the previous example, I changed my open G chord up to Ab (capo on 1st fret) and then to A (capo on 2nd fret). Yes, it’s just that simple!
Second, a capo can also be used to play music in the existing key, but using simpler chord forms. For example, a lot of music written for keyboards, brass and woodwinds aren’t in G, C, D, E or A. They are often written in Ab, B, Bb, Db or Eb and the chords on guitar may be harder to play or just not sound nice enough. This is when we use the capo to find another key to play in and the key drops one note for every fret.
For example, let’s say we have music in the key of Ab and the progression is Ab – Db – Eb. If we put the capo on the first fret, we can play G – C – D and it will be heard as Ab – Db – Eb.
Both examples do the same thing. It’s just that in the first, we are adjusting the music to fit our chords and in the second we are changing our chords to match the music.
There are several different styles of capo.
You have to try them and see which one is best for you. For example, some physically stick out from the fingerboard (away from you) and others from the neck (towards you). I prefer the second style, my hand just keeps bumping into the first and moves it.
Ask your teacher, or a friend, with a similar playing style, what they like and try their capo(s) out. Most music stores will let you try a few before buying, also.
Here is a simple chart for using a capo to transpose to various keys. Using a Capo for Guitar Chord Transpositions
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Steve started playing guitar in ‘69, and has been performing regularly since ’90. His involvement with recording and sound engineering began in the early ‘70’s.
Steve, and his bands, have always given back to the community, supporting Special Needs Families, Christian Outreach, Food Pantries, Homeless Shelters and Medical Research.
As a songwriter and registered artist with BMI, Steve’s songwriting and gig sets span the Blues, Rock, Folk, Country and Christian genres.
2009 was the start of a busy solo performing schedule as well as sharing his love of music by teaching both Guitar and Live Performance Techniques. Steve teaches his guitar students to play the music THEY want to play, right from the start, without getting bogged down with music theory. With Live Performance Techniques lessons, students learn how to move from the living room to a live stage.