Learn to Use a Capo

Using a Capo

In order to understand how to use a capo, first you must understand the purpose that a capo is attempting to achieve and to understand how it works.

The goal of using a capo is simply to change the key that you are playing a song in. What is a key? A key is essentially a group of permissible notes and chords that 'go together' if you will according to the western traditions in music, which have been in development for thousands of years. Without getting into too much detail, basically, a key signature, or key, designates which chords can be played and sound good together. Now back to the point at issue...what is a capo?

Every song has the key that it was written and recorded in, but an artist can change the key that he or she plays a particular song in without changing the melody. Why would anyone want to do this? Well everyone has a key that they are comfortable singing in depending on their range. And sometimes, a singer needs to change the key in order to play the song in a key that is more suitable to his or her vocal abilities and natural range. This is where a capo comes in handy.

If a song is played using open chords (the chords that you play toward the bottom of the neck with open strings - i.e. no bar chords), then that entire song can be easily 'transposed' instantaneously by using a capo.

Think of it this way. The bottom end of the guitar neck is split from the head (where the tuners are) using what essentially gives the open strings their pitch. By placing a capo on various points of the fretboard, you can essentially raise this open string pitch. With this new starting point for the open string pitch, one simply has to move the open chord positions relative to the new starting point to transpose the song.

Let's say, for example, that you are playing a song that starts on the open C chord. And let's say you want to transpose the song and raise the pitch three half steps. You could simply play the C chord three steps up from where you would ordinarily play it, but notice that the open string notes in the C chord do not automatically raise (only the notes that you depress with your articulator hand raise). Thus it is no longer sounding like a C chord. Aha, that is where the capo comes in. If you place the capo three frets up from the end of the bridge, that compensates for the open string position. And in this way, we can now play the C chord and all of the other chords, for that matter, in a new position without the song sounding off. Technically speaking, the C chord is no longer a C chord, but that is ok, because the entire song has been transposed to a new key.

So to sum up, simply place the capo anywhere on the fretboard, pretend it is the bottom of the guitar neck and play all the songs you like taking into account the new open string starting position. This will give you the freedom to transpose the key of the songs you are playing (i.e. make it higher or lower) without figuring out all new chords.