All About Capos

A capo is a super handy little device that enables you to use the same chord shapes to play songs in different keys by clamping the strings down along the fretboard.

First off, there seems to be a lot of debate about the correct pronunciation of the word. I say it cap-o, others say kay-po. From what I can tell, this debate seems to be rooted in a US vs English thing. But cares? Not me! Whichever way you say it, people will know what you’re talking about.

Different Types of Capo

There’s not a ton of variation when it comes to capos, and they’ll all pretty much get their job done. A good rule of thumb is that you want just the right amount of pressure on the strings – too little pressure literally just won’t serve the capos primary purpose, and too much pressure can stretch your strings and knock them out of tune.

The Kaiser capo is a pretty common one. It’s got a nice big handle which makes it easy place and move, but for some people, it can get in the way of their fretting hand. I’ve been using the G7th capo quite a bit lately, though. It’s a touch more expensive than the Kaiser, but it doesn’t have a handle on it. Either way, a good capo should last you a solid 20-30 years.

Placement

Just as when you place your fingers along the fretboard, you want to place your capo as close to the fret as possible. You don’t want it on the metal, but just before it. If it’s too far away from the fret, you’ll get a lot of buzzing, and the sound won’t be uniform and sharp across all of the strings.

Why Use a Capo

Let’s get something out of the way quickly – CAPOS ARE NOT JUST FOR BEGINNERS! Some players seem to think they’re a tool just for beginners who don’t know more complex chord grips and fingerings, but that’s simply not true. They actually become more and more interesting the longer you play because they expand the possibilities of the guitar. Even the most accomplished guitarists use them. So, don’t be put off by any capo snobs – they don’t know what they’re talking about!

One of the more common reasons people choose to use a capo is if a singer wants to move a song into a key that better suits their vocal range. For example, if a female singer wants to sing something that was originally performed by a male singer, she might opt to move the key up so that she can more comfortably hit the lowest notes in the song.

Another reason people use a capo is to simplify some songs that would otherwise require barre chords. It doesn’t work with all songs (for some, you simply have to learn barre chords…), but for many tunes, a capo is a great option.

Capo and Barre Chords

A great idea is to make a "Capo Chart" showing the open chords and what chord they become with the capo on each fret. You will probably only have to make the chart once, because once you’ve done it, you’ll understand it all and not actually have to use it! Of course, if you have to reference it once in a while, that’s OK, but like everything else, it’s good to try and get all this info into your memory.

Each of the chords you play in open position can be played using a capo, but if you do that, the name of the chord changes. The chord name goes up one semitone for every fret the capo is moved up. For example, an open G chord with a capo on the 1st fret will become a G# chord. With the capo on the 2nd fret, it will become an A chord, and so on.

Practice

Try moving the capo along the fretboard and listen to how similarly the chords sound.

Play an open A chord. Then, put the capo on the 2nd fret and play a G chord. They sound more or less the same, don’t they? Because of this, capos can be used in some circumstances to replace barre chords.

Let's say the chords in the song you want to play have the chords Bm, E, and A in it, but you don't know how to play Bm. Instead, what you can do is get a Bm sound by playing an Am chord with the capo on the 2nd fret (the capo moved the root note of the chord 2 steps around the note circle)! For the other chords, you'll find you can get an E chord by playing a D, and an A chord by playing a G.

The above trick doesn't always work, but it very often does, and when it does, it means that you can play some songs you previously thought you couldn't. It's this concept that I used for many of the songs in the songbook so that you can play along with the original records using basic chord grips.
 

Lesson 3: The Am & Em Army!

- LESSON STEPS -