A capo is a great little tool for beginners and professionals alike. Capos come in various shapes and sizes. Some clamp on the neck while others simply wrap around it. The capo is used for transposing the guitar to play songs in various keys while sustaining the ability to play them in the positions that are easiest for you. But, transposing isn’t the only reason to use a capo.
The “capo” is a tool that is used by musicians of all playing abilities. Guitar capos are usually made of metal or rubber that fit across all six strings of the fretboard. The capo simply raises the pitch of each string by reducing its length. A guitar capo can also be described as a “movable nut.” The guitar nut is the piece(usually made of plastic or bone) that the strings rest on just before reaching the tuners. The use of a capo is similar to taking the nut and moving it up and down the fretboard. A capo can be used in most positions below the 12th fret of the guitar neck.
Ok, why use a capo?
The capo is most commonly used for the purpose of adjusting the guitar for vocal pitches. For example, if a song that is in the key of “D” is too low for your voice, try placing the capo on the 1st fret. If it is still too low, keep going up until it is comfortable. If the capo is placed on the 2nd fret, and you were to play a first position “D” shaped chord, the actual chord would be in the key of “E.”
The capo is not only used for helping vocalists; it can help the guitarist as well. The capo can help new guitarists that haven’t become fluent in playing different keys. For example, most beginning guitarists typically learn songs that are in the key of either “D” or “G.” We’ll use “G” for the example. Let’s say you learn a song in the key of “G.” If you run across the same song that has been written for the key of “A,” you may not yet know how to transpose the song by changing chord positions. The solution is very simple. Place the guitar capo on the second fret and play the song using the “G-shaped” chords just as you did in the previous version. Voila!!! You’ve just played the song in the key of “A.” Move the capo down to the first fret, and the same song will be in the key of “G” sharp or “A” flat. This principle works the same for all keys. Just remember to start with the normal key of the song and count up to the desired key to determine capo placement. If you aren’t familiar with the notes used in music or how to find them on the neck of your guitar, take a look at our Guitar Theory lesson called, “The Fundamentals of Music Theory.” This lesson very simply explains the way Music Theory is applied to the guitar.
Not a crutch
One final word of caution; while using a capo will help a beginner, it shouldn’t be used as a crutch forever. Learn to play in every key and you’ll be glad you did. Then, you’ll simply be using a capo because you like the way it sounds on a particular song, not as a crutch because you can’t play in that key.
Many very knowledgeable players use a capo because of the difference in tone that results. One such player is the well-known acoustic player, James Taylor. I’m pretty sure he could play many of his songs in any key he wanted to play them in. It’s really an issue of liking the way the guitar sounds with the capo on the 3rd or 4th fret. Many times I’ve been in the studio looking at a chart written in F and the producer wanted a more open acoustic guitar sound. So, I was actually forced to put a capo on say, the 1st fret and play the song in E. The result was that I had to transpose the chart I was reading because I was using a capo.
Hope this little article helps! Good pickin’