What is a capo?
A device used for changing keys on a guitar
A capo is a small device design to clamp down on a guitar's fretboard, thereby making it easy to change keys while being able to play the same chord progression form.
Typically we play guitar with the default open string standard tuning. But when you want to change the pitch/key of those strings and maintain the same chord shapes, there isn't an easy way to do so unless you have a capo. We'll cover the basics of what a capo is, why it is useful, and how to use it.
We've also put together a web app that helps you transpose chords in a particular capo position. For example, if you put a capo on the second fret, your G chord position becomes, technically, an A chord.
This tool can help you sort that out if you need to re-write sheet music after putting on a capo.
Use the app: Capo Chord Converter
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What is a Capo?
A capo is a small device, kind of like a clamp, that fixes to your guitar's fretboard and changes the open note of each string, thereby moving pitch.
This allows you to play in different keys without having to change the tuning of your guitar or play different chord shapes. When you need to change the key of a song, particularly on an acoustic guitar, this is the simplest way to do it.
Capos are typically made from the following materials:
- Wood (less common)
How to Use a Capo
Using a capo is fairly intuitive, but we can outline some steps to make sure you're able to fully understand the details and the process.
Select a position and place the capo
Choose the key and position you want. For example, if your first chord is an E chord and you want to play in the key of G, clamp the capo onto the third fret. This will allow you to still play the E chord shape but it will actually be in the key of G. The capo should be placed vertically on the fretboard (high string to low string) immediately behind the fret separator, of the following fret. If the chord sounds off, angling the capo slightly will sometimes help.
Test for buzzing
When you first start using a capo, take the time to test each open string to make sure there are no buzzing notes or anything else that sounds off. If something sounds off, here are a few things you can try:
- Take the capo off and re-tune your guitar
- Tune your guitar with the capo on (only after trying the previous option)
- Angle the capo slightly forward or back within the same fret
- Move the capo closer to the higher fret separator
Play the chords
Now you can play through your chords and make sure everything sounds okay. If you're not sure which key you want, particularly for singing, you can adjust the capo higher or lower as needed. Again, as with the open strings, make sure your chords come out clean and sound right.
Additional capo tips
Here are a few more capo tips to help get you going.
Experiment with different keys
As I alluded to earlier, it can be helpful to try a few different keys before settling on the one you'd like to use for a particular song.
Put it in your gig bag or case
This is fairly practical, but I mention it because it's easy to lose and/or forget a capo, kind of like guitar picks. Keep it in your case so you always have it if needed.
Use it for the C, F, G chord progression
I've found that one of the most helpful positions of a capo is on the fifth fret, allowing you to play in the key of C. This makes it the same as a familiar G, C, D chord progression, but in the key of C. In this case, the root note would be the sixth (thickest) string on the 8th fret.
Conclusion and questions
Capos are most helpful for acoustic guitar players and singers. Electric guitarists rarely need them, and bass players essentially never use them, although they'll work with those instruments as well.
If you have questions about capos, you can drop them in the comments section below and we'll try to help out.
We read every comment, so we'll hopefully see you there.
Written by Bobby Kittleberger on Acoustics & Roundups
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