You have probably seen musicians with a weird contraption attached to the guitar neck and wondered what that is, right?
This device is called a capo and a guitarist attaches it to the guitar´s fretboard to raise the pitch of all strings at the same time.
There are different variations of capos, depending on the manufacturer’s idea of what the best capo should look like. Here are a two different types:
When to use a capo?
Here are a few use cases when a capo might be used:
- A beginner who can only play a few open chords, is now able to transpose a song into a different key by using the capo (don´t do this to avoid learning bar chords though)
- If a song is too low for the singer´s voice, you can easily play it higher, while still retaining the same feel and sound of open strings.
- If you use a lot of open strings in your playing and still want to be able to play and compose in different keys.
- You can use it to double or triple track a guitar part, that you have already recorded to create a fake 12 string or mandolin sound (Thank you Charlie for the idea!)
How do I use it?
By using a capo, you can get different chords without actually changing the chord fingerings you can already play. Here´s a chart to demonstrate this:
In the first row, you see the Open Chord Form that´s being played. Let´s take the C as an example and play it as an Open Chord without a capo – we obviously get a C chord. When we now attach the capo to the first fret of the guitar, the same chord shape gives us a C# (C sharp) chord now. When we attach the capo to the second fret and play the exact same C chord that we started out with, we now get a D chord – even though we are still using the C chord fingering. The table above provides an overview of what chords you get when you attach the capo to different frets.
Let´s use this to transpose a song to a different key.
Let´s say we have a simple song in the key of G and the chords are G, C and D.
If we wanted to transpose that song to the key of A, we would simply place the capo in the second fret (because A is two half-steps above G and one fret raises the pitch one half-step) and play the exact same chords as we did before. We are now playing in the new key of A and yet we can still play the song with the same chords that we previously used to play in the key of G – we are still using the G, C and D open chord shapes.
If we wouldn’t use the capo, we would have to use different open string chords (A, D and E), which sound and feel different or we would have to switch to different chord voicings. Both methods clearly change the sound and feel we get in comparison to playing the song in G.
If you wanted to play the song in the key of B, you would place your capo at the 4th fret and so on.
What Capo should I get?
There are many good capos around, my personal favorites are made by a company called Shubb.
Whatever brand you get, make sure you don´t get one with a rubber band to tie around the neck – it´s way to imprecise and attaching it will often pull the strings out of tune (besides to being a pain in the butt).
Also make sure you get a capo with a little screw that lets you adjust the pressure applied to the fretboard – this is necessary, because you want to be able to adjust the pressure for different guitars and different string gauges. Don´t get a capo that is simply clamped on and applies the same pressure without any way of adjusting it.
About the author:
Derk Stiepelmann is a singer, songwriter and guitar teacher. If you are looking for a guitar teacher in Dortmund, you can contact him by clicking the linked text!