Using A Capo

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Written By Sarah Barlow

Chief Music Officer

Before we delve into using a capo, let’s quickly note a couple of common questions:

How Do I Select a Capo?

Before purchasing a guitar capo you have to not only keep your budget in mind, but also understand that there are different capos available for different guitars. For instance it is possible to get capos for acoustic steel string guitars, classic guitars, electric guitars, capos for curved finger boards and capos for flat fingerboards. The type of material used to create the capo will also make a difference on the functionality.

Can Capos Be Used only Be Experts?

Absolutely not, this is a myth; in actuality guitar capos should be used by beginners to help them learn songs on their acoustic guitars. These devices allow beginners to play a wide range of keys and tunes without having to instantly learn the harder chords known as “barre chords.” Although songs that consist of C and G keys can be played by beginners, since they consist mainly of open chords, there are many other songs that are written in remote keys and require the use of harder to master bare chords. The main advantage of using a capo while learning songs is that, the correct placement of this device will help you to transpose the song into easier open chords which will in turn bring a song from a harder technical range into an easier and familiar range. Using a capo is not cheating, both beginners and experts use capos to tune guitars and get lower or higher pitches while playing certain songs.

How Do I Use a Capo?

To set a capo in the right way, you have to keep the device just behind the fret on the neck of the guitar. If the capo is placed behind the fret then you will hear a buzzing sound due to the strings vibrating as a result of touching the fret wire.  While using a capo you have to ensure that the device is not clamping down very hard on the frets since this will cause excessive pressure on the frets and cause your guitar to go out of tune. Some capos allow the user to adjust the amount of pressure exerted whereas; cheaper capos such as the elastic ones do not offer this benefit. It should be noted that if the capo does not exert enough pressure then the tunes wont song right either. The right amount of pressure is very important, hence purchasing a capo that allows you to adjust the exerted pressure is ideal for beginners.


Is There Anything Else I Need to Know Before Using a Capo?

Before using a capo it is important for you to understand a few things about your guitar’s fret board, especially the notes on the sixth string of the guitar. Knowing these things will allow you to decide which keys of the song you want to change and which keys you have aim to transpose to. You will also need to have basic understanding of both, half steps and whole steps. For instance, a half step is changing from a D to a D#, where as a whole step is changing from a D to a Db. In simple words, a whole step is basically two half steps combined, hence that is going from an A to a B. The simplest way to remember how a capo works is to think that the capo mimics or becomes your index finger when you are playing certain chords such as a bar chord. Hence if you are playing a G Major Bar chord and you place the device on the 3rd fret then you will be playing as shown below.

Capo on the 3rd fret will still stay as a G Major chord.

C |--0--------||
A |--1--------||
P |--2--------||
O |--2--------||

The following chart will assist you in understanding the transposition changes that occur when using a capo.

Read the chart as follows, placing your capo just behind the first fret, you would look down the column labelled ‘Capo 1st fret’ so that if you play an E chord, the actual sound would be an F chord.  Likewise you can use the chart to see what chord you should play for a specific chord, so with the capo still on the 1st fret, if you needed to play a B chord, you would place your fingers in the usual position that you would use to play a C without a capo.


Capo Chord Chart

Update:  Check out our new printable Guitar Capo Chart formatted for easy printing.