14 Comments

  1. Angela Zaragoza
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 18:12:29

    Thanks for making it simple to understand! I have a question… I often see 2 guitarists playing together, one is using a capo on and one isn’t. It sounds really nice together, but they appear to be playing different chords, or at least different chord shapes. Can you explain this?

    Thanks!

    Reply

    • David Hodge
      Mar 18, 2012 @ 18:36:37

      Hi Angela and thanks for writing.

      If you see two guitarists playing together and one is using a capo while the other isn’t, the one who is using the capo is tranposing the song into a different key and then using the capo to raise his chord shapes back into the original key.

      For instance, say you and some friends wanted to play a song that had just the chords A, D and E in it. Usually these three chords would mean that the song would be in the key of A and we’ll assume that for the sake of this example.

      One of you would play the song in the original key of A with the three chords – A, D and E.

      Another friend could play the song in the key of G (the original A would now be G, the original D would now be C and the original E would now be D) but would need to place a capo on the second fret to raise the chords up to match the key of A.

      Another friend could play the song in the key of D (the original A would now be D, the original D would now be G and the original E would now be A) but would need to place a capo on the seventh fret to raise the chords up to match the key of A.

      And still another friend could play the song in the key of C (the original A would now be C, the original D would now be F and the original E would now be G) but would need to place a capo way up on the ninth fret to raise the chords up to match the key of A.

      So you would have four guitarists playing different chord shapes but because of the capo placement, they would still all be playing in the same key, namely A.

      I hope this helps. Playing with transposing and using capos can be confusing when one is just getting acquainted with the idea, so please feel free to write anytime with further questions.

      I look forward to chatting with you again.

      Peace

      Reply

      • Julia
        Feb 15, 2014 @ 07:04:29

        Thank you for laying these often confusing rules out simply. Only thought that might clear up mystery up is to use the word shape after the word chord. Because learning guitar chords can be demystified by realizing the shapes reoccur up the neck. Example. We can capo on 9th frett, play a D shape chord and its chord shape family, but we are in the key of B. Think shape.

      • David Hodge
        Feb 15, 2014 @ 07:13:32

        Hi Julia

        And thank you for your kind words on the article. Thinking in terms of shape can certainly be helpful, but usually only when playing guitar. Being able to think in terms of just the notes and chords themselves will help you with transposing regardless of instrument, which is important if you’re a guitarist trying to work with a saxophone player.

        Many musicians try to visualize notes and chords in terms of their specific instruments, which is perfectly good and normal to do. But if you can get yourself to take one small extra step and think simply in terms of notes, you’ll be able to take your music skills even farther.

        Looking forward to chatting with you again.

        Peace

  2. Dina
    May 03, 2012 @ 05:15:29

    I have a question,
    i want to play the chords Dm, Bb, C major, Am, and F major and G in the 3rd fret with easier chords.
    now the above chords are easy, its just that i have to move alot and very fast and i cant do that without capo so i need to be on a fret thats near the strings. i dont know if you get what i mean.

    help ?

    Reply

    • David Hodge
      May 03, 2012 @ 08:22:34

      Hello Dina

      I’m not sure I totally understand what you’re asking. When you say you “want to play the chords Dm, Bb, C major, Am, and F major and G in the 3rd fret with easier chords” do you mean that you’re already playing those chords but with a capo on the third fret?

      If that’s the case, then there’s a very simple answer. Place your capo on the first fret and use the following chords:

      Em instead of Dm
      C instead Bb
      D instead of C
      Bm instead of Am
      G instead of F
      A instead of G

      If you’re having trouble with the Bm either use the “easy version” (xx0432) or use Bm7 (x20202) as substitutes.

      I hope this helps. Please post again or email me directly if you have further questions.

      Peace

      Reply

      • Aapka Shubhchintak
        Sep 27, 2013 @ 13:41:28

        I guess you wanted to say >>> If that’s the case, then there’s a very simple answer. Place your capo on the first fret* (CORRECTION: “capo on the second fret”) and use the following chords:

        Em instead of Dm
        C instead Bb …

        thnx… nice article

  3. Melissa
    May 21, 2012 @ 13:22:52

    Hello :-)

    I am confused when I see guitar tab say for example, place capo on 3rd fret and play chords Am Dm C B7 E…without the capo my Am chord fingering would be X02210?? With a capo on the 3rd fret does that now become X35543 ?? But that is no longer an Am chord is it? I’m just beginning on guitar, but I know some theory and piano. So, I apologize for my ignorance in advance. ;-)

    Kindly,
    Melissa

    Reply

    • David Hodge
      May 21, 2012 @ 14:02:57

      Hello

      You’re absolutely right about the Am chord not being an Am chord any longer. Because you’ve got a capo on the third fret, you’ve raised the entire chord up three half-steps so it’s now a Cm even though you’re using the same Am shape that you would in open position.

      This sort of confusion is normal. I covered it in an old blog post called “Doublespeak,” which I’m reprinting here:

      So you put a capo on your guitar, say the third fret, and you start playing a song using a D chord. What are you playing?

      Most guitarists will say “D.” And that’s the start of a lot of confusion. In reality, when we place the capo on the third fret (as in this example) we raise all of our chords up a step and a half. So your D chord is actually now F. If you don’t believe me, place your capo on the third fret and check the open D string against your tuner.

      Now it goes without saying that we do already know this. Or kind of know it. Somewhere in those brains of ours wheels are clicking and our ears are also telling us that this D chord doesn’t sound like D. But when we think about the actual chord we’re playing, our fingers and brains are saying “D” and not “F.” It might be even better to say that our fingers and brains are on autopilot and not thinking or saying anything.

      This is part of the accepted “doublespeak” of the guitarist when it comes to using a capo. We’ll acknowledge that using a capo changes the simple chords we play but we continue to call the chords by their open position names. When you think about it, it’s interesting because we don’t do the same thing with barre chords as we move our index finger around the neck like an instantly adjustable capo.

      And all this discussion might also be a big yawn, but not acknowledging the doublespeak is usually what makes us second guess all the time when using the capo. We know what we do but haven’t taken the time to understand what it is that’s exactly happening. And that understanding is key to help us make using the capo easier.

      Now, this isn’t to say that you want to start thinking of the new chords and keys each time you use the capo. That’s like expecting some shredding lead guitarist to name off every note in a lightning-fast lick. It’s just not going to happen. We learn patterns, whether those patterns are scales or chord shapes, and we use them without thought once we know where to start, once we have a reference point. And what is a capo if not a reference point?

      So begin to acknowledge, if not embrace, the doublespeak. When someone says, “This song is just G, C and D with the capo on the fourth fret,” somewhere in the back recesses of your mind you should be thinking, “Okay, that’s really B, E and F#” and then go back to talking about the chords as if nothing’s changed. Doing this will help you when you’re trying to change a song in a difficult key, because you’ll be starting to recognize the “real” chords as well as the “capo position” chords. And it will also start you on a path where you’ll be thinking about chord progressions in terms of scale degrees.

      When someone is writing out a chord chart or a tablature that uses a capo, it’s almost automatic that whatever is written is relative to the placement of the capo. So the Am, Dm, C, B7, E in your example becomes Cm, Fm, Eb, D7 and G when you play them with a capo on the third fret. But usually in the tablature it will still be Am, Dm, etc., because the chords are written with the capo placement as a given.

      I hope this helps. Please feel free to post again with any further questions.

      Peace

      Reply

  4. Melissa
    May 21, 2012 @ 18:09:18

    Thank you so much for your quick response, this really has cleared up so much for me…I thought it had lost all logic, ha! Really finding your overall website very helpful.

    Thanks again,
    Melissa

    Reply

  5. Paul
    Apr 28, 2013 @ 08:02:17

    Thank You. This has been a great article…

    Reply

  6. Aapka Shubhchintak
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 15:09:44

    In the transposition of the song “T MAKES NO DIFFERENCE” , how the chord “Gm” in the key Bb became “Em7″ in the key of G. Shouldn’t it be Em instead of Em7?

    Reply

  7. Aubrey Roth
    Jun 04, 2014 @ 23:10:38

    there is a song i want to learn how to play and to get the same key as the original recording i was told to capo on the 8th fret? but i can’t find the transposition for the chord Am, and i am very musically challenged so nothing i’ve found has been helpful in me transposing it myself. please help! i just want to know what chord to play
    thanks

    Reply

  8. Erique
    Oct 27, 2014 @ 06:37:03

    In the “Makes no difference” section, surely putting a capo on the first fret is moving UP a half-step to F and not down to Eb? I mean an un-capo E Major fingering would be an F Major, at a first fret capo?

    Reply

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