Skip to content
Notifications
Clear all

The Underappreciated Art of Using A Capo


(@davidhodge)
Member Moderator
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 4485
Topic starter  

My apologies to Dan, who's been asking me about doing this for who knows how long! Let's kick it off with his specific questions:
Hi David,

Thanks for getting back to me so quick. I appreciate all the help & advice you give to all of us here at GN.

My questions are about the use of capos. I've read your lesson, "The Underappreciated Art of Using a Capo", and found it very helpful. I do have a couple of questions that I hope you can help me with though.

1) How do you go about determining were to put your capo, (which frets), for a given song? Does the key the song is in, or the chords in the song determine this?

2) If I'm using a capo, and I want to switch from playing rhythm to do some leads, do my scales just move up the same # of frets that I have my capo on?

3) Is there a such thing as overkill with a capo? What's a good rule to use when deciding when and when not to use a capo for a given song?

I play in a band with 2 other guitarists besides myself, and I was looking for ways to make the music more interesting when we are all playing rhythm together. I think that using a capo to get different chord voicings would sound cool. Anyother ideas or lessons you can point me to to help me with alternate chord voicings would be greatly appreciated also.
Thanks in advance for all your help, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Dan

Okay, question one concerns two main things. First, what key is the song in and secondly, what key do you want the song to be in?

The first part of that should be easy. Every will agree to play the song in a particular key. The second part is about determining where (or if) to place a capo. Suppose, and I'm actually taking a real example here, that I've learned a particular song, rhythm, lead and everything, in the key of A. Now I've met the person who's going to be singing this song and he can't sing it in A. For whatever reason, D is a much better key for him and will make the best presentation of the vocal of the song. Since I am very lazy and don't want to relearn it in D, I'll put my capo on the fifth fret and play it in A, just like I learned it.

How do I know to put it on the fifth fret? Without a capo, my A chord is indeed that, an A. If I move it up one fret, it becomes A# or Bb, depending on your thinking. Up two frets is B, up three is C. Up two more makes it D. It's simply a matter of counting the half steps.

I think there's a chart in the lesson that will verify this! But what I usually do is to think in terms of chord shapes and half-steps.

Question 2 - Yes, you do. In this last example, if my lead in the key of A starts on the fourth fret of the A string, then with the capo on the fifth fret it will now start on the ninth fret.

Most people, though, tend to think of the capo as "fret 0" and so will most TAB that you find. This is why notation will often say "chords and notes in relation to capo."

As for question 3 - that's truly a matter of opinion. The more guitarists that I happen to be playing with at a given time, the more likely I am to use one, simply to create more breathing space.

Chord voicing, as you mention, is another good thing. We've a lesson on the Guitar Column page called Multiple Personality Disorder that might help and a new one by Bruce Fleming that should go online later this week.

In addition to these ideas (or in combination with them), another good thing to do when faced with playing with multiple guitarists is to take a page from the funk guitarists' book and to come up with simple phrases that can be played like a rhythm or lead part.

We had a jam last Thanksgiving with, I don't know seven or eight guitarists (!) and I had the idea to have one guitarist start out with a single note phrase that could be played over a C to F to G progression. When guitarist #1 had his riff set and in place, then we added the other guitars one by one. Each new part had to listen and try to compliment the other and still find it's own space. Once we had all the guitars going, then the vocalist came in with Bob Marley's Stir It Up. It was pretty cool. And yes, I used a capo in the fifth fret so I ould do something easy in the key of G!

Hope this helps and looking forward to more discussion on the uses of capos.

Peace


Quote
(@dan-t)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 5072
 

Cool! Thanks David, that clears some things up. So then, what I'm understanding is that if I'm playing with other guitarists, I can just capo anywere I feel comfortable, and just transpose the chords relative to my capo. Using your example, if they are playing a C-F-G progression, and I decide to capo the 5th fret, I would play F-Bb-C, or if I capo the 7th fret, I play G-C-D. (Hope that's right) What I'm wanting to do is use a capo with other guitarists who are not using capos. That's what confused me a bit. I think I got it now. 8) Thanks again.

"The only way I know that guarantees no mistakes is not to play and that's simply not an option". David Hodge


ReplyQuote
(@davidhodge)
Member Moderator
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 4485
Topic starter  

Getting used to using a capo can be tricky. Even now, when I have to think about something, I still often walk myself through the process.

For instance your C- F- G progression...

The thing you have to figure out is where the non-capo chord becomes a C with a capo and not to just put on the capo and work from there. Although you certainly can do it that way; I just find that it's easier to let the chord shape dictate where to put the capo and not the other way 'round. After all, it's my choice of working in a chord shape that makes me want to use one in the first place.

So taking a G chord, for instance, and then moving it up the frets, we see that it's not until we get the capo on the fifth fret that it becomes a C. So with the capo on the fifth fret, G - C - D is the same as C - F - G without the capo. When you put the capo on the seventh fret, the F is now a C. So you've got your F - Bb - C working for you with the capo on seven and not on five.

Don't get discouraged because it does, as I've said, take practice. What I did when I started out using one was to write up a chart with the chords I used most often and then what they would be when I used a capo. Kind of like this:

Open capo 3 capo 5 capo 7
G Bb C D
C Eb F G
D F G A
A C D E
E G A B

and so on. Any minors or sevenths or whatever carry over with the major.

Again hope this helps and if I get a chance I'll try to write up some practical examples involving real songs in the near future.

Peace


ReplyQuote
(@dan-t)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 5072
 

Thanks again David. Your explanations have cleared up alot of confusion I had. dhodge rocks! 8)

"The only way I know that guarantees no mistakes is not to play and that's simply not an option". David Hodge


ReplyQuote
(@laoch)
Estimable Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 143
 

David

I was looking at the "Losing My Religion" lesson and it seems like the transposed chords might be off by half a step. The chord shapes with the capo on the fifth fret sound correct but they don't transpose to the open chords you have listed in the lesson. Even if I'm correct, it isn't an issue for playing along to the lesson and mp3s. I was trying to transpose the chords in my head to the capo on the 5th fret and wasn't getting the same answers as you. Let me know if I may have "miscounted". Thanks and hope all is well. Looking forward to more lessons online and I hope to get to another GN Seminar.

Ed

"The details of my life are quite inconsequential." - Dr. Evil


ReplyQuote
(@violet-s)
Reputable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 342
 

Just saying thanks for this discussion on capo use :)

I've got an instruction video where the guitarist switches keys in the same song - he uses an elasticized capo, whisks the capo down over the nut when he changes keys - needs a lot of dexterity!


ReplyQuote
(@acceptedone)
Eminent Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 27
 

i'm a big time capo aficionado... not as much so as David... i've got a Glider, a Kyser quick change and a third hand... but im in the market for another third hand (or would that be a fourth hand? ;)) the Glider is an amazing device, but i dont like the idea of leaving it parked on the headstock (i dont like the thought of having it exerting pressure on the strings behind the nut... just doesnt sit well with me) and the third hand is quite possibly the coolest guitar toy since the E-bow. I'm not big on theory or keys... i just use the capo to change the key to match whilst playing along with something or to change the key to accompany myself when singing and playing... :)


ReplyQuote
(@violet-s)
Reputable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 342
 

Hey, thanks for mentioning that, I've found a Glider, so I'll give it a try and see how it goes.


ReplyQuote
(@acceptedone)
Eminent Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 27
 

i dunno if anyone has ever heard of this song, it being a christian song and this being a secular board and all... but theres a song by a man named Chris Rice called "Untitled Hymn (come to Jesus)" and he plays it on a piano... well, a third of the way thru the song he raises the key a half step... it starts in E major then goes up a half step... so to recreate it on guitar, i tune my guitar down a half step, put the glider at the first fret as it were standard tuning, then when the key change happens, i just take my thumb and roll the glider up a fret... it works wonderfully... thats the only song in my repertoire which i use the glider for, but the possibilities are pretty much endless with it and the Third Hand ;)


ReplyQuote
(@vic-lewis-vl)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 10340
 

First time I ever used a capo - I'd just heard Lennon's version of "Stand By Me" - learned it as G,Em,C and D.......tried to play along with the (vinyl!!!) record - a friend suggested "Get a capo, put it on at the 2nd fret, play the same chords......hadn't got the hang of F#m you see.....

Easier than learning a new chord - but after 30 years I can do it in A,F#m,D &E....but I'm so used to the sound I get from the capo it just doesn't sound right!!!!!!

"Sometimes the beauty of music can help us all find strength to deal with all the curves life can throw us." (D. Hodge.)


ReplyQuote
(@corbind)
Noble Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 1744
 

I just tried out some of those combinations. It's odd for me to play G, C, and G shapes so far up the neck but I suppose I'd get used to it. That's neat, also, to have each guitarist do something so it's not a big jumble.

"Nothing...can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts."


ReplyQuote