How To Use A CAPO?
What Is A CAPO?
The CAPO is a tool that most guitarists carry around in their gig bags, however they may not know exactly how to use one, or what it’s actually for. The CAPO is a useful tool that allows a guitarist to change the key of a piece very quickly without altering the open chord shapes that were intended in the original key. Some songs are written with a CAPO as the sound is preferred.
There are a few different types of CAPO’s, as always with most things in life you buy cheap and you will buy multiple times. Some of the budget CAPO’s starting at around a fiver will do the job but will certainly not last. These are usually spring loaded and eventually the spring will wear out. If you can stretch to it, I’d highly recommend the G7th brand. I own two or three of these and they have never let me down.
How Do I Use?
Good question. Here’s an example. A song may be written using open chords, say the chords G, C & D. This may not be an appropriate key for the singer. Using a CAPO would allow you to quickly change the key and use the original chord shapes, just further up the fretboard. The alternative with no CAPO might encounter some awkward chord shapes due to the new key. It might be a good key for the singer but not such a great key for the guitar. I would say though depending on the situation I would sometimes opt out of using the CAPO and play the awkward chord shapes. Sometimes this is a valid way to improve your musicianship. If you’ve got to think quick in a studio or live situation where time is money and a CAPO is going to help you achieve a quicker end result, then by all means use it.
A CAPO can also be used as a very creative tool for doubling guitar parts or creating a 12-string guitar effect. If you put the CAPO on at the 12th fret and play your normal G, D & C open chord shapes with someone playing without the CAPO you will create a 12 string like sound.
It’s Not Cheating
I’ve heard this many of times where guitarists will slate other guitarists for using a CAPO as they believe this to be cheating. This is simply not true, using a CAPO sometimes can be right for the track or quicker to achieve the desired end result. Also, its assumed that the guitarist can’t play Barre chords so are using a CAPO instead. Again, this is a myth, I can happily play barre chord shapes and still use a CAPO.
Try to fit the CAPO close to the fret wire as possible, not directly on top but just back from the fret. Test by picking through each individual string making sure that all notes across all strings are ringing out clearly.
Always tune with the CAPO on. This will give you a much more accurate tuning. Just remember you’re no longer looking for the open string notes EADGBE on your tuner. You are looking for the notes at the position your CAPO is on the fretboard. Try not to clamp down too tightly as this will also affect the tuning. Again the G7th brand are great for this as you can apply the correct amount of pressure depending on your guitar neck size.
A really important thing to remember is that although talking to other guitarists you will get away with calling the chords G, D & C shapes this is not truly correct. Remember the CAPO changes the key so your chords although familiar chord shapes to you are no longer the official chord names. Bear this in mind when working with Piano players or other musicians.
Standard Chord Progression
|| G C G D
G C Em D ||
New Chord Shapes (CAPO Fret 7)
|| C F C G
C F Am G ||
- Create a loop of the standard chord progression above and then play the CAPO’d version over the top. Both are the same chord sounds however you will get a really nice blend of the notes in different registers.
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