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Capo Magic

Tuesday, June 14, 2011
g7th CapoGuitar players love open chords.  The magical sound of open strings ringing is one of the few things that guitar players can do that no other instrument can replicate.  Open chords easy to play but unfortunately there are only in a few “guitar friendly” keys like G, D, A, & E. So, if you come across a song in a “non-guitar” it helps to use a capo to adjust the song and still use your open chords. To you, the player, you are still playing the same open chords as before but with the capo they are now sounding in a different key.

Capos work great when trying to get a song into a sing-able key or when you just want a different “sound”. George Harrison of the Beatles could have played “Here Comes the Sun” in open D but instead he chose to play the same thing with the capo at the 7th fret.  That choice gave it the characteristic sound that is instantly recognizable.

Using a capo is a basic skill that every guitar player should know.  A capo is a clamp that fits on the neck of the guitar that clamps the strings down and allows you to play in a variety of keys using the same chord forms.  You can buy a capo at any music store that sells guitars.

Changing the Key of a Song with a Capo

Let’s say you have a song in the key of G.  You’ve worked up the intro just like the CD and all of the cool sounding open chords.  Then the singer says “This key is a little low for me can you raise it up?”

If you didn’t have a capo you would be back to square one trying to re-figure out the song.  But with a capo you can adjust the song up to a different key and still use all of your familiar chord shapes. So, using the exact same fingerings for the chords I can play in any key.

Tips for Using a Capo

Here are some simple tips for working with a capo.

  1. Put capo on directly behind the fret, not on the fret.

  2. Make sure the capo is put on straight, not angled.

  3. Capos work best up to the 9th fret.

Capos work great up until about the 9th fret.  After the 9th fret, it gets a little tight for your hand to squeeze into the smaller fret size. Also, the body of the guitar limits how far you can go as well.

Steve Krenz Playing with a Capo

Where Do I Put the Capo? A little capo math

Capos work off of the distance between notes in half-steps. A half-step is one fret’s worth on a guitar.

Let’s say a song is in G using the chords G – Em – Am – D but I wanted to move it to sound in the key of A.

In order to know where I put my capo, I need to know how many half-steps there are from where I am to where I want to go. In between G and A is TWO half-steps so I put my capo at the second fret.

The number of half-steps between the key you are in and the key you are going to determines which fret you put the capo on.

Here is a simple checklist to determine where to put your capo…


1) Find where you are. For example, I’m in the key of G…

2) Find where you are going. I want to be in the key of Bb…

3) Count half-steps between where you are and where you are going. The distance between G and Bb is 3 half-steps so I need to put my capo on the 3rd fret.

Capos are an inexpensive way to add some creativity to your playing.  Have fun making some capo magic of your own!
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