The Guitar Capo

Main uses and advantages
Guitar Capo
The capo

The capo is a device placed on the neck of the guitar acting like a movable nut. They come in various shapes and sizes and have a number of uses:

  1. Enabling easier chord shapes without changing the key of the guitar.
  2. Changing the key of the song without changing chord shapes.
  3. Adding interest to a song especially if playing with other musicians.

1. Easier Chord Shapes

If you are playing a song in a given key which is comfortable for your voice range but involves playing difficult chords, using a capo enables you to play easier open chords.

Keys like Ab, or Eb for example can involve a number of barre chords which may prove a little difficult - especially for beginners. The solution is to simply use a capo and still play in the same key with a set of easier open chords. Consider the following turnaround in the key of Eb:

|   Eb   |   Cm   |   Ab   |   Bb   |

If you place a capo on the 3rd fret, you can play the following chords without changing the key of the song.

|    C   |   Am   |    F   |    G   |
           Eb                 Cm                 Ab                 Bb 
     (C chord shape)        (Am chord shape)      (F chord shape)        (G chord shape) 
      |---|---|---|      |---|---|---|      |-1-|---|---|      |---|---|-3-|
     C|-1-|---|---|     C|-1-|---|---|     C|-1-|---|---|     C|---|---|---|
     A|---|---|---|     A|---|-3-|---|     A|---|-2-|---|     A|---|---|---|
     P|---|-2-|---|     P|---|-2-|---|     P|---|---|-3-|     P|---|---|---|
     O|---|---|-3-|     O|---|---|---|     O|---|---|---|x    O|---|-1-|---| 
      |---|---|---|x     |---|---|---|x     |---|---|---|x     |---|---|-2-| 
Fret 3                  3                  3                  3  
  • the red numbers indicate the fingers used to play each chord
  • If you have studied barre chords you will notice that the capo is acting as a barre.
  • If you don't have a capo and are comfortable with barre chords, you would barre the 3rd fret and play the shapes above which would be the chords Eb, Cm, Ab and Bb.

Which fret do I place the capo on?

Simply count the number of semitones between the 'capo' key you have chosen and the original key of the music. In the example above, our chosen 'capo' key was C Major and the original key was Eb Major.

C → Eb = 3 semitones, therefore we place the capo on the third fret.

2. Changing the Key

Consider a song in the key of C major with the following turnaround:
|    C   |   Am   |    F   |    G   | 

A singer may decide that the song is not within his or her voice range and decides that the key of Eb is a more comfortable fit. If we transpose the turnaround to Eb Major (+ 3 semitones to each chord), the progression will become:

|   Eb   |   Cm   |   Ab   |   Bb   |

Instead of playing the more difficult chord shapes and having to use barre chords, the guitarist can still play in C major with easy open chords, but the capo must be placed on the 3rd fret.

3. Adding interest

There's nothing more exciting than spicing up a piece of music by adding color to its tonal characteristics. A great way to do that is to use a capo. This works very well if you have 2 guitarists strumming the same chords.

Let's say you have a piece of music with the following turnaround in C Major.

|    C   |   Am   |    F    |    G   | 
While guitarist-A plays these chords, guitarist-B can use a capo on the 3rd fret and play the chords:
|    A   |   F#m   |    D   |    E   | 

Both guitarists are still playing in C major... and the overall sound is greatly enhanced. If guitarist-B decides to finger-pick while guitarist-A strums - even better!

Experiment with your sound... it's as simple as using a capo.

Steady as she goes

Be careful not to overuse the capo. In most situations they are a great tool, however once you start moving past the 5th fret, the overall sound may be a little high pitched especially when strumming. On the other hand, if you are picking out a melody line or picking in general, it can sound awesome.

A great example of this is by Harry Chapin in his live performance of Cats In The Cradle where he uses a capo on the 7th fret and uses a finger-picking style throughout the song including the 'signature' riff that runs through each instrumental section of the song.

Back to Guitar Theory Back To Top
Contact Me

A seasoned performer joyfully playing the guitar