A capo is a wonderful tool. If you’re a guitarist you’ve probably heard of it before. Maybe you already have one of your own, but you might not be aware of its full potential yet.
I’ve dropped the name on this site before, and I figured it was too important not to fully explain.
What are they? What are their advantages? What are their disadvantages? And most importantly: How do we use them?
What Is A Capo?
Capo comes from the word “capodastro”. Capodastro in Italian means “head of fretboard”, and that’s really what a capo is trying to be.
A capo comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The way they’re supposed to be attached to the guitar can also differ. But in the end, it all comes down to the same.
It’s a clamp that can be put vertically across all strings on the fretboard. Remember barre chords (insert link)?
Instead of this:
We can now do this:
The essence is the same. In both cases we play this:
E|--2---- B|--2---- G|--2---- D|--2---- A|--2---- E|--2----
The second fret of our fretboard has now become our “head of fretboard”. Everything between the actual head of the fretboard and the capo is irrelevant as long as the capo is on the guitar.
The capo I use is a Kyser capo. It can be attached easily by pinching the sides, putting it where you want it to be, and gently releasing your grip. With some capos, you have to twist some kind of screw or you have to pull a handle. I personally prefer my Kyser capo, because it’s very easy to put on.
How To Use A Capo On Guitar
There are different ways to use it.
- To make the pitch of a song higher
- To make chords easier
- To change the tone of your chords
To make the pitch of a song higher
This is probably the most popular reason why people use a capo. A song is too low, so they put the capo a few frets higher, so the vocal line goes in pitch as well. In this case, the pitch of the entire song changes.
This is incredibly useful because every voice has a sweet spot where it sounds the best. Playing around with a capo can help to make that voice shine.
Be aware though, if a song originally had no capo, and you put the capo on the sixth fret, this will do a lot to the original composition. There will be less low notes and more high notes, which might make it sound brighter and clearer, which might not be the sound you’re going for.
To make chords easier
Instead of playing that annoying Fm:
We can put a capo on the first fret and play an Em instead:
So basically, cheating your way out of difficult chords. That’s a bit disrespectful because I truly don’t believe using a capo that way is cheating. But if you use a capo to avoid learning barre chords or any chord past the third fret, you’re not using the capo to your advantage.
However, if you’re a singer, and you want to be able to focus on your voice and the emotion of the song, that’s completely understandable.
Also, getting rid of that barre chord, means you have another finger available, and a bunch of open strings.
To change the tone of your chords
Let’s say we’re playing an upbeat song. The bass and the drums are grooving, and you want to be able to play along. But using open chords near the fretboard doesn’t fit with the song, it clashes with the rest of the band.
Now if we were to put our capo on the 7th fret, we can play exactly the same chords in pitch, only with different shapes, and this time our guitar has a higher sound. There are less low tones that clash with the tone of the bass guitar.
When you’re a songwriter, this is extremely useful. Even if you’re an acoustic duo. Two guitarists strumming along to G and C will sound different to one guitarist strumming along to G and C, and the other one having a capo on the 7th string and playing a C shape and an F shape (technically still G and C).
Disadvantages Of Capos
Once it’s on there, it’s on there. In some cases, you can quickly take it off the guitar in the middle of the song, but that’s not always the case.
A part of the guitar is now irrelevant. You might want to add a lower note, but the capo prevents you from doing this. Sometimes tuning down the low E string can help, but in a way you’re limited.
The capo is an extremely useful tool, but sometimes it prevents you from getting better at the instrument. Don’t use this instrument to cheat your way out of playing difficult chords all the time. Challenge yourself to learn a song the hard way. You’ll learn much more from it.
That’s all for now. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.