Have you ever been frustrated with the key of a song, and wanted to change it instantly without having to transpose everything and learn new chords? Well, now you can! Learning how to use a capo can be a lifesaver, especially if you enjoy singing along or if you frequently work with vocalists.
For an easy, hands-on way to see how a capo works, try playing a normal C chord. Place your capo on the first fret. Then play the same position you just played – you’ll notice it’s now half-step higher (C#). Next, move the capo to the second fret. Voila – now you have the key of D. See where we’re going with this?
As you experiment more with your capo, you’ll get better at recognizing which chords you’re actually playing. In the meantime, consider keeping a capo chart nearby to cross-reference. Here are some additional tips to keep in mind:
- Check your tuning. Clamping the capo down on your strings sometimes causes them to go out of tune, so you’ll want to tune your guitar again when you’re done using the capo. This is especially applicable for electric guitars, since the strings are so much lighter.
- Always place the capo slightly behind the fret – never directly on top of it.
- Experiment with different types of capos. Spring-loaded (or trigger) capos are a popular choice, which are easier to use than a c-clamp capo. The latter type requires you to manually tighten the capo against the fret, whereas the former can be taken off quickly and with one hand. Another type is a toggle capo, which is generally the least expensive, but is also very flimsy. Shubb and Kyser are two well-known brands to check out.
- Use a partial capo for alternate tunings. A partial (or “cut”) capo covers only some of the strings. It gives off a distinct “drone” sound often used in Celtic music, and it also allows you to explore with alternate tunings, like Drop-D. Don’t be afraid to experiment and play around with it!
- Watch for buzzing. If you have the capo in place, but your strings are still buzzing, try adjusting the capo’s position until you get a clean sound.
Once you’ve learned how to use a capo, you’ll have a lot more freedom to explore different keys and registers, and see what sounds best to you. Have fun!
Photo by Adam Solomon.