How to Use a Guitar Capo

How To Use A Guitar CapoYou don't see too many people using guitar capo's - in fact I know some guitar players jokingly call them 'lady fingers' - but the fact is you can get some really cool and unique sounds out of your guitar, completely different from what you normally hear, simply by knowing how to use a guitar capo.

Using a capo is the easiest way to transpose something, and can work great if you want to play a song that is in the wrong key for your voice - simply move the capo to a place on the neck that works with your voice, and away you go!

Another very cool feature of using a guitar capo is that you really change the sound of the guitar; if you move it a ways up the neck the guitar can even start to sound a bit like a mandolin or another much higher instrument. If you're clever, you can use this to your advantage and create some very interesting sounds... this is a great technique for adding a second guitar part to a song you're recording for instance.

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Just be careful though, if you're playing with other instruments, you're going to need to be careful to transpose the chords that you're playing, because you are actually playing different chords once you capo the guitar. For instance, a normal open G chord, with the capo at the second fret, becomes an A chord.

One thing to keep in mind is that applying a guitar capo changes the tension on the strings, and as such, can alter the tuning of the guitar. Make sure you check your tuning after applying a capo, as well as after you've removed it. (See related post: How To Use A Guitar Tuner)

Video Problems? Watch How To Use a Guitar Capo on Youtube

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13 Responses to “How to Use a Guitar Capo”

  1. DON January 24, 2010 at 6:38 pm #

    IF YOU ARE GOING TO PLAY ANYTHING FROM JAMES TAYLOR YOU BETTER HAVE A CAPO. I PERSONALLY HAVE NEVER USED ONE,I MIGHT HSVE TO GET ME ONE OF THOSE COOL CAPOS, THANKS FOR THE INFO

  2. Wayne February 3, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    Johnathan, thanks for sending me the offers on I-IV-V. I am going to decline at the time. I am still working on a couple of the scales you sent. I do have a question though. I am able to follow along with most of the lessons that you send but I am confused about one thig. Scales. I know that on the fret board each fret has a note, Like the 6th string goes F f G g A a B C c D d E F. And each strings fret starts at a note depending on the string. So basically, there is an G note on each string and so forth for each note. If you are playing a G note on the E string and you play an G note on the D string are you playing a G in the scale of E and a G note in the scale of D?

  3. Jonathan February 5, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

    Hi Wayne,

    In regards to the last line of your question - no. A G note by itself could belong in nearly any scale. It depends on the other notes you play around it.

    The strings themselves have nothing to do with what scale you're playing in... in fact the scales themselves are just a collection of note names really - you can play them on whichever string(s) you please.

    Take the pentatonic minor scale... if you start that at the fifth fret (6th string), then you're playing in A minor (5th fret, 6th string is an A). If you want to play that scale in a different key, just move it to another fret. For instance, if you slid the whole pattern down to the 3rd fret, 6th string, you'd be playing G minor pentatonic.

    Not sure if that clears things up much.

    I've sent you an email as well..

    Cheers
    J.

  4. Ric February 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    I recommend going into more, clear & simple explanation about what to do when playing with another non-capoed guitar...how do you transpose.
    I don't know if you remember, but I had these questions also. When I transposed, I went the wrong direction in the transposition.

    • Jonathan February 25, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

      Hi Ric, yes, I remember our conversation on that. That was actually right after I made this video... but I need to do a followup to dig into that transposing issue.

      Cheers
      J.

  5. Justin March 29, 2010 at 11:14 am #

    The transposing issue is a bit tricky, but the easiest way is to use the Nashville number system: 1,2,3,etc. up to seven. Predicated on the major scale so 2s and 6s are usually minors third can be too.

    A very quick and easy example is to use the key of C. If the progression went 1,4,5, the chords would be C,G,F. Put the capo on the fifth fret. To play a similar chord (as in the sound is the same), you would play G,C,D. The key is still C, but you would think in terms of G at least in what is the 1. This is what happens when you see "relative to the capo."

    An example of this is the tune "Good Day for the Blues" by Storyville. You can play in the open position C or capo on the fifth and use the G progression.

    Bottom line: like everything else with the guitar, it takes practice. I myself play more lead and don't use a capo. When I do, I have to really think about it. Maybe too much information.

  6. Jonathan March 29, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    Hey Justin - good points. I actually did a followup to this video to explain the transposing issue a bit better. It's here:
    http://playguitar.com/446/how-to-transpose-chords-with-a-guitar-capo/

  7. Dan Thomas September 22, 2010 at 7:17 am #

    Hi Jonathon. I go to several bluegrass festivals each year, and if you have ever seen or heard much of that music you would see how much they use capo's. They use them a lot.Also country musicians use them quite a bit.Those are the type of music I am mostly interested in. Dan

  8. Richard November 9, 2010 at 7:10 pm #

    If you have 4 fingers use them... I personaly think they're a handicap.. I use barr chords all the time for different keys

  9. B. March 18, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    I mainly play open chords strumming church and bluegrass music. I know the G, C, D (and a few others) keys. However, the problem is the ladies at church want songs in B Flat! I'm lost. So, if I put a capo on the third fret I can play in the G chords that I know and love? Incredible! Would appreciate more on this topic, possibly a guide on which fret to put the capo for which key changes. Thanks!

  10. travykatt March 21, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    Sounds good thanks bro,luv capo jamming too fun fun.keep knockin em dead 🙂

  11. Thompson William August 14, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    I use both bar chords and capo.... guitars are shit.... try to capo your Piano or flute.... LOL.... Thanks

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