How To Transpose Chords With a Guitar Capo

Kyser Guitar CapoLast time I made a lesson on how to use a guitar capo, I left out an important bit of information: how to transpose chords properly so that you remain in the same key as the rest of the band.

Today that’s what we’re talking about.

Random Fact: Did you know ‘capo’ also means a mafia boss? Ok… back to guitar.

So the rule of thumb that I get into in the video is basically this:

If you move the capo UP X number of frets, you need to transpose your guitar chords DOWN by the same number of semitones. Follow that?

Each fret is a semitone, right? so in order to maintain the balance, if you go up with the capo, you need to go down with your open chords.

This might be a bit confusing, but keep in mind you’re not actually changing keys. The only sense in which you’re changing keys is in that you’re changing to the open chord shapes of a particular key. The whole idea is to remain in the same key right?

Hopefully that becomes more clear in the video. Any questions… you know what to do.

Leave a Reply 21 comments

jimmy - April 17, 2010 Reply

Your delivery of the material is very cool. Learning alot. Very relaxed and to the point.You make learning enjoyable and relaxed while at the same time motivating. I don’t feel intimidated at all by the material because of how you present it. Thanks alot.

    Jonathan Boettcher - April 17, 2010 Reply

    Thanks Jimmy!

Bob - April 30, 2010 Reply

Thanks Jonathan! That was a really useful lesson on a subject I hadn’t given enough thought to in the past. Thanks again

Jesse James - July 12, 2010 Reply

This video keeps stopping and then goes. What is causing this problem? It is irritable.

    Jonathan Boettcher - July 12, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jesse – that’s probably a function of your internet connection. I’d recommend pausing it, allowing the full video to buffer, and then viewing it – that should allow the whole video to transfer before you go to play it.

Ted Kroll - July 22, 2010 Reply

Thanks Jonathan, but why use the capo if the chords sound the same as what U were playing? I get the capo for use to obtain another key using chord configurations that I’m more familiar with.

John Pechacek - November 30, 2010 Reply

In the capo lesson, when you use the terms up and down, it would help to indicate if you are talking in terms of scale (up = higher frequency notes) or the neck of the guitar. I guess it is the scale.

Kettle - December 16, 2010 Reply

Thanks for the tips Jonathan.

tom - January 6, 2011 Reply

This is a great intro into transposing, which is so important to really getting a grip on what the guitar can do. The concept of up means down using a capo is very clearly demonstrated. Thanks, Jonathan!

Chuck - February 19, 2011 Reply

Great Lesson, thanks. Only thing missing is a real world example. If someone said, “I sing in the key of “B”, and you are playing “Sweet Home Alabama”, a normal D-C-G, what do you do?

    Jonathan Boettcher - February 23, 2011 Reply

    Hi Chuck, In that particular case, I’d probably take the G, and move it up so that you’re now playing it coming off the 7th fret, where you find a B (6th string). This would mean putting the capo on the 4th fret… and you’d be able to use the exact same chord patterns you’re used to playing (D C G), and yet be in the key of B. Basically you’re just identifying the root note that you want to move, and then move it to the new key, and capo appropriately (ie open G root note is on the third fret, so you need to capo appropriately leaving yourself 3 frets until your root note, in this particular case. Each key looks different, but the principle is the same.

marco - May 15, 2011 Reply

soopper !!!!

Dennis Newell - June 29, 2011 Reply

Thanks Jonathan I had never heard of that way before how easy go up one go down one good job thank you

James McKnight - June 1, 2012 Reply

this is the first time that i have seen your site and i have learnt more about a capo than the crummy little guitar teacher i have.

thank you so much.

    Jonathan Boettcher - June 1, 2012 Reply

    Hi James, welcome to the site! Glad you’re learning something here…

Anne - July 6, 2012 Reply

Thanks, Jonathan.  Your teaching style is so refreshing, without all the noisy hype so many favour.  Much appreciated by an Englishwoman!  I have your scale patterns course and so much of the mist has cleared.  You have a lovely smile, too – it reminds of one of my sons . . .

michael - May 11, 2013 Reply

Thanks Jonathan it was a great lesson most teacher would not even go there so
again thank you.

Douglas - September 5, 2014 Reply

In a way it sounds confusing,but,its all about learing how a guitar works and the comfusion will start to disapear.I try not to rush things,I like to take it slow and everything that I have taken in so far is paying off. Thanks and rock on.

Randy - September 6, 2015 Reply

Great Capo Lesson!
As a plus:
I didn’t realize that the minor chords in the key are the relative to the majors in the key (Except for the 6th).
World of knowledge. Thanks!

Alina - August 19, 2019 Reply

Hello! i watched the video, and a little bit confused.
all over the internet, there are charts, showing what chord will i get if I put capo on 1st, 2nd, 3rd Fret and so on.
Let’s say, i want to transpose the song Riptide- Vance Joy, that in the key of C# ( A#m,G#,C#,C#- VI,V,I,I progression) to the key of E (C#m,B,E,E) .
So, to get that Key of E, but to play the same chord shapes as in the key of C, according to all Capo charts , I have to put the capo on 4th fret.
But from your video, if i will go back , so ill get a totally different chords : F#m,A, D, E
So, thats my confession all around the capo and what will get if i use it.

    Jonathan Boettcher - August 20, 2019 Reply

    Hi Alina, F#m, A, D and E are the chords from the key of A, not the key of E. If you want E, and you’re currently in C#, then you need to move the capo the same number of frets as the number of semitones between those two.

    C# – D (1 fret) – D# (2 frets) – E (3 frets)

    So, you need to move up three frets and keep your chord shapes the same.

    Now with that said, If you’re playing in E major, it might be easier to just play the open chords version of those same chords…

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