The capo provides an easy way to change chords on a guitar, or other stringed instruments such as a banjo or a mandolin.
There are two main reasons to use a capo: the first is to enable you to use chords you are familiar with to play in a key for which you don’t know the chords. This makes the capo very useful to beginners.
The second reason, the one often used by even the most talented and professional musicians, is to enable you to take the particular qualities of chords in one key and transfer them to another key. We cover this aspect in more detail here. Advanced use of Capo.
The capo as simple key changer
When first learning the guitar, many people only use the chords in one or two keys such as C Major and G Major.
This may be enough for them until they come across a song they can’t sing in those familiar keys.
It’s at this point that they turn to the capo. It opens up every key in a matter of seconds. The principle is very simple. If you place the capo on the first fret, you raise the pitch of all the strings by one semitone.
The high E string becomes an F, the B string becomes a C and so on.
If you move the capo to the second fret, you raise the pitch another semitone and so on.
The same shapes can be used to create several chords
In this way the capo enables you take the few chord shapes you’ve learnt and use them to produce chords in any key.
For example, let’s take the key of C Major and its four most commonly used chords C, F, G and Am.
If you put a capo just behind the second fret of the guitar and play the chord shape you have learnt for C Major, you will actually be playing D major. When you play your F chord shape it will produce the chord of G. The G shape will produce the chord of A and the Am shape will produce the chord of Bm
If this key is still too low, you can move the capo up the fretboard until you find a key that suits your voice. For example, if you put the capo on the fourth fret, you will be playing in the key of E Major.
You could continue up the fretboard in this way and eventually play all the keys.
However, most people don’t venture beyond the fifth or sixth fret.
Make the most of the capo
The way to get the best out of the capo is to first learn how to play in the chords commonly used in the most important guitar keys of C Major, D Major, E Major, G Major and A Major.
With those chords, you will be able to play in any key without having to move the capo beyond the fifth fret.
Use our Capo Chord Charts to see which keys can be achieved using the chord shapes from the five basic guitar keys.
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