What Is A Guitar Capo? – Newbies Take Note!

What Is A Guitar Capo?

You see these little gadgets all the time on YouTube. So what is a guitar capo? More importantly, why do so many players use them?

If you are new to guitar, this is a tip to put in your back pocket as you become a master at basic chords and strumming techniques. It will come in handy down the road. Trust me.

History Of The Capo

You may be surprised to learn that this tool has been around for a long time. I looked up Capo on Wikipedia to find out. The word capo originates from the Italian “capotasto” which means the nut of a stringed instrument. The earliest known use of the term is by Giovanni Battista Doni who, in his Annotazioni of 1640, uses it to describe the nut of a viola da gamba.

An American, James Ashborn designed and patented the capo that pretty much represents what is used today in 1850.

What Does A Capo Do?

What is a guitar capo and what does it do? In a nutshell, the guitar capo changes the pitch of the guitar. For example the root note of the 1st and 6th strings of the guitar is “E”. The capo slide the capo up the neck the root note changes. The root note with the capo positioned on the st fret becomes F, 2nd fret F#, and so on.

So Why Is That Useful?

Sing and Play Guitar

If you sing and play guitar, the capo is invaluable. When performing as a solo artist I use the capo to be able to comfortably sing a song that is out of my range. As an example let’s say the chords of the song are G, D, C.

The figures above represent the fingering in the first position with no capo. The root note for the song is G. If we position the capo on the second fret, the root note changes to “A” using the same fingering. This is helpful if the song is too low for the person to sing in the key of “G”, positioning the capo on the 2nd fret allows you to sing the song in the key of A while playing the same chord positions. The best part is I don’t have to transpose the chords which is a pain in the butt.

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

A band I was part of in SW Missouri, Tequila, Lime, No Salt, consisted of 2 acoustic guitars and an acoustic bass. Mark Sebastian on acoustic guitar, Mark McManus on bass on yours truly on acoustic guitar.

To “spice up” our sound, either Mark or I would use a capo to give the song some variation. Using the example above, Mark would play in the 1st position. I would capo on the 5th fret and play the following chord positions:

So the “D” above is the same a “G” in the first position, “A” the same as “D”, and “G” the same as “C”. The sound is like playing the song an octave higher than the first position providing a dynamic versus two of us playing the same chords. Besides, it sounded really cool.

Another variation that improves the dynamics of a song is using a capo and transposing the chords. We probably used this option more than any. To better explain we will take the same root chords, G, D, C, position the capo on the 3rd fret and “transpose” the chords to match the G, D, C in the 1st position as follows:

We used this variation to play Amy by Pure Praire League. It made it easier for me to play the leads in the G position.

Wrap Up

Until you get a chance to play around with a capo, it can be a little confusing. I sensed that while trying to explain the two variations. It is really quite simple and it will expand your “guitar voice” in ways you have not experienced.

Check out this video, Capo For Dummies to visually see how to use a capo.

You can buy capos from just about any music store. In a recent review, Best Online Musical Instrument Stores – Sweetwater Vs Musician’s Friend, you learned that I buy all my gear and supplies from Sweetwater.

I hope you enjoyed this post and it helps your guitar playing.

If you have questions, please leave a comment below.

To Your Guitar Success!






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