In this beginner guitar lesson, we'll be taking a look at how to use a capo on the guitar. A lot of guitarists both beginner and advanced never take to time to learn how they work. In this lesson, we'll be taking a closer look at how capos work, and how they can make your life as a guitar player a whole lot easier. Capos are great if you're interested in learning how to play your favorite songs on the guitar. With a capo and a few basic chords, you can play in almost any key.
A capo is just a simple clamp that goes across all 6 strings to make it easier to play in different keys. A capo allows you to do this because it essentially moves the nut of the guitar up or down the fretboard.
There are a number of great reasons to use a capo. One of those is for raising or lowering the key of a song if you're working with a singer. If a song is a little too high, or too low for the singer, you can simply use the capo to adjust the key of the song to fit their voice. Using a capo this way makes it easier for you since you don't have to change the chord shapes you already know, you just move the capo.
Another reason to use a capo is to keep the chord voicings when you change keys. Say you're playing a song in G major, and you're using open chords. When you transpose that song to A major, you could use open chords in A major, but it would sound quite different. Using a capo on your 2nd fret and using G major open chords will make the chords sound the same as the original key you were playing in, but you will be playing in the key of A major.
The next reason for using a capo is to avoid using bar chords. Essentially, a capo does all the hard work for you. Your capo will take the place of the bar you would create with your finger, which saves a lot of energy.
The final reason to use a capo is to create more interesting guitar parts when playing with another guitar player. When you're playing a song with another guitarist, you'll usually be playing the same chords. You could use a capo to play some much higher voicings of those chords which will allow you to compliment what the other guitar player is playing a lot better.
All of your open chord shapes are moveable. This includes your open G chord, A chord, E chord, C chord, and D chord, as well as many more. A good example of chord movability is bar chords. When making bar chords we are just moving around our E and A open chord shapes while creating a bar or nut behind it. The same thing can be done with our other chord shapes, but making those chords while barring behind them is very difficult. This is where using a capo becomes incredibly helpful.
Capo Tip: Capos range from about $15 all the way up to about $100. All of them will work for you. One important thing to remember is that a capo with an adjustable tension will keep your frets alive for longer since you can control the amount of pressure it puts on your frets.
To start using a capo, you'll need to make sure you have a good understanding of some of the notes on the fretboard. For the most part, you'll only need to focus on the low E and A strings. Below is a graphic showing the notes on the low E string.
We're going to take a look at a few simple musical examples. There are jam tracks available at the top of the page and we're going to play along to them. The first example is chord progression in the key of G major. You'll be using the chords G major, C major, and D major. You won't use a capo for this first example.
Now, we're going to play this same thing in the key of A major. To do this, we'll place our capo on the 2nd fret. Use the exact same chord shapes but adjust them for the capo placement. Now your G major chord is technically and A major chord, your C major is a D major, and your D major is an E major. Try it along to the A major jam track if you'd like.
Next, we're going to be taking a look at the notes on the A string. You can see the names of these notes in the graphic below.
For the next example, we're going to be using the open chords from the key of A major. These chords are A major, D major, and E major. You can use these chords to play along to the jam track in the key of A major.
The last example we'll go over will take us into the key of B major. To do that, we can simply place our capo on the 2nd fret and play our chords from the key of A major. Once we've adjusted for the capo, our A major chord has become a B major chord, D major has become E major, and E major has become F# major. Try playing along to the jam track in the key of B major.
You're going to want to try using these open chords and playing in a bunch of different keys. With your capo and knowledge of the note names on the E and A strings you should be able to play in every other key you'll come across.
If you want to learn to play some popular songs in even more keys using a capo you'll want to check out our lesson on 10 Songs With 4 Chords.