How to use guitar capos for beginners

How to use guitar capos for beginners

A guitar capo is a small, yet very useful guitar accessory that allows you to increase the pitch of your open strings.

The capo is basically a clamp that you attach to the neck of your guitar at any given fret across the guitar strings. The rubber string clamp holds the guitar strings tightly so that your open strings will sound at a higher pitch.

This is because the length of your strings are reduced, shortened.

Think of the capo as a movable guitar nut. And in fact, the word capo is an Italian word, meaning "head of the neck".

Why is a capo useful?

Playing chords higher on the neck to play songs in higher voicings would usually require barre chords.

If you don't want to use barre chords for any reason, you can play the same higher pitched chords using beginner-friendly open string chords and a capo.

There are many advantages to using a capo:

  • Chords played with a capo are more resonant and have more chime than barre chords. 
  • Open chords are easier on your hands.
  • Experimenting with singing a song in a different key is most comfortable with a capo since all of the fingerings stay the same.

The disadvantage of using a capo is that you need to have it handy, and it takes a few seconds to place it onto the guitar. In contrast, your barre chords are always ready.

A note to beginners: Using a capo should not be a substitute for learning how to play barre chords!

How to use a capo

Instead of writing about it, here is a video that explains how to use a capo.

How to transpose chords with a capo

As you now know, you can use the capo to play your regular open string chord shapes in higher pitches. This is useful if you want to transpose songs to another key.

All you need to do is play your ordinary open chord shapes as if the capo were the nut.

But be careful! This does not mean that your D chord shape will remain a D chord if you're playing it higher up the neck with a capo. The actual pitch and name of the chord will be higher by the number of semitones you are higher up the neck.

Let me explain through an example.

Let's play a D major chord shape without a capo.

Now play the same shape higher, with the capo at fret 4.

As you can see, even though you are holding the usual D major open chord shape, the actual chord is F# major.

The reason for this is that each fret on the guitar is 1 semitone, and since you placed your capo on fret 4, you have to add 4 semitones along the musical alphabet to the original chord name, because:

D -> D# -> E -> F -> F#

I hope this makes sense.

Here is another example, the regular C major chord, played with a capo at fret 2. Since the tonality is moved up by 2 semitones, the chord goes from C -> C# -> D:

If there are chord qualities (like minor, augmented, 7th, 9th, etc.), they stay exactly the same. It is only the chord tone that is raised with a capo. For example, the Dsus2 chord becomes an A#sus2 with a capo at fret 8:

Guitar capo chord chart

When transposing songs to a different key using a capo, it helps to know the names of the new chords you are playing.

You already know how to do this for each chord, but to make things a bit easier, here is a list of capo-transposed chords.

ChordCapo 1Capo 2Capo 3Capo 4Capo 5Capo 6Capo 7Capo 8Capo 9Capo 10Capo 11Capo 12

Click here to download this capo chord chart.

Popular songs that use a capo

There are thousands of songs that make use of a capo. Sometimes, you'll see an artist play a given song with a capo, but he/she might play the same song without it using barre chords later.

Here are a few popular songs that use a capo:

  • Here Comes the Sun - The Beatles (capo on 7th fret)
  • Hotel California - The Eagles (capo on 7th fret)
  • Wonderwall - Oasis (capo on 2nd fret)
  • Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley (capo on 5th fret)
  • Guitar cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow - IZ Kamakawiwoʻole (capo on 5th fret)

And the list could go on and on. Here is a list of beginner guitar lesson on songs that use a capo.

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