How To Use A Capo

For many musicians, being able to play a certain tune or melody without errors is always the goal. Whether you have the deftest of fingers or the sharpest of ears, having some help along the way is not a bad thing either. 

For guitar players, that can come in the form of the capo. Whether it’s for beginners or advanced players, you might not have heard of or know about a capo. However, learning how this nifty little tool works might just help you reach the next level in your guitar playing.

If you are keen to learn just how a capo can help you with the guitar or where to place the capo, read on.

What is a Capo

If you are wondering just what is a capo, you are definitely not alone. Short for the Italian term capotasto, the guitar capo is a small clamp that is used across the neck of any stringed instrument. It helps to alter the sound that the instrument can produce. Depending on the fret which you attach it to, the pitch can be raised as the nut is moved up or down the fretboard.

For example, if you place the guitar capo on the first fret, the scale tones of E, A, D, G, B, and E becomes F, A#, D#, G#, C, and F. That is the general idea behind the use of a capo. For any particular song that you might fancy playing, the capo can assist in helping set the foundation. 

Instead of mastering chord shapes of various difficulties, you can rely on the capo to allow you to play easier open position chords. If you need to play a song in a certain key, the capo will also allow you to shift accordingly, without necessarily being prepared for such changes. In situations where you want a song to sound differently, the use of a capo will let you try out new chord voicings. 

This is perfect for musicians who like to sing as well. You can easily experiment with a song using different keys in order to reach harmony with your voice. 

Now that you have a brief understanding of how a capo generally works, it is essential to learn the different styles that will come into play.

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Capo Styles To Know

As a versatile tool, there are of course several different capo styles that can be used to help you reach your goal. Most capos will cover with a rubber-covered bar to prevent damage to the strings, the last thing you need is to cause any harm to your strings. Let’s get to know these first before learning how to use a capo.

Trigger Capo

Perhaps the most popular capo style of all, the trigger capo works by using a spring-loadedf clamp in order to maintain the tension. This design allows guitar players to easily change the position of the capo using just one hand. However, do take note that a common complaint is that the tension is not adjustable. 

This can cause some issues, as if it is too weak, it can cause fret-buzz. If the tension is too strong, you might over-bend the strings and wreck your tuning. However, as a capo for beginners, it is affordable and easy to use.

Roller Capo

A roller capo is not exactly the most popular of choices, but it still has its uses. It is easy to slide up and down the neck, removing it is simple, plus the pressure it exerts make it less likely to affect tuning.

Similarly to trigger capos, the non-adjustable tension might be a problem. The large surface of metal might cause damage to your guitar, and its neck size might not suit all guitars.

Screw Capo

As an alternative to the trigger capo, you might want to consider screw capos. The adjustable nature of this tool will allow you to finely tweak its pressure. This way, you can achieve the perfect tension for all neck sizes, fret position, and string action. 

Of course, it comes at a cost of taking more time for repositioning.

Toggle Capo

If you prefer a simpler solution, the toggle capo is for you. Using a strap, you can easily hold its tension. It is easy to use and easily understandable. 

However, finding the right tension can be a tough task, while the strap will eventually stretch and loosen the more you use it. Thankfully, it is quite affordable to replace.

At the end of the day, you will need to find the right capo to suit your style, needs, and preferences. The various different offerings in the market can cater to all manner of guitar players, and it will take some experiments before you can settle on one. Once you are set up, you should find that playing the guitar and your favorite songs will become an easier affair.

How to Use a Capo

Capos are among one the first tools guitar learners would get, right after their guitar. People have a general idea of how to use capos: the higher you put the capo, the higher the sound gets. While that’s the gist of it, there’s more to the capo than meets the eye. Below are ways on how to use a capo properly.

To effectively use a capo, one has to understand the notes on the fretboard. For this exercise, take note that the standard tuning of a guitar is in the key of C. The chord shapes for G major, C major, and D major will produce the notes for G major, C major, and D major, respectively. However, if you place the capo on the second fret, the key changes to A major. Using the same chord shapes as before relative to the capo, the G major, C major, and D major chord shapes will now produce A major, D major, and E major notes, respectively. 

How capos are physically used highly depends on the kind of capo a guitarist has. While they serve the same function, different capos involve different user instructions.

Here are instructions on how to use capos on the typical types of capos. 

Spring Clamp Capos

Spring clamp capos are among the most popular types of capos because of how easy they are to use. But how to use a capo like this? All a person has to do is squeeze the levers to allow the spring clamp to open up. As the capo is open, you have to position the capo on the right fret and then release the clamp. The relative ease to use this capo is why this is usually the first capo a beginning guitarist would probably get.

One reason why more novice guitarists would decide against this type of capo is that the tension in spring clamp capos is generally not adjustable. Especially if you have an expensive guitar, you’d want to make sure that the capo is not exerting too much force on the guitar neck. 

Lever-Type Capos

As spring clamp capos are more common among beginners, lever-type capos are more common among experienced guitar players. This type of capo is still easy to operate, although not as easy as a spring clamp capo. Lever-type capos can just be positioned in the desired fret and then the guitarist can proceed to tighten a screw or knob that will progressively add pressure to the capo.

Compared to the spring clamp capo, lever-type capos require way more work to use. However, having the ability to adjust the tension is safer for the guitar in the long run because lever-type capos can apply the minimum required amount of force that will have the same effect. 

Elastic Capos

Compared to both spring clamp and lever-type capos, elastic capos may seem to be the most rudimentary because all they are is essentially an elastic band. How to use a capo with this elastic kind? Guitar players can just choose a fret they want to cover and wrap the elastic band around it. Just like the lever-type, one can essentially adjust the tension with an elastic capo. Despite their relative ease of use and inexpensive cost, elastic capos tend to wear out over time and are not as stable as the other capos.

Why Use the Capo

Essentially, capos just serve to make the guitar easier to play. Technically speaking, a skilled guitarist does not need using a capo because they would know the appropriate chords to play without the help of using a capo. However, why make life more complicated? There are several reasons why capos are a great tool to have. 

One reason to use the capo is to have an easy way to change the key of the guitar sound. This by itself can already be used in different scenarios. Firstly, songs are written in all sorts of keys. This means that the best way to play them would be in their correct key. Instead of having to change the tuning of the guitar which would take so much more time, it would be way easier to simply slap on a capo and start playing music.

Second, even if a song is written in a certain key, the guitar player might want to adjust to the singer they are accompanying. This means that even if a song is originally in one key, the music will be better if the keys of the guitar and the singer are the same. 

Another reason why people, especially beginner guitarists, use capos is to avoid using bar chords. Bar chords are those chords that require their index finger barring off multiple (if not all) strings. This is an especially difficult technique for a beginner and using a capo can help prevent them from using these types of chords. Aside from bar chords, using a capo can possibly allow them to use chords that would normally be difficult to perform with simpler chord shapes they are already familiar with. 

Lastly, capos are great tools to have when multiple guitars are playing together. If two guitars are playing together, one guitar can have a capo and the music the two will produce together will become much more dynamic to the ear because of the different tones the two guitars are making.