There are countless guitar chords, and if you’re a beginner, the thought of learning every single one can be overwhelming. Not to mention, some of them are barre chords or ones that span four frets—those are hard to master! 

What if we told you that as long as you know a few basic chord shapes, you can play just about any chord? 

It’s all thanks to a little device called a capo. 

Read on to discover what it is, how it works, and why it’s about to become your favorite guitar accessory!

What Is a Guitar Capo?

A capo is a little device that clamps onto the fretboard of a guitar (or any instrument in the lute family, really). You can place it on any fret along the guitar neck and by doing so, change the pitch of the strings without re-tuning them. 

guitar with capo
Source: instagramA trigger-style guitar capo via @kysermusicalproducts

How Does It Work?

When you press down on a string, you shorten the portion of it that vibrates, and it rises in pitch. A capo works in the exact same way—using it is like pressing down on all six strings at the same fret, at the same time. 

When you use a capo, you can play basic guitar chords to the right of it, as if the capo marks the end of the guitar’s neck. Placing the capo on the 1st fret, for example, will raise the pitch of the strings by a semitone. This means that if you were to play the A chord to the right of the capo, you would really be playing A#. Move it up to the 2nd fret, and you’d be playing a B. 

Why Use a Capo? 

There are a few great reasons to use a capo:

  1. Some chords are harder to play than others. If you’re a beginner and haven’t yet gotten the hang of barre chords, for example, you can bypass them using a capo. Say you need to play F#m—simply place a capo on the 2nd fret and play Em. If you’ve got an entire song full of difficult chords, transpose it down until you land on more manageable chords and use a capo to bring it back up to the original key. 
  2. Capos aren’t just for beginners, either. If you’re a singer or you accompany a singer, a capo can let you change the key of a song to better fit your/their vocal range in a matter of seconds. It’s much easier to clamp on a capo than try to transpose all the chords on the fly. 
  3. Barre chords and other complex shapes can sometimes sound a little dull, even when played by experienced guitarists. If your song has a lot of them, it may be a good idea to use a capo and play simpler chords. Chords that have some open strings (ones you don’t need to press down on) tend to have a cleaner, more resonant sound. 
  4. Lastly, even though a capo is meant to be used across all six strings, some players like to experiment and only place it on four or five. This allows them to achieve unique tunings without re-tuning the entire guitar. This creative technique has even inspired the creation of partial capos. With a partial capo, you can choose which strings you want to press down on and take your playing to a whole new level.
guitar with thing on it
Source: instagramThis partial capo allows the player to change the guitar’s tuning without re-tuning the strings via @pyrakite

How to Use a Capo

Capos are most commonly made for guitar and ukulele. Here’s how to use both. 

How to Use a Guitar Capo

There are a few different types of capos, but the most popular and the most widely available is the trigger-style capo. It operates on a spring, so you can open up the capo by holding down the trigger and let it close around the fretboard. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Place the capo on top of the fretboard, not underneath it.
  • The capo should sit just behind the rightmost bar of the fret, not on top of the bar or in the middle of the fret.
  • Place the capo on slowly, making sure all strings are clamped at the same time and none are bent up or down.
  • Make sure the part that lays across the fretboard is perfectly straight.

Once the capo is on, test how the strings sound one at a time. They shouldn’t sound dull or produce a buzzing sound. The first few times you put on a capo, use a tuner to make sure every string is in tune. If any of them are slightly bent by the capo, they’ll sound a bit sharp or flat. 

How to Use a Ukulele Capo

Ukulele capos function in exactly the same way and require the same level of care when putting them on. Perhaps the most important rule to keep in mind is to never use a guitar capo on a ukulele. Ukulele capos are smaller and have less tension—using a guitar capo on your ukulele might damage the strings or the entire instrument over time. 

Source: instagramUkulele capo via @baanukulele

Try Using a Capo

Capos are very affordable and can be easily found online or at your local music store. Get your hands on one and see for yourself how it can transform your playing experience and open up a whole new world of possibilities! 

Guitar for Beginners

Learn Guitar: The Complete Beginners Guide

Écrit par
Sayana Lam

Sayana Lam

Sayana is a musician, writer and graphic designer based in Toronto, Canada.

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