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How Do Capos Work? Unlocking the Secrets of This Essential Guitar Tool

Unlock the full potential of your guitar playing by learning how do capos work. Our in-depth guide explains the mechanics behind this essential tool

Quick Summary

A guitar capo works by clamping down on the strings at a specific fret, effectively shortening the length of the strings and raising their pitch. This allows you to play in different keys and achieve new sounds without having to retune your guitar.

Let’s get into it!

How do capos work?

Capos are a guitarist’s best friend. They allow you to play the same chords but higher up the neck to produce higher-sounding chords. This way, you can find keys that suit either your singing tone or someone else’s. 

So, what exactly is a capo? Well, it’s simply a device that you clamp across a guitar’s fingerboard and can go on any particular fret. They shorten the length of all strings at the same time. This, essentially, creates a new nut. The result? All the open strings now play in higher pitches than without the capo. 

The higher you place the capo, the higher the open string will be. So, for every fret, the string goes up half a step and up a key.

how do capos work

For instance, if you place a capo on the third fret, the open E string will now be a G (three half-steps higher in pitch). In correspondence to this, each string becomes higher in pitch as well.

So, the B string becomes a D string, the G becomes a Bb, the D string becomes F, and the A string is a C. 

Just don’t make the mistake of trying to play the guitar below where the capo is. This just will not work. You can only play above the capo so closer to you rather than to the tuning pegs.

Now you understand what a capo is, let’s find out how these contraptions work. This way, you can open whole new horizons and possibilities when playing different songs.  

Changing The Key Of A Song 

Using a capo can immediately change the key of a song. Say the original version of a song is in the key of C but a singer’s vocal range is better suited to the key of D, you can still play the same chords but adjust the key. How? With a capo!

You just need to place the capo on the second fret and play the song as you usually would. The capo instantly changes the strings to sound two-half steps higher than usual. Therefore, the song is now in the key of D rather than C. 

You can slide the capo up and down the neck to any fret you desire. This is one of the best, and easiest, ways to find a key that suits your vocal range or another singer. 

If the chords or notes in the song have no open strings, you can simply change positions on the guitar’s neck with different chords. Using a capo is only really necessary if the song uses open strings. 

Capos can come with elastic, springs, or threaded bolts. These need to be adjusted depending on where you attach the capo to the fret. If the capo is too tight, it may not properly fit on the neck and could even damage the fretboard.

On the other hand, if the capo is too loose, it will not hold down the strings firmly enough. This means you won’t be able to play chords or notes higher up the fretboard and the guitar’s strings will sound ‘messy’ and unorganized.

Capos need to have enough force to press down on the strings. This is why they work so well. They can be considered moveable nuts as they can be affixed to all frets below the neck joint and still provide the same vibration termination as the built-in nut at the far end of the neck. 

To set the capo in its correct position, place it just before the fret, toward the guitar’s tuning pegs. Do not place it directly over the metal fret wire as this will cause an unpleasant sound when you play. 

Capos can also affect the brightness of a guitar. The higher the capo is placed on the neck of a guitar, the brighter the sound will be. In some cases, it could start to resemble a mandolin

Also, capos are extremely useful if two guitarists are playing the same song together. For example, one guitarist can strum the chords without a capo in the key of C while the other can play the chords but in the key of G with the capo positioned at the fifth fret.

This difference between the two guitars creates a stark contrast. This is frequently used in folk guitar playing with a combination of open-string chords and fretted ones. Try this with another guitarist and you will notice the wonders a capo can achieve! 

Who Should Use A Capo? 

Capos are very useful for guitarists of all levels. Of course, the more advanced you are at playing guitar, the more chords and keys you will know.

However, using a capo as a beginner can allow you to play more songs even with limited knowledge of chords and keys.  If you’re finding barre chords a bit of a struggle (most of us do), then get that capo out and play the chords you know and love but higher up the neck! 

Songwriters all over the world take advantage of capos. They help songwriters find a key that suits their vocal range when writing a song. All they need to know is to move the capo up and down the neck until they find the key that best fits their voice. 

Flamenco guitar playing is one of the most famous and popular forms of guitar playing in the world. And, guess what – flamenco guitarists regularly use capos on their first few frets.

This is so they can play the songs in their original, traditional keys. Also, capos tend to push the strings closer to the neck which makes the chords and very fast melodic runs simpler to play. 

In Summary 

Take a capo away from many guitarists and their whole set of songs can be ruined! These little contraptions help to change the pitch of open strings but without adjusting the tuning keys.

The pitch of the fretted notes, therefore, does not change. Only the open, unfretted string’s pitch alters.

A capo not only affects the pitch but also changes the timbre of the strings. It can also impart the tonality of instruments that boast shorter scales such as mandolins effectively. 

Whether it’s folk, blues, rock, flamenco, or traditional Irish guitar music, a capo can transform a piece of music in an instant. Try it for yourself and you will never look back! 

Happy Playing!

Passionately invested in the music world for over 20 years, Jake studied music for 14 years at the Royal Conservatory Of Toronto. He has a degree from Champlain College & Bishop’s University in Business & Music. He is the owner of Fly Away Music & Media Studio in Montreal since 2014, with over 500 happy artists recorded, mixed and mastered.

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