44. Uses Of The Capo

The capo has been called ‘the guitarist’s friend’, and for good reason! Its basic function is to raise all the strings together to a higher pitch of the player’s choosing. A capo is most commonly used for the following:

1. To allow favored chord shapes at open position to be used when transposing to a different key

Example: Favored chord shapes: C, F , G

Actual key is E—place capo at 4th fret

Here is the progression “C-F-G” (actually E-A-B)


This allows chord shapes of a different key than the original to be used, with or without actually changing the key. In the above example, the key of E is matched by playing in “C’ with the capo at the 4th fret. If the capo is placed elsewhere, the key of course changes.

2. To make easier certain movements with the fretting hand, since the scale of the guitar gradually shortens (the frets get closer together) as one moves up the neck.

Example: In this phrase, the pinky must reach the 4th fret, 2nd string (Eb). Without the capo, it is a challenging stretch:


However, with the capo at the 5th fret, it is relatively easy:


3. To change the timbre of the instrument; higher placement of the capo enables an almost mandolin-like sound


Example: Capo at 7th fret Progression-“D-G-A” (actually A-D-E)

4. 2 (or more) guitarists will sometimes play in the same key, but one will use a capo to give a different sound.

Example:  Guitar 1 is playing E, A, and B.

Guitar 2 plays D, G, A. With the capo at the 2nd fret, the chords are now both E, A and B

These are the most popular uses of the capo. Some guitarists use 2 capos on one guitar, each at different points of the neck. Experiment with this if it intrigues you.

Although the capo has only one actual function (raising the pitch of all the strings equally), it is truly a multifaceted tool.

©2012  Jim Greenfield