Capos Explained

Dear Students,
I hope you’re enjoying Bluegrass for the Curious Guitarist and learning lots of new tricks in your playing! I want to explain in further detail about capos and how to use them. I don’t use capos and it didn’t come up that often in the course, but capos are very widely used in bluegrass guitar playing. I have some oddball quirks in my playing, and just because I don’t use one doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Capos are cool and give us opportunities that we might not have otherwise.

Capos (pronounced kay-poh) are clamps that change where the open position is. They are cheap to buy (between $7-$30) and very easy to use. Most designs are just clamps that you squeeze open and clamp down on the fret that you’re capoing on. (They should be in the middle of the fret area or behind the actual metal fret that it’s supposed to be on. The closer it is to the desired fret helps avoid string buzz.)

Let’s capo on the 2nd fret. Now when we strum our open strings, we’re hearing all the notes on the 2nd fret open – without pressing. We imaging the capo is the nut, our new nut, our temporary nut, which makes it open position. Playing a note on the 3rd fret is considered the 1st fret, since we are capoed on 2nd fret. Every chord is shifted up two frets. So a G chord starts on the 5th fret. A chord starts on the 4th fret, and so on. When reading tab, the song may say “capo 2nd fret.” That tab has open strings (our open capo 2nd fret) , 1st fret (really the 3rd fret), 2nd fret (really the 4th fret), 3rd fret (really the 5th fret), and so on.

G chord capoed on the 2nd fret is really an A chord. D chord capoed on the 2nd fret is really an E chord. Am chord capoed on the 2nd fret is really a Bm chord.

In capo world, though, we don’t say that. You say, “capo 2nd fret, and play G chord, D chord, whatever chord.”

Scale shapes are all based on E minor open and G major open (same thing.) Capo 2nd fret and use the G major or E minor scale shapes open. Capo 3rd fret and use G major or E minor scale shapes open. And so on…

A huge advantage to using capos is that we can easily change the key (to accomodate our banjo or fiddle friends) but still use the exact same shapes for our chords & leads, just shifted up or down. Advanced capo users will capo on the 7th or even 10th fret to create some high chord & open lead sounds.

I hope this makes sense. Also, thank you for your reviews of me and your support of me – I appreciate it! It means more to me than you may know – thank you!

Talk with you more later,
-Dan (your guitar teacher)