eli5: Why do we use capos for playing certain songs on a Guitar?


eli5: Why do we use capos for playing certain songs on a Guitar?

In: Other

It changes the key they are playing in without needing to change the chords played. Or something along those lines.

Some chords are easy to play. Some are more awkward. If you’re playing in a key that has a lot of awkward chords, a capo is a way of shifting in to playing in a different key. You’re fingering a G chord, say, but because there’s a capo on fret 3, the whole sound is shifted up by 3 frets so it sounds as an A#/Bb. (I don’t know if that’s a tricky chord for guitar or not. I play piano!)

It allows players to transpose songs that are normally played with open chords into different keys, often to accommodate a singer’s range, without changing the open chord shapes.

The open position chords are usually the first ones taught. In standard tuning they are also all rooted in regular notes, not sharps or flats.

If you can play a song in the key of G major, then C and D are the other major chords you would use a lot of. A and E minor are two of the minor chords you would be likely to be playing. All of those chord shapes are fairly easy, C being the most difficult. B minor is a barre chord and slightly more difficult, but still not that difficult.

If you find a song that is in the key of A major, or you sing better in A major, but you are comfortable with playing G major one very simple way of transposing it is to put a capo on the 2nd fret. Now your G major shape becomes A major because the root note is played with a finger in the 5th fret on the low E string. That is an A note. The rest of the chords get shifted up a full note and played with the open position G major shapes, C major shape is now D, and D major is now E, so on. Those are the major chords in A.

Keep in mind, when teaching the song in this different key instructors will often refer to the chords by their open position names despite the use of a capo. This is for ease of communication. They will say, “Put the capo on the second fret and play a G major chord.” You are really playing an A major, but it’s just easier to think of it as a G if you are not a theory geek.