How to use a guitar capo

Guitar Capos

Switch things up a bit, use a capo!

One of the coolest inventions for the guitar (among many others) is the capo. The capo is a mechanism that will change the pitch (higher, and lower sounds) of your open strings without the trouble of having to transpose the key of the song.

For example, if you put a capo on the first fret, everything would sound one half step higher. This makes changing the key of any song very simple. In this lesson we are going to teach you about chord shapes, how to use a capo properly, and how you can use it in your own songs. Lets get started.

Guitar Capo
Capo in action (taken from

Step #1:

First, you need to know a little bit about your fret board, at least the notes on the 6th string on the guitar. This will help you when you want to decide to change the key of a song and what you key you want to transpose it to. The second thing you need to do is understand a little bit about half steps and whole steps. A half step up for example is changing a D to a D# whereas a half step down is changing that D to a Db. A whole step is two half steps put together. So that would be like going from an A to a B. If you were going down one whole step it would be like going from an A to a G. When doing this remember how many notes there are in music. We have A, B, C, D, E, F, G, all of these have their respective sharps and flats.

Step #2:

You may think "I never knew a piece of metal could be so complicated." The truth is, to put it in the simplest form, the capo acts like your index finger does when you're playing a bar chord.

So, if you were playing an G Major bar chord and put the capo on the 3rd fret, you could save your finger positions by fingering an E Major shape.

Here's what it looks like.

G Major Barre chord


Capo on the 3rd fret, still a G Major chord.

C |--0--------||
A |--1--------||
P |--2--------||
O |--2--------||

Now you can come up with many new chord combinations that would be very difficult to finger without the capo. You can use the capo to help you with your bar chords or to help you change the key of a song quickly.

Step #3:

If you had a song in the key of G with the chords G, C, D, and E and you wanted to change that song into the key of A, you would do this by putting the capo on the second fret. You may be wondering why we don't put it on the 5th fret which is A. The reason for this is whole steps and half steps. Remember how I said that if you put the capo on the first fret it raises the sound of your guitar a half step? Well if you put your capo on the second fret it raises the pitch one Whole Step.

What is one whole step up from G? Yes, that's right A! So by putting the capo on the second fret you've changed the key of G to A. Now you may be thinking about the chords and what happens with those. Well the G, C, D, and E would be turned into A, D, E, and D. Notice how all of those chords are exactly one whole step up from the chords in the Key of G? Pretty cool stuff! Now you can play the chord shape of G, C, D, and, E but get the Chord sound of A, D, E, and D. Chord shape is holding the shape of the G chord where as the Chord sound you get with the capo is an A Chord.

Step #4:

Now it's time to put the capo on the guitar. It should be a little bit behind the fret and not on it (or you will get a dead sound). There are many styles of capos, ranging from quick release to strap on. I personally use a Kyser capo. It is a bit pricey (around $20-25) but I guarantee that it will be the first and last capo you will ever buy. They are also under a manufacturers guarantee. They can be moved very easily without any trouble.

So now you can go and let that guitar virtuoso inside you out. Don't let key changes get you down!