Strings, neck, dreadnought, frets – they’re all terms you may be familiar with even if you’re a guitar player. But have you heard about the “capo?”

As a beginner, it’s good to familiarize yourself with all terms associated with the guitar, including a guitar capo and how it is useful. We’ve also listed down some tips for buying a capo at the end of the article. 

What is a Guitar Capo?

A capo takes its name from the Italian word capotasto, which means “head of the neck.” It’s a small device that guitarists clamp over the neck of a guitar. What it does is, shorten the length of the guitar strings and raise their pitch. 

The primary purpose of using a guitar capo is to play a song in different keys without changing the first-position open-string chords. This gives out a fuller, more resonant tone. 

How does a Guitar Capo Work?

The nut is the end of a string’s vibrating length on the guitar’s headstock. The nut could be plastic, metal, or bone and is mounted on the part where the headstock meets the fretboard. The strings pass over the nut at an angle as they move from the fretboard and anchor on the headstock. 

Essentially, a capo acts as a movable nut. It’s fixed at any fret below the neck joint. It changes the pitch rather than maintaining string placement laterally. As a result, the capo is an added functionality to the nut, not removing the nut out of the picture. 

While capos aren’t used frequently in jazz and classical music, they’re commonly used by blues, flamenco, and folk music players. In addition, several famous guitar players have used capos – Johnny Marr, Bruce Springsteen, Keith Richards, among others.

What is a Guitar Capo Used For?

  1. To play more songs with fewer chords.

Perhaps one of the most significant benefits for new learners, you can play songs using fewer chords. This is useful even if you’re a singer and want the chords to accompany your music. You can learn a few chords but play a variety of songs using the capo.

Simple chords such as G, D, C, Em, and Am will pave the way for variations and new skills. Without a capo, you’d have to learn several barre chords and chord shapes. For a beginner, doesn’t that seem like a lot of work cut short?

2. To play music that would otherwise be challenging.

Some famous musicians, like Johnny Marr, love using chord voicings. Well, you should know that chord voicings are only possible with a capo. “The Smiths” loved using the capo in different variations to create exciting music. In reality, it’s a creative tool that lets you explore new skills, styles, and variations. 

3. To find help with writing and composing songs.

If you love writing and composing songs, using a capo is an excellent way to start. Recording a song is a moment of pride. It’s also a liberating experience, giving you a better understanding of the overall music-making process.

You may get confused with several techniques and not know where to start. One of the ways you can begin is by working on and improving a song you know to the point that it becomes a new one. This is where your trusted friend, the capo, comes to your aid. A capo can make already cool things sound way cooler, which is a helpful technique for writing and composing songs. 

4. To find a suitable key to suit your vocal range.

Singers, perhaps, know best about what is a guitar capo. They tend to use it more than other guitar players because it’s a helpful method of adjusting the instrument’s keys. For example, if you’re singing a song that doesn’t match your vocal range, you can use the capo to take it to a higher or lower chord as you need. 

For instance, your vocal range is most suited to A#, but you want to play open chords on an acoustic guitar. In this case, you can clamp the capo either on fret 1 or 3. It’ll help you reach your preferred key easily. 

5. To play the chords easily.

Using the capo, you’ll have fun playing different chords. It’ll put you at greater ease, make you more confident and willing to learn new songs. Encouragement to practice will eventually improve your skills. What’s better than giving in to your hobby and using it every day to improve your music?

6. To create different tones. 

Where you place the capo on your guitar changes the tone. For instance, play a standard C chord and then play the same one using a capo at the 5th fret. You’ll instantly notice the change in tone. The strings and note intervals are the same, but the sound will be tighter and have a distinct “chime” that’s notably different from the version without a capo.

Using this technique, you can create a variety of songs, giving you more variation and letting you add your own flavor to an existing piece. 

7. To blend your music with another guitarist.

When performing with another guitarist, you can get out of their way using a capo. If you play with a capo and they play without it, the notes and chords are placed differently. The two guitars almost sound like different instruments. Playing the same chord will give you a different voicing which will be fuller, overall sound. 

8. To give your left hand some rest.

When playing songs having barre chords, you use your left hand often. While some pieces may let your fretting hand take a breath, not all songs do. Specifically, if you’re jamming for long, your left hand will be tired. Instead, if you know what a guitar capo is, let it come to your rescue. You’ll have some much-needed respite. Give your fretting hand a break, and it’ll do much better as you go on. 

How to Choose a Guitar Capo

For first-time users, it may be challenging to understand what is a guitar capo and which one works best. So, here’s a list of things you should know before buying a capo.

Full vs. Partial Capo

As the name suggests, a full capo will do the same job for each guitar – shorten the strings across your fingerboard. Most of the capos available in the market are full capos. 

On the other hand, partial capos are used to shorten fewer strings. As a result, they provide more variations in chords than full capos, depending on where you place them. Generally, they’re used to clamp the five outer strings or three inner ones. They could, however, block access to your fingerboard.

Radius

Guitars with steel strings have a curved fingerboard, whereas nylon-string ones have a flat fingerboard. Therefore, while choosing a capo, you need to consider its curvature in alignment with the fretboard. If the curvature doesn’t match, you could play out of tune. 

Again, guitar necks have different widths at specific points. Capos have a range of how thin, thick or wide a neck they can fit around. 

Capo companies have realized this and are now producing capos which fit different radiuses.

Tone

The material used in a capo also affects the resulting tone of the guitar. Softer rubber will deaden the tone, while a harder one could mute the tone better. On a 12-string guitar, though, a softer rubber capo will stop the octave strings, giving out a better sound. 

Adjustment

Knowing what a guitar capo is, you’ll find that not all capos come with equal adjustments. Screw-clamp mechanisms can be adjusted without excess tightening. However, more control could lead to slower operation. Check for size, tightness, and snap-off mechanism before settling on one.

Price

Lastly, price is an important consideration. A more expensive capo may look good but not work well with your guitar. You can get a more affordable capo online that’s also suitable for you. 

Use a Guitar Capo to Improve Your Performance

As a beginner, having the capo in your arsenal will give you a head start on your guitar-playing journey. With the confidence boost, you can become a better player.You can find more information, tips, and techniques on BYJU’S FutureSchool. We also have music courses for children and adults to help guide you.

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