What Does a Capo Do? Here’s What You Need to Know!

Along with humidifiers, tuners, and winders, a capo is a guitar accessory that works wonders in creating music, but what does a capo do? As a guitarist, full understanding in using this device is necessary for complementing your skill.

What Is a Capo?

The word “capo” is an Italian word that means “head.” It is a small tool that clamps onto the guitar neck and effectively shortens the length of the guitar strings to raise the pitch. Guitarists clip the capo across the strings of a guitar or other stringed instrument for that matter, at a certain fret.

So, how much higher will the effect be?

Typically, it would be a half of a step for every fret. For instance, placing the capo at the third fret, all the open strings will become Gs, which is at least three half steps greater than the E pitch. Accordingly, all other strings will have higher pitches.

Take note that you cannot play anything below the capo. You can only use the strings above it.

guitar capo

Advantages of Using a Capo

The primary advantage of capo is that it lets you play a song in whole new keys while still using the first-position chord forms in open-string. This mechanism will ultimately create more vibration and fuller reverberating tone as compared to other bar chords.

You don’t need to be an expert to incorporate the capo in playing the guitar. It’s a great alternative when you want to shift the pitch of the guitar chords that you play. The best thing is you use the same open chord position which you have learned.

Aside from creating various tonal options, a capo also makes it easier for you to play guitar chords. It reduces the strains on your fingers because you won’t be needing that much pressure while playing and holding the guitar neck. Since the frets are now closer to the sound hole, your fingers will have a lesser distance to travel.

How to Use a Capo

In using a capo, you need to determine first as to what point you want to clamp on the guitar fretboard. Once you have identified it, open the clamp and place it on the chosen section of the fretboard. Immediately closing the clamp presses the string down.

The capo works to raise guitar keys. For example, when placing the capo on the second fret to play a C chord, it will result on the D chord sound coming out of the guitar. The capo increased the sound of the C chord.

The concept of using the capo may be difficult to understand for some, but with continued practice, you’ll soon get the hang of it.  

Difference Between Capo and Nut

Before using the capo, you need to understand how the nut works first. The nut is a thin piece of either bone, metal, or plastic that you can find on the guitar’s headstock end. It is the end of the guitar string’s vibrating scale length.

This small strip connects the fretboard and the headstock, with the guitar strings passing over it, usually at a particular angle. When the string passes, it leaves the guitar fretboard to look for their anchor points on the head.

The guitar nut consists of grooves, which make sure that the strings are on the right place along the fretboard length. It works with the bridge at the guitar body of the scale.

The capo works like a nut, a loose nut, for that matter, since it can attach to a particular fret below the guitar neck joint. Like the nut, it provides the same type of guitar vibration termination.

However, unlike the guitar nut, a capo doesn’t have grooves. This is mainly because the function of a capo leans toward changing the pitch.

The nut maintains the lateral placement of the guitar string. Hence, you cannot interchange a capo and a nut, as they work side by side. In fact, a capo works as a supplement to the function of the guitar nut.

How a Capo Works

The capo works to change guitar pitch even without altering the tuning key. Therefore, the pitch of the fretter guitar notes will not change. It only modifies the tone of the unfretted strings.

Additionally, it is not only the pitch that changes. The capo also affects the timbre of the guitar strings by creating shorter scales on the instrument tonality.

Guitarists use a capo in traditional guitar music, folk, and blues. You can also use it in rock and pop music. Many famous guitarists have been using it including John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen, and George Harrison. However, you can hardly use the device for classical and jazz music.

Different Capo Styles

There are different capo styles that you can attach to the guitar neck behind the fret. Most of these capos have a rubber cover to hold down the guitar strings effectively. You can see it affixed to the guitar neck with a strap made of fabric, nylon, or elastic. You can also clamp it using screw or spring.

A current innovation on the capo style is the partial capo. Although you can see it attached to the guitar head, it doesn’t entirely encircle the neck. Also, you can apply it to only two or three strings, unlike the traditional capo that covers all six strings. This, in turn, creates beautiful tonal variations.

Why Should You Use a Capo?

There are several reasons why guitar players use a capo in their instruments. Whether you just want to create an entirely different sound or just to give the current sound a little texture, the benefits are endless.

Makes the Songs Easier

This is the primary reason why guitar players use a capo. By using a capo, you can play more with lesser guitar chords. Even if you are using five chords, you can quickly change the tone and play more songs in the process.

For a beginner guitar plaer, it usually takes a relatively large amount of work to play one song. If

you are not using a capo, learning a simple tune would take you more than just the five basic chords.

Plays Different Chord Voicings

In addition, a capo paves the way for you to play songs that normally would be difficult. You may have heard guitar players doing cool chord voicings, and this is impossible to do without the use of a capo. It is not cheating, but it is about being musically creative.

As a budding guitarist, you would want to experiment and try out other sounds without too much effort. A capo can help you explore the possibilities of making alternate chord voicings and tunings. It gives the song a definite character and texture.

Brighten and Freshen Guitar Tones

Placing the capo on the guitar neck can instantly create a brighter sound. For instance, when two guitarists are playing, the other one can use a capo while they play the same chord voice. Though they are playing the same chords, the other one will sound different as to the timbre, thereby creating an entirely new effect on the song.

Change the Key of the Song

The capo is helpful for changing the song key based on the singer’s vocal range. For example, if you only know how to play a particular song using a certain key, you can use a capo to change the sound to suit the singing capacity of the singer.

The capo works to make the strings sound at least two half steps greater than normal. You can always adjust the device until you find the best range. No worries.

Makes Beautiful Guitar Sounds

Sounds that are on open chords sound better than the regular bar chords. Besides, various chord embellishments are relatively easier to apply rather than using open chords. When using the capo several frets above the neck, the guitar sound gives out a stunning tune.

This is the reason why many players use the capo tool. Many singers also like incorporating the capo when creating beautiful music. It gives them the opportunity to sing within their vocal range while enjoying the open guitar chords.

Create Better Sounds

The arrangement of the song may be suitable, but there will be times when you seem not to like it all. Or maybe you can’t seem to play the guitar chords right.

If you experience difficulty in playing within the original arrangement, then I guess it’s time that you use the good old capo tool for better translation. You can effectively change the chords to make it sound better or to complement the song as a whole.

Try Using Capo During Your Guitar Sessions

Many people may still wonder what a capo does. Others believe that it’s just some sort of a cheating mechanism. However, musicians and guitarists know better.

This little device may be a big controversy, but the fact remains that it is a reliable addition to guitar playing and songwriting.


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