Mike Moxcey ©2005

Using a Capo

Once you’ve found the I chord, you need to be able to play it. If it’s the C or G or some other key you’ve been playing in, then you’re set. If it isn’t, then you either need to learn a bunch of new chords or use a capo (if you’ve got a fretted instrument such as guitar, banjo, or dobro. You can use a capo on the mandolin put that isn’t commonly done).

Step one to using a capo is memorizing the Chromatic Scale (there is a section on it).

Step two is to figure out what chord you want to start with. This is one reason why you’ll want to know two different triple sets of chords such as C and G or D and A. Starting on the root note of the chord you want to play in, count up the chromatic scale to the key you want to be in. That number of notes is the fret you want to put your capo on.

For example, to finger a chord as G but actually play in the key of A, you’d start on the chromatic scale at G and count up: G#, A to get the number 2. Put the capo on the 2nd fret, strum a G chord and you’re actually playing an A.

If you wanted to play a C chord but sound it in A, then you start on C and count up the chromatic scale to A:

           C C# D D# E F F# G G# A   

That’s 9 notes (don’t count the one you start on) so you’d put the capo on the 9th fret and then when you strum a C chord, you’re actually sounding out an A.

Once you’ve got the capo on, strum the chords to the song and see if you’ve got the right chords. If not, you may be able to find them easier now that the sound matches the CD.

Understanding Chords with a Capo

There are two ways to think of chords: as numbers or as letters. If you think of them as letters when using a capo, then with the previous example you’ll be either thinking of the basic chord as C or as A. This quickly gets confusing. That’s another reason for thinking of chords as numbers—it’s a I chord no matter what.

Singing with a Capo

If you’ve got the chords to a song and you want to sing it, don’t be afraid to use a capo. Singing works much nicer when you try to sing within your range and don’t have to worry about fingering difficult chords.
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