How Do I Know What Chords To Use With A Capo?

Capo is a popular tool that many guitarists use. It helps guitar players produce the right sound at the right key without playing over complicated chords. As a result, many come to rely on capos, including professionals. 

However, one issue many guitarists place is using Capo correctly, especially when working out the right chords after clamping a capo onto their guitar. How do you know what chords to use with a capo?

Generally, you play the same chords as if there are no capos. However, when you clamp a capo on every subsequent fret, you add a half-tone to your chord. For example, a C chord becomes a C# when you clamp a capo on the first fret. A guitar capo chart describes these changes in detail. 


This post explores how to know what chords to use with a capo. We describe how Capo works, especially how it increases your chords’ keys and tones. 

We also explain how you can read the guitar capo chart well. Finally, we discuss if beginners should use a capo or if it is bad for them. 

What Does A Capo Do?

A guitar capo helps to modify the pitch and key of your guitar by shortening it. It does this by clamping down on the strings, similar to how you play a barre chord. Guitarists use it to transpose or change keys to songs when playing. 

A guitar capo is a hand-sized tool that looks like a clamp. Guitarists use it to modify the pitch of their guitar without needing to change their fingering. Capo is probably one of the most popular guitar accessories, perhaps only behind the pick.

Capo is very useful when a guitarist needs to transpose a song. This means the song needs to go up and down keys to suit the singer’s vocal range. To some ears, Capos also makes guitars sound better.

Generally, a capo functions like a clamp. You apply the clamping force onto the neck of the guitar. It helps you to clamp on the strings, which shortens its length. As a result, the pitch of the strings goes up.

When you place the Capo on a specific fret, you change the guitar’s key as well since the Capo now acts as the new nut of the guitar. You can then play the regular chords on the song but with a transposed key. You do not need to learn new fingerings or chords.

There are several types of capos available, each with its own list of strengths and issues:

Screw-On Capo: This Capo works like a C-clamp, with two hands that can be opened or closed with a screw. Unscrew to open the hands. Then place it on the right fret, and screw in to secure it. Screw-on capo has a tight grip, but you give up the ease of use and mobility.

Clip-On Capo: It has three hands and a spring. One hand rests on the neck of your guitar while the other presses the strings. The third hand is used to move the other two. As you push down on the third hand, the other hands open up like a jaw. Then place your Capo on the guitar fret, and let go. The hands are now locked in place by the spring.

Rolling Capo: A rolling capo has two hands connected by two springs at each end. One hand pushes on the fretboard, and the other is on the neck. The hand on the guitar neck might have wheels that let it move around and roll on the neck. This allows you to quickly change the position of your Capo.

What Is A Chord?

Chords are formed when three or more pitches are played together. You play chords on a guitar by pressing the strings in a specific formation and then strumming the strings. Guitar chords are the foundation of many songs, often played in repetitive strumming to serve as background sound.

Chords are playing three or more pitches together to create a harmonic blend. Chords generally resonate with listeners in many ways. Chords are also the foundation of most musical pieces. 

There are many types of chords. The common chords include major and minor. Major chords have a joyous, positive feel, while minor chords can feel heavy and introspective. There are also power chords, which have a raw and energetic sound. 

Players usually press the guitar strings in a specific formation when playing chords on a guitar. The picking hand then strums the strings from top to bottom, which brings out the chord’s sound. 

When playing guitar, you have two major types of chords. The open chords are regular chords played with open strings. Barre chords are played with the index finger pressing all the strings, creating a bar. 

Guitar chords are often the foundation of most songs today since strumming them repeatedly helps to create a ‘wall of sound.’ This wall of sound becomes the song’s backdrop while the lead guitarist or vocalist takes the limelight. 

Chords are also one of the first things any beginner guitarists learn. This is because it helps the guitarist go from being a complete newbie to playing a song quickly. 

Sometimes talented players with a good sense of rhythm can play several chords independently within several hours of practice and instruction.

Does Using A Capo Change How Chords Are Played?

Capos do not change how chords are played. They only alter the pitch of the chord by half a tone. The degree of alteration depends on the position of the Capo. The further away you Capo from the guitar nut, the higher the pitch. Your fingering formation remains the same. 

One thing that confuses many beginning guitarists about capos is how they work. Capos changes the pitch, key, and note of the chords you play without needing to adjust your fingering. 

In short, Capo does not change how you play your chords, especially in your fingering position.

When you place a capo on the first fret of your guitar, you raise the key or the guitar by one half-tone. Put it on the second fret; you raise the key by a full note. The higher you go on the frets, the higher the key will be. 

For example, you get a C chord sound if you play a C chord on the open string without a capo. However, placing a capo on the first fret raises the guitar’s key by one half-tone. 

You then play the C chord again, but you move up the fretboard this time. This is because the Capo is now the nut of your guitar. For example, if on an open string (no capo), your index finger is on the first fret for the C chord. 

However, when you place the Capo on the first fret, you move your index finger to the second fret. Your other fingers also move along by a fret. This means you still technically have your fingers in the same position as a regular C. 

However, when you play the note, you may notice the chord sounds a little sharper. This is because Capo has raised the guitar’s key by half a tone. This means your regular C chord now sounds like a C-sharp chord.

This allows you to quickly transpose what you are playing by raising or lowering the key of your guitar. You will not have to learn to play a C# chord on an open string, which can be hard. 

How Do I Know What Chords To Use With A Capo?

Start by deciding the key you want to play the song in. Then you clamp your Capo to the right position by looking at the key on the open-string guitar. You then continue to play the chords as open strings but understand that the notes have changed due to the Capo. A guitar capo chart describes the chord changes better.

If you intend to transpose your songs when playing on guitar, you may do it for various reasons. However, the most common is adjusting to other instruments or a vocalist. At times, vocalists may be unable to sing in the original key due to vocal limitations. 

We describe the steps below to decide what chords to play with a capo. We assume you are looking to transpose from the keynote G to A. 

  1. Start by looking at the chord sheet of the original song. You can take the first chord as the key. Let’s say, for example, the song’s key is G.
  2. You want to raise the song’s key to A, which means you are raising by two half-tones. You will be going from G to G# and then to A.
  3. This means you place your Capo on the second fret of your guitar. This raises the key of your guitar by two half-tones. 
  4. Now, try to play similar chord progressions as if you are still on the open string. However, play starts from the third fret since the first and second fret are now capped down. 
  5. You may notice that the chords have all gotten sharper. This is because all the chords have moved up by two half-tones or a full note. 
  6. For example, the original chord progression is G, Em, C, and D. After clamping on the Capo, the notes are A, Fm, D, and E. 
  7. You can transpose this in your head, which takes some practice. You can also refer to a guitar capo chart to know what chords to use with a capo.

How Do I Use A Guitar Capo Chart?

A guitar capo chart helps you quickly determine the chords to use when having a capo on your guitar. You can quickly find the appropriate fingering position to play to get the chords you want relative to your Capo’s position. 

One of the troubles guitarists face when playing with a capo is to tell what chord they are playing. This is because although their fingering position plays a particular chord, the actual chord is not the same since the Capo raises the guitar’s key.

Many players will refer to a guitar capo chart to tell what chords to use with a capo. It provides a convenient way to quickly find the appropriate fingering position to play to get the chords you want relative to your Capo’s position. 

A guitar chart usually consists of a grid-like diagram. The horizontal lines represent the guitar frets, and the vertical lines are the strings or chords. Each box within the grid points to a specific chord shape or position. 

There may be other ways to arrange and show the guitar capo chart. Some charts may reverse the fret and chord arrangement, showing frets vertically and chords horizontally.

This is how you use a guitar capo chart:

  1. Start By Determining Your Capo Position. Look where you place the Capo from your guitar, and count the frets. You count the guitar nut towards the bridge.
  2. Identify The Desired Chord: Now, figure out the chord or key you want to play. In this case, we take the example from above; you want to play in the key of A.
  3. Identify Capo Position On Chart: Look at the guitar capo chart and identify the capo position. This usually is arranged horizontally on the chart. In this example, you look for the 2nd fret.
  4. Identify Chord/Key: Now, look for the chord you want to play once you find the right fret on the chart. In this case, A. Move vertically within the 2nd fret column to look for the A chord. 
  5. Look At The Chord To Play: Now, slide your eyes over to the first column. Here you will see the chords to play. In this case, you will notice that if you want to play an A chord with the Capo on the 2nd fret, you play a G chord.
  6. Transpose If Needed: If you need to, repeat steps 2-5 to ensure you transpose all the chords you need to play the songs you need. 

Is Using A Capo Cheating?

Using Capo may be seen as cheating, as players can use it to compensate for their weak playing skills. However, Capo also allows guitarists to transpose songs easier, making them more versatile and accommodating musicians. 

Using Capo can be associated with cheating. This is because capos can be used as a shortcut, where players do not need to learn how to play more complicated chords on open strings.

For example, suppose a song’s chord progression is Dm, Am, Dm, Am. Playing on open strings requires you to learn all the chords well. This also includes learning how to play the Dm chord, which can be a challenge to some players. 

However, if you use a capo, you can place it on the first fret. Then play half a tone lower from the original chord, and get the same sound. If you use the example above, clamp a capo on the first fret and then play C, G, C, and G chords instead. You should get the same sound. 

However, rather than seeing Capo use it as cheating, see it as a good tool in a guitar player’s arsenal. It helps guitar players adjust their sounds to ensure they get the right sounds. 

With a capo, a guitar player can be more flexible and accommodating to other musicians, be it a pianist, trombonist, or vocalist. The guitar play may also transpose the song to suit their vocal range, making them sing better.

A capo can also help a guitarist to bridge their skill level, particularly when the chords they need to play are not within their ability yet. Certain chords, such as Fm or Bm, can be hard to play, especially for beginners. 

A capo can bridge that, allowing them to play songs with these chords while they improve. The key, however, is to not become dependent on the Capo. Players should always strive to play as many chords as possible on open strings. 

On another note, professional guitarists also use Capo. This is because they see its ability to help them play better. If professionals play with a capo, chances are you, as a hobbyist and casual guitarist, can too. You should also be able to use Capo without being accused of being a cheater.

Should A Beginner Use A Capo?

A beginner may not need to use a capo yet, as their focus should be ok getting the fundamentals right. These include strumming, pick technique, and chord fingering. Capo may be useful as a bridge to help them play certain songs, but only later as they progress.

Now that we know experienced guitarists can use Capo to play well and be more flexible. But what about beginner guitarists? Should beginners use a capo?

In general, beginning guitarists do not need to use a capo. This is because they are usually not in the position to benefit from capo use as yet. 

Beginners should focus more on strengthening their basic fundamental skills. These include strumming, rhythm, and pick technique. Beginners should also focus on getting the chord fingering and transition right. 

Once beginners are able to play some chords, they can consider using a capo. This is because Capo may be able to help them transpose some songs that they cannot play. They can transpose the song and replace the chords or notes. They cannot play with something they can. 

However, this habit can become permanent if not controlled, causing the player to never develop the technique to play those difficult chords. This is akin to having a crutch; some players may rely too much on it. 

As a result, it may be better not to have a beginner use Capo. Instead, the beginner should take the opportunity to practice and improve their chord and note-playing skills.

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