Guitar Capo Instructions

Kevin Casper
Guitar Capo

If you've ever seen a guitarist use a capo and have wondered how it works, consider yourself officially welcomed to LoveToKnow's guitar capo instructions.

What is a Capo?

A capo is a device that easily allows a guitarist to change the key of his or her guitar. This is certainly one of the coolest things about the guitar, and one of the things that separates it from the multitude of other tonal instruments. There exists no similar device to change the key of mallet tonal instruments like the piano or the vibraphone, or wind instruments like the trumpet or the saxophone. Violins, violas, and cellos do not make use of the capo, nor do harpists, flautists, or double-assist. The only other instruments that make use of capos are instruments with similar folk music roots like the banjo and the mandolin, but because of its incredible popularity, you're most likely to see a guitarist using one.

Why Use a Capo?

Well, the main reason to use a capo is that it makes playing in a different key almost effortless. For example, when piano players typically starts playing, the first key they learn to play in is the key of C which has no sharps or flats and only uses the white keys. If they want to learn to play in the key of F, however, they must learn an entire new pattern of keys to play that now incorporates a single black key, the B flat. This gets increasingly difficult.

For a guitarist who knows how to use a capo, changing keys is as easy as putting your capo in the right place on the fretboard and playing the same chord shapes and scale patterns that you already know. For this reason, many jazz pianists have taken to giving the capo the derogatory nickname of the cheater!

Guitar Capo Instructions For Beginners

The basic premise of the capo is that it shortens the length of your guitar's strings. You can technically place a capo anywhere on a guitar's neck, but most players typically don't attach it much higher than the seventh fret. The fret on the neck where you attach the capo now becomes your guitar's nut. For example, if you capo your guitar on the second fret, you have raised your guitar's pitch two half-steps or one whole step. That means that a chord you now play on your guitar (keeping in mind that you need to play the chord in relation to the capo now and not your guitar's nut) will be one whole step higher than it was without the capo. If you finger a D chord, what you will hear will be an E chord. If you finger an A chord you will hear a B chord, and so on. The idea is that if you want to play a song in D sharp, but don't want to learn the complicated way to play a first position D sharp on your guitar, you can simply capo your guitar on the first fret (raising the guitar's pitch one half step) and play a D chord like you normally would. The result is a chord that looks and feels like a D to you, but sounds like a D sharp to the everyone else.

Important Steps to Remember

All you need to do is follow these guitar capo instructions, and learning to use this tool will be a snap.

  • Figure out how your capo attaches to your guitar neck. There are several types of capos on the market today. Some are spring-loaded, others use an elastic type of material, and others are manually clamped to the fretboard by the guitarist. Whichever type you prefer, take a second to understand how it is supposed to hold the strings down to the fretboard.
  • Always attach your capo as close possible to the fret that you want to capo. For example, if you want to capo your guitar at the second fret, don't put the capo right in the middle of the space between the first and second frets, but rather slide it down so it's as close to the second fret as it can be. Don't put it on top of the second fret, but put it as close as it can be without touching it. This helps make sure you stay in tune.
  • Speaking of tuning, always check your tuning when you apply a capo. Often a guitar will have intonation issues, and this means that the guitar might be in tune at the first fret but will get further out of tune as you move up the neck. Try to correct any problems with intonation by checking your tuning every time you apply a capo.
Guitar Capo Instructions