Using A Capo: A Comprehensive Guide To The #1 Way To Write Creative Songs!

By Christoper Horton •  Updated: 05/27/23 •  13 min read

You have probably seen plenty of guitarists using a capo, and you have probably wondered why they use them. Today we are going to look at the proper way to use a capo, and unlock a new ability to add to your toolbox!

Using A Capo: Transpose Your Creativity

Using a capo can be hugely beneficial when you are writing songs, or learning songs by someone else. If you want to sing along, it is easier to transpose the key with a capo than tuning your guitar to alternate tunings. But I have a confession…

I have to be completely honest with you all, I never even thought about using a capo until 15 years or so into my guitar journey. It just wasn’t something that I thought about, even though I saw the capo rack every time I went to the guitar store.

I knew what a capo was, and the basics of how to use one. I just never saw the point of owning one since I played heavier music. We tuned down our guitars, and even used 7 string guitars often.

I thought that using a capo was for singer/songwriters that used acoustic guitars, not electric. Years later, I realized just how wrong I was, and I learned that capos are great for electric guitar.

I ended up being given one by a friend, because I needed it specifically for setting up guitars. But then I used it a few times to transpose a song, since my guitar was not tuned to standard. I was tuned to D Standard, so putting the capo on the second fret allowed my to play songs in Standard Tuning.

Over the years, I eventually warmed up to the idea of using a capo to write songs. It can be a very useful tool, and all you need is basic chord shape knowledge and some imagination! Open chords are totally new when you place the capo on different frets!

Today we are going to go over the basics of how to use a capo, what it is generally used for, and which capos we think are the best. So let’s start with the basics, and look at how using a capo can shift your perspective.

What Is A Capo?

Using a capo

A capo is a device used to clamp across the guitar’s fretboard, effectively raising the pitch of the strings. It allows you to change the key of a song without changing your chord shapes, creating a fresh and vibrant sound.

It essentially acts like a “moveable nut”. At least, this is the way I like to think about a capo when it comes to the function. Moving the capo up the neck is like tuning your guitar up to a higher pitch, while keeping your guitar in standard tuning.

Like I mentioned in the beginning of this article, it can also be used if you usually tune down your guitar. Say your band uses E Flat tuning, or D Standard. You can use the capo to put your guitar back into standard tuning.

There are various types of capos available, including spring-loaded capos, strap-on capos, spider capos, and partial capos. Choose the one that suits your playing style and preference. There are even 7 string guitar capos available, and partial capos can work as “extra fingers” in some instances.

There are tons of different types of capos out there, but they all work to raise the pitch of your guitar strings. Using the capo will be totally up to you. Since there are different types of capos, we will go over our favorite models later.

While you may see many acoustic guitarists using a capo, it can also be used with electric guitars. You can even add distortion and effects to your electric guitar while using a capo. There are many songs that use a capo, both acoustic and electric.

Today we are just going to look at the basic, regular type of capo that is widely available. Right now, we are going to go over how to use a capo. It can be a powerful tool, and every guitarist should have at least one in their “guitar toolkit”. Let’s dive in to the basics of using a capo.

Using A Capo

Make sure that you get familiar with the ways your particular model works before you try to attach it to your guitar. Different capos have different designs. Some work like a lever, while others have to be manually adjusted for pressure. Once you have that figured out:

Make sure you do not put the capo directly on the fret wire. This will cause buzzing and tuning issues galore. You also do not want the capo in the middle, where your finger would usually fret a note. Place the capo directly behind the desired fret.

You often see the capo placed on the 5th fret, which puts the low E string up to A. So if you play an E Chord shape with the capo acting as the nut of the guitar, you get an A chord with a new, unique voicing. The same goes for any fret or chord shape you use!

Try out all of the usual open chord shapes that you know. You will be surprised at the tonal shift, and how raising the pitch just a little bit can change how the chords sound. You will also notice open string drones are totally different now!

This is the really cool part about using a capo. You can transpose your guitar to any key, and it gives chords a totally different tonality. There are two main reasons you usually use a capo, but there are MANY benefits that you might not have thought of before!

Benefits of Using A Capo

benefits of Using a capo

There are plenty of tricks that you can do with a capo, but it really comes down to two big benefits. The two main benefits of using a capo are pretty obvious:

If there is a song where your voice just can’t reach that low note, then you can use a capo to transpose the song to a key that is easier on your voice. Professional musicians do this all the time, especially singer/songwriters.

Just like some bands tune down to E Flat when playing shows during a tour. The lower tuning is easier on the singer’s voice. Using a capo allows you to do the opposite, raising the pitch so your voice can hit lower notes.

There are tons of other benefits of using a capo on both acoustic and electric guitars. I often use a capo on my electric guitar when I am doing overdubs in the studio, since it gives chords a different sound and tonality.

Popular Songs That Use A Capo

There are a lot of famous songs that use a capo for the main riff that gives the song its character. Some of the best examples are using a capo for the entire song, and it would sound much different without one!

The “main riff” of a song is what locks the listener’s ears into your song. Using a capo can add the different tonalities that we talked about in the section above. These unique chord voicings are sure to catch the attention of the listener.

These are just a few of the best songs that I could think of that uses a capo for the “main” riff of the song. These songs are also timeless, and will be played for generations to come. This is why a capo can be such an important writing tool.

This is just a small portion of songs that can be learned that use a capo for the main riff. There are so many, it was hard to choose just a few for example. But each one of these songs has a riff that will stick with you forever after just one listen.

From folk and pop to rock and country, countless artists have employed the capo to add unique tonal qualities and explore different musical territories. So, grab your capo, experiment with different positions, and discover the endless possibilities it offers to enhance your guitar playing.

The Best Capos

This will come down to personal taste, and I have even heard from many guitar techs that the lever-style capo can be bad for your frets over time. I have used one for years, and I never had any problems, especially when it comes to the adjustable tension variants.

If you ARE worried about your frets getting dented from too much pressure, and adjustable capo like the SHUBB C-Series is a good idea, since it has adjustable tension. Again, I have never had any issues, but some techs swear by adjustable-only capos.

You should always check your guitar neck, and the finish type before using a capo. Using a capo that is made with cheap foam can ruin a Nitrocellulose finish for example. You should always buy from a reputable name brand. The cheap, no-name capos may be less expensive, but they can literally destroy your guitar.

That being said, here are our top 3 choices for capos. These are budget-friendly capos made for professional use from big, brand name companies. There are very expensive models out there, but I have never noticed the difference. These are our top 3 choices:

Using A Capo: Wrapping Up

Their are so many advantages to having a capo in your guitar tool kit. I think every guitarists should own at least one, as they can be a very useful tool. I really slept on the idea of using a capo for years, because I thought that they were for singer/songwriters with acoustic guitars.

But they can also be hugely beneficial for electric guitars. As I stated above, I often record overdubs of electric guitar parts using a capo. This gets an entirely different sound out of the guitar, even with a wall of distortion and fuzz!

So if you have always thought that capos are only used for acoustic guitars, then it might be time to pick one up and experiment. You can transpose songs, or change around riffs that you may have written yourself. The possibilities are really only limited to your imagination.

How Do You Properly Use a Capo?

1. Start by determining the desired key/tuning change for your song.
2. Position the capo on the desired fret, just behind it, and ensure it presses all the strings down firmly without muting any of them (remember, this is supposed to act like a movable nut).
3. Make sure the capo is aligned parallel to the fret, providing even pressure across all the strings.
4. Try an open chord to assure there is no buzzing or muting.

Make sure you do not put the capo directly on the fret wire. This will cause buzzing and tuning issues galore. You also do not want the capo in the middle, where your finger would usually fret a note. Place the capo directly behind the desired fret.

Does A Capo Change The Key?

That is precisely what a capo is designed to do, raise the pitch of the strings. There are two benefits to using a capo on your guitar:
1. Transposing: The capo allows you to play in different keys while utilizing familiar chord shapes.
2. Vocal Accompaniment: By using a capo, you can adjust the key to better suit your vocal range.

Does Using A Capo Make Guitar Easier?

It certainly makes learning certain songs much easier! Many popular songs have been written by using a capo. So if you have had a hard time learning a song, check the notation and see if it mentions a capo position.

Is A Capo For Beginners?

Using a capo is a skill that can be learned at any time. Beginner guitarists that already know open chords can use a capo. In fact, many popular beginner songs use a capo, so you should definitely have one in your guitarist tool kit.

Christoper Horton

Christopher has been playing guitar, bass, and piano for 28 years. He has been active in the professional music industry for over two decades. Chris has toured for years with several bands and music projects across the United States. He worked in Los Angeles as a studio musician and engineer working with many genres, but mainly Pop, Rock, and Metal. In between giving private lessons, he is usually recording under his various projects at home in Georgia. Christopher plays Schecter Guitars, BOSS Amplifiers, and uses STL Tones in the studio.

Keep Reading

Pin It on Pinterest