Why You Need a Capo

Many experienced guitarists often dismiss the capo as little more than a device to help novice players “cheat” their way out of playing barre chords. This is one way of looking at it, albeit a somewhat uncharitable view. The capo can turn a song in the key of Bb into something much more manageable using shapes from the key of G, and that, in turn can make it easier to play elaborate “twiddly bits” around the chord shapes – an important consideration if you need to include a melody line of some sort into what you’re playing. Chet Atkins would often use a capo & I don’t remember anyone accusing him of “cheating”.

If you’re involved in recording guitars, especially acoustic guitar, then the capo is your best ally when it comes to getting a BIG sound. Take a listen to this basic chord sequence which goes:

C / / / G / / / Am / / / F / / / C / / / Am / / / Bb / F / G / / /

It sounds OK on it’s own but this is what it sounds like if you add another guitar part. This is what it sounds like when you play a second part capo’d at the 5th fret. The shapes you would need to play would be:

G / / / D / / / Em / / / C / / / G / / / Em / / / F / C / D / / /

These shapes represent the chords found 5 frets below those in the original sequence (G is 5 frets below C; D is 5 below G; Em is 5 below AM & so on). By playing these “5 frets below” shapes, and moving them up 5 frets by using the capo, you will have brought them into line with the initial chord sequence. Basically a G shape capo’s at the 5th fret gives a C chord, because C is what you get if you move up 5 frets from G. Simples!

The extra guitar part we’ve added really adds a luscious quality to the chord sequence, especially if you pan both guitars to opposite sides of the stereo mix.

Here’s a third guitar part added in. This is the original chord sequence capo’d at the 12th fret & added to the two parts we already have.

That really sounds majestic doesn’t it? This kind of layered rhythm guitar part using a capo can truly lift a mix & make it sound full and beautifully textured.

This kind of thing also works if you pick the chords rather than strum them. Here’s the same sequence played with a relatively pedestrian flat-picking technique.

And here it is with an equally mundane part, played at the 5th fret as described previously, added in.

That sounds much prettier doesn’t it? And I’ve not paid any attention to making both parts fit together melodically or rhythmically, I just played a fairly simple picking pattern with the plectrum on both parts. Admittedly, I did use some commonplace chord decorations that most of us use from time to time – the odd “sus4” or “sus2” on a D shape, or taking the 1st finger off the Am shape etc. These little touches all interact to give a harmonically rich sound which is greater than the sum of its parts.

Here’s a final part added into the mix – this time we’re capo’d at the 12th fret again, playing a similar part to the original open position chords.

So… next time you have to lay down a clean electric guitar chord part, or even better, an acoustic part, then try doing this little capo trick to make the chord sequence sparkle with lush sounding overdubs.

The capo is a brilliant little tool for breathing life into your rhythm guitar parts in the studio (or live if you’re in a two guitar band), so don’t write it off as the guitar equivalent of stabilisers on a novice’s bicycle – it’s so much more than that.

Until next time,

 

Have Fun!

 

John

 

John Robson Guitar Tuition & Musicianship Coaching

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1 Comment

  1. When I was in school my best fried accused me of ‘cheating’ by using a capo!

    I use capos extensively to play alternate chord voicings when playing with singer-songwriters, it easily enhances their tone without being intrusive. I always saw it as essential that the song would still have to work if my part was removed. Being able to choose which notes are produced by open strings gives you a lot more control over sustain and tone which gives it merit as a device for lead guitarists too.

    I always found it funny when people asked me and my singer why our capos were in different places 😀

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