How To Use A Capo On The Guitar - Best Uses Of A Guitar Capo.

Picture of Capo on Acoustic Guitar

There are several reasons why you might use a capo on the guitar. But first, what is it exactly.

A capo is basically a clamp that you can stick on your guitar at potentially any fret. The primary use of a guitar capo is to change key without having to change the chord shapes you use.  

So how do you do that exactly?

The table below will help you understand how to best use a capo for Major keys.

   

 Key  Capo Position  Perceived Key Available Open Chords 

A Major 

2nd Fret G Major  G  Am  C  D  Em
7th Fret D Major  D  Em  G  A
9th Fret C Major  C  Dm  Em  G  Am 
Bb Major  1st Fret  A Major  A  D  E 
3rd Fret  G Major  G  Am  C  D  Em 
6th Fret  E Major  E  A 
8th Fret  D Major  D  Em  G  A 
B Major   2nd Fret  A Major  A  D  E 
4th Fret  G Major G  Am  C  D  Em 
7th Fret  E Major E  A 
9th Fret  D Major D  Em  G  A 
Db Major     1st Fret  C Major  C  Dm  Em  G  Am 
4th Fret  A Major  A  D  E 
6th Fret  G Major  G  Am  C  D  Em 
9th Fret  E Major  E  A 
D Major    2nd Fret  C Major  C  Dm  Em  G  Am 
5th Fret  A Major  A  D  E 
7th Fret  G Major  G  Am  C  D  Em 
Eb Major     1st Fret  D Major  D  Em  G  A 
3rd Fret  C Major  C  Dm  Em  G  Am 
6th Fret  A Major  A  D  E 
8th Fret  G Major  G  Am  C  D  Em 
E Major     2nd Fret  D Major  D  Em  G  A 
4th Fret  C Major  C  Dm  Em  G  Am 
7th Fret  A Major  A  D  E 
9th Fret  G Major  G  Am  C  D  Em 
F Major    1st Fret  E Major  E  A 
3rd Fret  D Major  D  Em  G  A 
5th Fret  C Major  C  Dm  Em  G  Am 
8th Fret  A Major  A  D  E 
Gb Major     2nd Fret  E Major  E  A 
4th Fret  D Major  D  Em  G  A 
6th Fret  C Major  C  Dm  Em  G  Am 
9th Fret  A Major  A  D  E 
Ab Major     1st Fret  G Major G  Am  C  D  Em 
4th Fret  E Major E  A 
6th Fret  D Major D  Em  G  A 
8th Fret  C Major C  Dm  Em  G  Am 
  • Perceived key relates to the key that the open chord shapes come from when you capo the guitar at that particular fret. These open chord shapes extend from the perceived key you are now in.

 

For the purpose of this lesson I will use the key of Bb Major which contains the following chords:

 

Bb, Cm, Dm, Eb, F, Gm, A dim

 

As you can see, the only chord you can play as an open is the Dm. However one of the uses of a guitar capo is to be able to play in the key, like Bb, while using open chords.

The ability to use open chords and the qualities that they bring to a song is one of the main reasons why guitar players use a capo.

The table above is designed to help you learn how to best use a guitar capo.

If you capo your guitar neck at any of the given positions, you will then be able to use the open chords that come from the perceived key you are in. (see explanation below table of “Perceived Key”)

Check out the example below of a chord progression in Bb Major. I have capo’d the guitar at the 1st fret. The chords you get as a result of using the capo on your guitar are in the brackets. The actual chords of Bb Major, the actual key you are in, are below these.

 

Acoustic Guitar Capo Progression 1

 

 

So in the example above my progression is made up of the chords Bb, F, and Eb. All of these can only be played as bar chords. However, if I capo the guitar at the 1st fret, I can now use the A, E, and D open shapes for these chords.

Here are another three progressions, all in the Key of Bb Major. For each one I have used the capo at a different fret position on the guitar. The capo position will determine the open chords available to me. Check our table above as a reference.

 

Acoustic Guitar Capo Progression 2

 

 

Acoustic Guitar Capo Progression 3

 

 

Capo Progression 4

 

 

 

Embellished Capo Chord Progression

As mentioned earlier, a great reason for using a capo on your guitar is to maintain your open chord shapes and the qualities and possibilities that these bring. 

Check out this example of the progression from above, capo’d at the 3rd fret:

 

Embellished capo chord progression

 

 

Even though this is in the key of Bb, I am able to use open chords exclusively and therefore easily add embellishments thanks to the capo.

While there are other ways and reasons for playing your guitar with a capo, the approach explained here will go a long way to your creativity on the guitar. 

Finally, finding examples of songs that use a capo will definitely increase your understanding of how to use one.

Here are a few to get you started:

 

  • Hotel California - The Eagles (Capo 7th fret)
  • Here Comes the Sun - The Beatles (Capo 7th fret)
  • Wonderwall - Oasis (Capo 2nd fret)

 

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