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Guitar Capo Instruction

The capo is a device that is attached to the fretboard and over each string. Using a capo allows you to play the standard open position chords at any fret you like. 

Why would you want to play these chords in a different position of the guitar fretboard? One reason is to change the key of the song and use the same guitar chords you would as in the open position. Another reason would be to change the key of the song to match the key to your vocals. Another reason to use a capo is to just change the sound. 

I've learned that when I place a capo on my guitar, the quality of the sound really improves. The notes ring clearer and more defined. This may be because my acoustic guitar is not the greatest of guitars.

What I would like to do is give you a few examples of how you could go about changing the chords to a song with a capo. And at the same time explain a little about progressions. By learning to play just the basic 1-4-5 progression, you can begin to write your own songs. Since the lessons on Guitar Secrets covers the key of C major and modes, I will explain the capo using the key of C major. 

In the key of C major the notes and chords are C Dm Em F G Am B dim. The 1- 4-5 progression in the key of C major would be C F and G. The tablature for each of these chords have been illustrated below.

C chord    F chord        G chord
-0---------------1---------------3------
-1---------------1---------------0--------
-0---------------2---------------0--------
-2---------------3---------------0--------
-3--------------------------------2-------
-----------------------------------3------

The guitar has a few pieces of hardware you should be familiar with. The guitar has the body, neck, bridge, saddle, tuners and most an adjustment rod.

The part that we're concerned with is the nut. The nut is the plastic or bone piece in which the strings are guided through. It is located next to the first fret and has small slots where each string rests in.

Guitar Capo instructions

Nut 
||--------|--------|----------
||--------|--------|----------
||--------|--------|---------
||--------|--------|---------
||--------|--------|---------
||--------|--------|---------
   1st      2nd    3rd fret


The illustration above shows the guitar fretboard starting with the nut and then 3 frets.
If we wanted to play the guitar chords of C F and G we would play them as illustrated in the tablature above. 

Now say we wanted to place the capo over the 3rd fret of the guitar. By doing this we are now going to use the capo as if it were the new nut of the guitar. The capo will now represent the nut and the guitar in the open position at the third fret. We will ignore the old open position, 1st and 2nd frets. Since the capo is located over the 3rd fret, we can't and don't want to use the 1st and 2nd frets.

The 3rd fret will represent the open strings position, the 4th fret will now represent the 1st fret and the guitar can be played as normal. When you place the capo on the guitar fretboard, place it as close to the fret as possible. It may take a little adjusting to get the best sound. Notice where the capo has been placed.

Using the guitar capo and free instructions

                    3rd    4th   5th    6th    
||------|------|-----+|----0-|------|-------|-------|
||------|------|-----+|----1-|------|-------|-------|
||------|------|-----+|----0-|------|-------|-------|
||------|------|-----+|-------|--2--|-------|-------|
||------|------|-----+|-------|------|----3-|-------|
||------|------|-----+|-------|------|-------|-------|
                   3rd fret has capo + over strings


The illustration above shows you how to play the C chord with the capo over the 3rd fret of the guitar. Notice you use the same fingering pattern as you did in the open position illustrated below.

C chord    F chord       G chord
-0---------------1---------------3------
-1---------------1---------------0--------
-0---------------2---------------0--------
-2---------------3---------------0--------
-3--------------------------------2-------
-----------------------------------3------

Below is the fingering for the F chord you played in the open position now starting at the 4th fret. The numbers in each fret are the suggested fingers to play the chords.

                    3rd    4th    5th     6th   7th frets
||------|------|-----+|----1-|-------|-------|-------|
||------|------|-----+|----1-|-------|-------|-------|
||------|------|-----+|-------|---2--|-------|-------|
||------|------|-----+|-------|-------|----3-|-------|
||------|------|-----+|-------|-------|-------|-------|
||------|------|-----+|-------|-------|-------|-------|

Below is the location for the G chord. The numbers are the suggested fingers to use for the chord.

                    3rd   4th    5th    6th   7th frets
||------|------|-----+|------|-------|---3--|------|
||------|------|-----+|---0-|-------|-------|------|
||------|------|-----+|---0-|-------|-------|------|
||------|------|-----+|---0-|-------|-------|------|
||------|------|-----+|------|---1--|-------|------|
||------|------|-----+|------|-------|---2--|------|

The numbers in each of the patterns for the chords C F and G, show the suggested fingers to use in each box. Notice which fret numbers are illustrated.

Now you know how to play the C F and G chords with the capo at the 3rd fret. You would play all the open position chords as normal. Try the Am Dm Em D E open position chords too.

Now of course, even though you're playing the chords C F and G they are no longer really considered the C F and G chords. This is because we are now playing them 3 frets higher than the normal open position. Remember when we use the capo, we are actually changing the key and chord names.

Since we are raising the pitch by 3 frets, we are actually raising the notes by 3 half steps. A half step is equal to 1 fret on the guitar. So if we raise the key of C major by 3 half steps, we would have the key of Eb. This is want it would look like if we raised the C note up say 3 half steps. C Db D Eb or the same thing using sharps would be C C# D D#. D# and Eb are the same notes. So we will use the key of Eb. 

The notes in the key of Eb are: Eb  Fm   Gm   Ab Bb Cm  D dim. 
The notes in the key of C are:   C    Dm   Em   F   G   Am  B dim

So when you play the C chord with the capo at the 3rd fret, the C would equal the Eb, F would be Ab and G would be Bb.

Figuring out what key is the tricky part. But using the capo can be a lot of fun and lead to tons of new ideas.

Good Luck

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