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Old 05-09-2017, 06:16 PM   #1
captainamerica
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Default Understanding the capo

Ok, I am trying to get a better grasp on what a capo is doing, so here goes:

The notes on the first fret are F, C, G#, D#, A#, F.

If you play an open E chord, you will get the notes open string E, open string B, G#, E, B, open string E (022100).

So forming that open E-shape chord gives you an E major chord.

Then you place a capo on the first fret, and then the notes in the first fret of the guitar (1st fret after the capo, second physical fret of the guitar) are now G, D, A#, F, C, G. So if you play the same E chord shape, the notes played are G, D, A#, C#, F#, G.

The notes were shifted one semi-tone by the capo, and just the open strings are now: F, C, G#, D#, A#, F.

So while you can just shift a triad to hit the notes you want to play, a capo means the open strings are also moved so that an open chord can be played knowing that they are within the major scale you are playing.

The problem I've seen for EVERY explanation on the web about what using a capo does is that they do not show the notes of the fingered chord AFTER the capo is placed, so I wanted to confirm the before/after effect of the capo on the guitar neck.
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Old 05-09-2017, 06:27 PM   #2
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Do you know barre chords?

All the capo does is take the place of your index finger.

Does that help?
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Old 05-09-2017, 07:20 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by captainamerica View Post
Ok, I am trying to get a better grasp on what a capo is doing, so here goes:

The notes on the first fret are F, C, G#, D#, A#, F.

If you play an open E chord, you will get the notes open string E, open string B, G#, E, B, open string E (022100).

So forming that open E-shape chord gives you an E major chord.

Then you place a capo on the first fret, and then the notes in the first fret of the guitar (1st fret after the capo, second physical fret of the guitar) are now G, D, A#, F, C, G. So if you play the same E chord shape, the notes played are G, D, A#, C#, F#, G.

The notes were shifted one semi-tone by the capo, and just the open strings are now: F, C, G#, D#, A#, F.

So while you can just shift a triad to hit the notes you want to play, a capo means the open strings are also moved so that an open chord can be played knowing that they are within the major scale you are playing.

The problem I've seen for EVERY explanation on the web about what using a capo does is that they do not show the notes of the fingered chord AFTER the capo is placed, so I wanted to confirm the before/after effect of the capo on the guitar neck.
This is correct, but as with everything, there is more you can do. Are you familiar with the CAGED system? CAGED and the capo go hand in hand.

Here is an example:
Suppose I want to play a song in Dm (F). For simplicity's sake, we'll say it's a 1-5-1 so Dm-Am-Dm. On the open strings, Dm is played with the D form, Am with the A form.

Now: I want to use the same chords, but in a different voicing, so I put the capo on the 5th fret. Things have suddenly changed. Now, I'm playing the Dm with the A form, the Am with the E form. If you wanted to play the C chord in this voicing, you'd play it with the G form.
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Old 05-09-2017, 08:48 PM   #4
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The only uses I have ever had for a Capo are to get in the range of the singer more comfortably.
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Old 05-10-2017, 04:42 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Parralax view View Post
The only uses I have ever had for a Capo are to get in the range of the singer more comfortably.
With regards to what I understand of the capo I prefer just doing bar chords or triads, since both are moveable shapes easily shifted around the fretboard.

Given how easy a triad chord is to form and play, why anyone would use a capo at all I can't understand, but I started the thread so that I full understood its purpose despite having no intention of using one.
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Old 05-10-2017, 04:57 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by captainamerica View Post
With regards to what I understand of the capo I prefer just doing bar chords or triads, since both are moveable shapes easily shifted around the fretboard.

Given how easy a triad chord is to form and play, why anyone would use a capo at all I can't understand, but I started the thread so that I full understood its purpose despite having no intention of using one.
Because the G and C barre forms suck, and the D barre form isn't a whole lot better. A lot of using the capo is about voicing. Sure, you could play it elsewhere in a different form, but it wouldn't sound the same. Also, using a capo allows for using open chord forms, giving you an extra finger for embellishments in whatever voicing works best for the piece of music you're playing.
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Old 05-10-2017, 04:59 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by captainamerica View Post
With regards to what I understand of the capo I prefer just doing bar chords or triads, since both are moveable shapes easily shifted around the fretboard.

Given how easy a triad chord is to form and play, why anyone would use a capo at all I can't understand, but I started the thread so that I full understood its purpose despite having no intention of using one.
Some songs are finger picking friendly in one key only but you need to sing in a different key. Sometimes you need the effect of open strings ringing.
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Old 05-10-2017, 02:24 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by MrHarryReems View Post
Because the G and C barre forms suck, and the D barre form isn't a whole lot better. A lot of using the capo is about voicing. Sure, you could play it elsewhere in a different form, but it wouldn't sound the same. Also, using a capo allows for using open chord forms, giving you an extra finger for embellishments in whatever voicing works best for the piece of music you're playing.
Yup.

The acoustic part in Jethro Tull's Aqualung uses a capo. Transposing the chords so you don't use the capo wouldn't sound the same. There's a very specific sound created using the capo in that part of the song. It also gives you that free finger for the embellishments Reems mentions.

It is also handy when playing in a group. If there are two guitars, sometimes it's nice to have one of the guitars play using a capo. This gives the chords a different voicing and can make it sound more interesting.

Sure you can play triads all over...I do that a lot. Sometimes they aren't as full sounding and a capo can help you get that fuller sound.

Another situation I've run into is playing a song that was written for another instrument and isn't in a guitar friendly key, like Eb, F, Bb, etc. It just makes things a LOT easier.

A capo doesn't have to be a crutch (which some accuse it of being), it's just another useful tool.
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Old 05-10-2017, 02:28 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by captainamerica View Post
With regards to what I understand of the capo I prefer just doing bar chords or triads, since both are moveable shapes easily shifted around the fretboard.

Given how easy a triad chord is to form and play, why anyone would use a capo at all I can't understand, but I started the thread so that I full understood its purpose despite having no intention of using one.
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Old 05-10-2017, 02:33 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by MrHarryReems View Post
Because the G and C barre forms suck, and the D barre form isn't a whole lot better. A lot of using the capo is about voicing. Sure, you could play it elsewhere in a different form, but it wouldn't sound the same. Also, using a capo allows for using open chord forms, giving you an extra finger for embellishments in whatever voicing works best for the piece of music you're playing.

What he said
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