Featured image: Capo on 4 by Alan Levine licensed by Creative Commons.
When I was first learning to play guitar, a friend of mine showed me how to play Sweet Home Alabama — one of the classic first songs to learn on the guitar! At that point I was still struggling to press the strings down, so my fingers were pretty sore. My friend told me I could put this clamp-y tool thing on the strings and it would “make the strings easier to press down.” He didn’t know what is was called, and I definitely didn’t know. I would later find out that this device was a capo.
Looking back, I don’t think it actually made the strings any easier to press down, but at least I now know that I was playing Sweet Home Alabama in the wrong key! Hindsight is always 20/20 I guess.
So let’s take a look at the capo, its correct use, and how we can leverage it for worship acoustic guitar.
What Is a Capo?
So what is a capo and where did the name come from? I found this awesome website that tells you everything you could ever want to know about capos:
(Who knew a website devoted to capos existed?!)
To paraphrase from TheGuitarCapo.com, a capo is a tool you use on stringed instruments to shorten the length of the playable strings in order to easily change the key of what you’re playing.
Where Did the Name Capo Come From?
According to the same site, the capo gets its name from the Italian words “capo tasto”, which mean head fret. At first the phrase was used for the nut of the guitar, and then it became the name of the tool we still use today. (Read more about the history of the capo here.)
How Do You Pronounce the Word “Capo“?
According to theguitarcapo.com and every time I’ve ever heard the word spoken, it’s pronounced “KAY-po”. When I was still a beginner guitar player, I thought it was “CAP-oh”.
What To Do With a Capo
Now that we have the facts and formalities out of the way, let’s talk about what you can actually do with a capo. Playing acoustic guitar in a worship band, you will need use a capo at some point. Here are the best ways to use a capo in worship songs.
Some styles of capos will allow you to turn it around backwards and use it on three of the strings instead of all six strings. A good example is the Kyser Quick Change Capo. As I discussed in a previous post, this actually makes a chord, and it gives you the sound of an open tuning without having to re-tune your guitar. Kyser also makes a Partial Capo, but in my opinion since you can get the same result with a regular capo there’s no need to buy the specialized one.
If you’re interested in a high-end capo with beautiful custom inlays, check out Thalia capos. It’s a whole new level of capo.
2 Capos At Once
Using two capos allows you to play the open sounding chords with a partial capo but in whatever key your singer needs. A full capo on the second fret plus a partial capo on the fourth fret would be a good example.
I supposed with a little experimentation you could probably pull off 2 partial capos and make it sound good. Let me know in the comments if you find anything interesting there. I’ll update here if I find anything useful like that.
High on the Fretboard
I usually try not to put a capo much past the fourth or fifth fret. Going any higher can make the guitar sound thin and weak. It almost sounds like a toy with the capo beyond the fifth fret. However, if you aren’t the only acoustic guitar player, then higher chords can work. You just have to give it a try and see how it sounds.
Change the Key of a Song
This is the most common use of a capo — it’s what the tool was created for. You can not only play a song in the key you know the chords for but also in the key your singer needs to sing in. This reduces the amount of time you need to spend re-learning a song in a different key.
Let’s say you learn a song in the key of E but your singer needs it in G. Unless you have time to learn the chords in G, you can simply play the chords you know (from the key of E) with the capo on the third fret.
Email me if you’re interested in my free Capo & Transposing Guide. I go into more detail with charts for capo placement and transposing songs.
Play Better Chords
Along the same lines as the previous example, sometimes you are more comfortable with chords from a certain key. If you know a lot of filler riffs or chord variations on the chords in the key of C, you can take these tricks with you to another key with a capo. For a song in D, you can put the capo on the 2nd fret and a C chord shape relative to the capo is now a D chord.
There’s a lot you can do with a capo, but don’t let it become a crutch. Your decision to use a cap should be driven by the music/band/singer needs, not your lack of chord knowledge. ( And of course don’t use a capo to make the strings easier to press down 😋 … That NEVER works! )
A capo is a tool that should be used to enhance a song. It can help you transpose a song quickly into a key with simpler or more familiar chords. It can also allow you to completely change the sound of the guitar to blend in with another guitar or the rest of your band.
Once you understand the patterns of using a capo and transposing songs, the capo becomes an indispensable part of your worship acoustic toolbox.
Email me here in you’re interested in getting the Acoustic Worshiper Capo & Transposing Guide when it becomes available for free download.
Leave a comment and let me know how you use a capo, or let me know if you learned something new here.