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How to Simplify Chords by Using a Capo

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Chord Changes Based on Capo Use
musical alphabet capo

count backwards on the musical alphabet to figure out simpler ways to play difficult chord progressions

Most guitarists have, at one point or another, used a guitar capo. Although guitarists use capos for several reasons, we're going to look at how to use a capo to come up with simpler chords for a song, without changing its key.

Using a Capo to Make Difficult Chords Simpler

Because of the way a guitar is tuned, there are a number of keys that are easy for guitarists to play in. Many pop, rock and country songs are written in the key of E, A, C, or G - probably because they were written on guitar.

These same keys are not necessarily easy for other instruments - horn players have a very tough time playing in the key of E, for example. For this reason, songs prominently featuring horns are often written in keys like F, B♭ or E♭. In other situations, a singer's vocal range will dictate the key of a song - if their voice sounds best in G♭, then everyone will be playing in G♭. In these cases, a capo can be a good friend to a guitarist.

Using a Capo to Make Difficult Chords Simpler

All you need to figure this out is a working knowledge of the 12 tones in the musical alphabet (A B♭ B C...) appearing in the image above. The concept is simple:

As you move your capo up a fret on the guitar, the root of each chord you play should drop by one-half step (one fret).

Let's illustrate this in the following example. Here is a sample chord progression:

B♭min  -  A♭  -  G♭  -  F

This is a simple chord progression that nevertheless isn't so simple for the beginner guitarist, as it requires a lot of barre chords. We can use a capo, however, to make this task easier.

Step 1 - Place your capo on the 1st fret of the guitar

Step 2 - For each chord, count backwards on the musical alphabet by one half step

Step 3 - Determine your new chord progression

Step 4 - If new progression isn't easier, slide capo up another fret and repeat process

Using the steps above, when we place the capo on the first fret of the instrument, our progression becomes:

Amin  -  G  -  F  -  E

This is a much simpler chord progression to play, and allows for a fuller sound, as you can take advantage of the guitar's open strings. It is important to stress that your Amin chord will sound like a B♭min chord to everyone else, because of your use of the capo.

Using this knowledge, you'll find you can use a capo to play many songs you previously thought were too hard. At first, you may have to take some time to jot down the new chords on a piece of paper before you play them. But, over time, you should be able to do these calculations in real time.

Let's test what you've just learned about capos with the following quizzes.

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