You’ve probably seen people use that mysterious clamp on the guitar or ukulele and wondered what it does. Simply put, the guitar capo (pronounced ‘cap-oh’ or ‘cape-oh’) changes the pitch or key of the chords you play. It might be a little difficult to wrap your head around at first, but whether you’re a beginner or a pro, a capo can be a great tool to make playing chords a little easier, make it easier to sing along or to experiment with cool sounds.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

How the guitar capo works

Without diving too deep into music theory, a guitar capo basically shortens the length of your strings, making them sound higher. All the “open” strings now play in higher pitches than they do without the capo. Sounds complicated? Don’t worry we’ll give you the easy tour in sec, but if you want to get to the bottom of the theory about this tool just check out our music dictionary blog on the guitar capo.

For now this is all you need to know about how the capo works. If you put your capo on the first fret, every chord you play has now moved up a half step. So if you play an E major chord, it would now be an F. And let’s say you put your capo on the second fret and play a G major. Because you’re two half steps up, the G chord becomes an A chord, and an A becomes a B.

For beginners

If you’re just starting out and don’t know a lot about chords yet, your brain may start to hurt a little when reading this… No biggie, let’s give you an example. Have you tried playing the F and B chords yet and failed miserably, fingers all cramped up? Those are called barre chords and they’re the most difficult basic chords to play, because your index finger has to cover all six strings. A capo basically does the hard work for you in the case of barre chords and lets you play a lot more songs without using those nasty chords.

Oasis vs the guitar capo

When you put the capo on the first fret and play an E major, you’re actually playing the dreaded F major. Still having trouble wrapping your head around it? Let’s take the ultimate campfire song Wonderwall by Oasis. The intro chords (in the key you hear on the recording) are F#m, A, E and B. That’s pretty tricky, so that’s why many people (Oasis’ Noel Gallagher included) put a capo on the second fret, so you’ll play it using much easier chords: E minor, G, D and A.

Spice up your jams

If you’re playing with a friend, having two guitars doing the same thing can sometimes muddy up the sound, or is just a little boring. Why not spice things up a little? If one of you straps on a capo, the chords you both play (one higher, one lower) will create a very cool, complementing sound. Try it out and thank us later. Happy jamming!

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Kirill is Chordify’s academy content creator. Being a professional musician and musical educator, he brings more than 12 years of experience to the table. At Chordify, he explains theoretical and practical music matters. Besides that, Kirill leads the music project The Skypainters and performs in different venues and festivals.