guitarists and their capos

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by altman, Mar 19, 2004.

  1. altman


    Oct 7, 2001
    (semi newbie question)
    For we bassists, a chord is a chord. But for guitarists, they put a capo on the neck, and start talking about a different set of chords. So, when they say one thing, they really mean something else.

    Can you please help me to be able to talk to these guitarists. I don't read music, but if somebody tells me the chords or the progression, I can put together a bassline.

    The guy I was talking to talked about "natural chords". And he had 2 sets of chords shown on the music, the original ones, and ones he had pencilled in. So what is this all about, and how do I act intelligent in talking with them?

    How are they doing their "translating"? What does it mean to them? What should it mean to me?
  2. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    A guitarist who uses a capo is almost always a guitarist who can't play anything other than first position chords.

    Unfortunately, sounds like yours is one of these. These types are usually not very good at conveying what they are playing, because they themselves lack the knowledge to begin with.

    "Natural chords", to be frank, sounds like a BS term he made up because he doesn't really know what he's talking about. He could be referring to the "initial" chord, that is, the chord defined by that particular chord shape when no capo is used.

    If the guy can't convey what he's doing, unfortunately you're on your own. Try watching what he's doing - if you know the initial chord shape, simply transpose it up according to where the capo is. (i.e., if he's playing an E chord shape with the capo on the 2nd fret, transpose it up two frets to an F#). As always, you should trust your ears more than your eyes, though.

    If I were you, though, I'd stop playing with him. If he can't communicate with you, it'll ultimately be a frustrating experience.
  3. LoJoe


    Sep 5, 2002
    Concord, NC USA.
    This is probably one area where guitarists can make a case for guitar being "more difficult" than bass. Let's say a piece of music is written in Eb. We know where Eb is. If we know all the note locations on the fret board, we have all kinds of places to play Eb, Ab etc... The guitarist on the other hand may not know how to play chords like Eb, Ab and so on as they are a lot less common and less skilled guitarists don't usually know them.

    With the guitar a D chord is a basic three finger chord, but an Eb either add's the pinky to the mix, or must be played as a "Bar Chord" which has him bar the fretboard at the first fret with his index finger and then play a D pattern one fret up from where it would have been with his other fingers. This is the case all over the guitar. There are books one inch thick with all the chord fingering combinations. When you start getting into sharps and flats, you sometimes have to be a contortionist with your left hand.

    An easy fix for this is a capo. If the original music is written in Eb, I can put a capo on the first fret and play in D. The chords you see written in are the simpler chords the guitarist wants to play instead of the original chords. For the example I've given, you might see a note written at the top, "Capo on 1" then all through the song you would see chords substituted, D instead of Eb, G in place of Ab etc... It allows a guitarist who only knows the simpler chord patterns like C, G, D, E etc... to play in sharp and flat keys without having to learn all the multi-finger pattern combinations. The thing to remember for you is that if he puts a capo on 1 and plays a D in place of the original written Eb, the chord heard is still Eb and that is also what you should play. You play the original, he plays the one penciled in for his capo.

    Capos are also used when there are multiple guitarist playing rhythym for the same song. One guy can play in key, the other guy can capo up or down giving more color to the song.

    Hope this helps.

    Just tell him you don't need no steenking capo!
  4. dTune


    Feb 28, 2004
    I'll second that, being an ex-guitarist! :D

    Capo is good for beginners, but immediately when technique gets better it's useless and awkward. A guitarist who can't use barré-grips (at least that's what they're called over here, using index finger as a "capo") will always be stuck in one or two keys, after that he has to change the place of the capo...

    Making a hassle out of nothing, methinks.. :)
  5. Skavenger


    May 26, 2002
    Sometimes, capos can be used for the good, too. Like when you want to transpose a song without changing the feel of open strings. When using the barré grip chords, you easily get a thump feel of the chord itself. Capos are bad, mmkay, but there are exceptions.
  6. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    Yes, exactly. I played for years with a very good guitarist in kind of a funky Celtic rootsy band. He played in DADGAD rather than EADGBE, and use of closed chord forms moving against open strings was a huge part of his sound. To maintain that sound and style, he had to use a capo for different keys. Now, I'm a guitarist myself, and I *never* use a capo--but my friend was (and is) an excellent guitarist, and what he did worked for him and was a perfectly legitimate choice.
  7. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Oh, I agree 100% that, in the right hands, a capo is a powerful tool.

    Still, I'd have to estimate that the ratio of guitarists that use their capo as part of their sound vs. guitarists that don't know how to play anything but first position chord shapes is probably 1:50...

    Frankly, Altman's case sounds like one of the 50.
  8. unharmed

    unharmed Iron Fishes

    May 19, 2003
    London, England
    My wife is an excellent guitarist/vocalist and she often uses a capo to transpose a song to a more suitable key for her vocal range. Now I think about it, it is kind of lazy I suppose. You guys don't mind if I don't tell her that, do you? ;)
  9. I play in church and i have chords like Eb and Ab and i dont use a Capo, i just play a bar chord, i dont see how hard it is, i mean, if you know the neck(i do) then you can play the chords.
  10. phxlbrmpf


    Dec 27, 2002
    I guess a capo can com in handy if you mainly play rhythm guitar and want your chords to sound "different". A C major chord with the capo on the second fret does sound nothing like a regular D chord because the intervals and the overtone structure will be quite a bit different.

    Besides, if you want to play full-sounding complex chords in keys like Bb or Eb, a capo is often the only way to go. After all, you have only 4 1/2 fingers with a limited range available on your fretting hand and six strings. Moreover, bar chords don't always cut it for diminished or altered chords.

    Capos are okay in my book when used for acoustic guitars, but don't expect to be able to simply remove the thing so you can play in regular tuning again without a hitch. You'll definitely need to retune your guitar.

    By the way, I've heard that some guitarists use a capo to make their guitar sound different and feel less familiar when they're suffering from composer's block and need some inspirarion. Who knows, perhaps it works for bass as well.
  11. dTune


    Feb 28, 2004
    But the basic idea is that even if you use a capo or not, you'll end up using the barré-grip anyway. After all, there aren't so many chords you can play from the "1st" position... Or then all you play is I-IV-V rock/blues.
  12. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    Don't forget that often times, certain chord vocings can't be transposed to other keys due to the physicality of the instrument. A good example would be that one G chord that is such a staple in modern music. (Not sure if it has a specific name, but it's like a regular G, only with the D on the B string fretted) You can easily transpose an open F or an A chord to another key, but there's no physically possible way to play that G voicing in another key unless you used an alternate tuning. It's one of the most distinct sounding open chords in popular music, so to retain it's color in another key, you have no option but to use a capo.
  13. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    Actually, there are a lot of extended chords, such as 7ths and 9ths, that sound very beautiful in the first position. A lot of them you have to discover on your own, though. I find most books with chord charts to be worthless, since many of them have rather terrible sounding voicings. Just because a G chord is voiced with a G, B, and D, doesn't mean it's going to sound good.
  14. tkarter


    Jan 1, 2003
    Bar chord = your finger da capo.

  15. CJK84


    Jan 22, 2004
    Maria Stein, OH
    Some guitarists probably use a capo to overcome serious limitations in skill and knowledge.

    However, I find there are many good uses for a capo - especially on an acoustic guitar.

    Here Comes The Sun is a song that comes to mind as an example of the wise use of a capo.

    The high-pitched chord voices just wouldn't sound the same in a lower range - and the difficulty of playing it on the 7th fret (sans capo) would be extreme.
  16. Phil Keaggy and a lot of other great guitarists use 2 capos a lot of the time. I'm not nearly as good so I only use one :D But seriously, capos are very useful for christian music (pretty much the only kind of music i usually play on my guitar). It's common to use chords with a lot of ringing open strings while only fretting a few strings. However, these specific "easy" chords pretty mostly only work in the key of E and are nearly impossible to barre. It's not possible to barre everything in guitar, try barring something like 066400 one half step up. I have a farther reach than most of my guitarist friends from playing bass (1st to 7th fret on guitar), but my index finger is still 2 frets away from being able to barre something like that. Also, say you want to play a song in A, but you want the sound of the open chords in G. With some practice I think I couldnt manage something like that, but it's a stretch, and many people just don't have hands that are big enough for this kind of thing. Kind of long winded and redundant, but the point is, capos are not crutches at all imo. :smug:

    on the song "Windowpane" off of the Opeth album DAMNATION the bassist plays with a capo on the second fret.

    the song was originally written in Em but was transposed to F#m for the vocalist.

    the original bass line was very intricate and in the 12th position with lots of pull-offs to the open strings.

    to facilitate the new key he just threw a capo on there.
  18. Baofu


    Mar 8, 2003
    Sounds like an excuse to me! Quitter! :)
  19. I've used a guitar capo on my fretless to help adjust the intonation...I clamp it on the 12th fret position.
  20. corinpills


    Nov 19, 2000
    Boston, MA