Capos: How to make songs higher and lower using capos

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Capos are great tools to change the key of a song (without changing the key that you are playing on the guitar). In the first capo lesson, we learned how capos actually work. This lesson will give you some more practical information about how to make songs higher and lower so they fit your vocal range.

Making songs higher

As you move the capo up the neck, all the strings ring out higher – so moving the capo up makes the song higher. As you move the capo up each fret, the key goes up one half step.

To illustrate this, you can play a song in G without a capo. Let’s just think about the G chord. Here is what song the open key will be when you play a G chord as you move the capo:

  • No capo: G
  • Capo 1: G#/Ab
  • Capo 2: A
  • Capo 3: A#/Bb
  • Capo 4: B
  • Capo 5: C

Again, as you go up, things get higher. Again, this is while playing a G chord. For any key you play in, moving the capo up the neck moves the key up the chromatic scale.

Making songs lower

Moving the capo down the neck will make the song lower. For example, let’s say that you’re playing a song in G but with a capo on the 4th fret. Note from the illustration above, you’d be playing in open B. If you move the capo down to the 2nd fret (2 frets lower), you’ll be in open A, which is a full step lower than when you had the capo on the 4th fret.

Note: if you are playing without a capo and you want to make the song lower, you’ll need to transpose the song to a different (lower) key – you cannot practically use a capo to make a song lower when you start in an open key. Technically, you could move the capo up to a high fret (5th fret or above), and sing the song an octave lower, but you’ll be better off transposing the song to another key.

Don’t be a hero 🙂

Don’t be afraid to change the key of a song using a capo. I’ve run into a number of musicians who have insisted on singing songs in the key that the song was recorded in on an album. If you’re trying to sing ‘How He Loves’ in the key of C (most recorded versions are in this key), and you can’t quite sing out the high part well, drop it down to B. No problem there at all. There is, however, a problem if you get to the big high part of the song and you sing it flat every time. Don’t be an album key hero.