Capos: How to play the same song in different keys

One very cool trick you can use capos for is playing the same song with different key voicings. To illustrate how this works, let’s take the song Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United. Oceans is in D, so naturally, you can play without a capo in the key of D. But, you can also play with a capo on the 2nd fret using key of C chords.

How to know where to put the capo and what key to play in

So far in our capo series, we’ve learned how moving the capo up the fretboard makes the song higher by one half-step per fret. So back to Oceans. If you want to play it in D and you put your capo on the 1st fret, you’ll need to actually play the song one half-step lower than D to make up for the fact that the capo makes your guitar one half-step higher. That means you’d be playing in Db, which is not a fun key to play in. Transpose down another half-step (and move the capo up another fret), and you’re in C, which is a great key to play in.

So, you can play open D, or you can play capo 2 in C – it’s the same key. Remember, as you move the capo up the fretboard, you transpose the song down – one half-step per fret.

Think this is confusing?

I’ve created a PDF document that you can download that makes this super easy to understand. Along the left side of the document is the key you’re playing chords in. Across the top you’ll see the fret your capo is on, then just follow the chart down to see what open key you’re playing in. It’s completely fool-proof and very easy to understand.

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Why would you want to play a song in different keys?

One great application for this capo trick is if there are two guitar players in your band. If you were playing Oceans in D and you had two guitar players, one musician could play in D and the other could play in C with a capo on the 2nd fret. That way you’re playing the same song, but your guitar parts don’t sound exactly the same.

Another reason you might use this is if you like to play in a certain key. If you really like to play in G, you can use key of G chords to play a song in A (capo 2), Bb (capo 3), B (capo 4), or even C (capo 5).

In order to do this, you will need to transpose the song. I’m planning to cover transposing in a future video.