You may have seen them in worship services. You may have a friend or two with one. You may even have one yourself. The capo is a wonderful and nearly ubiquitous thing, after all.
And yet it carries its own controversy wherever it is found.
Some hate it with a passion, seeing it as a crutch to replace technical skill. Others simply see it as a hassle perched on the headstock like a black crow waiting to mess up your intonation.
But I see it as an incredible tool for the musician with tone color in mind. Here is my argument for implementing a capo as a tool in your praise and worship arsenal rather than an annoyance in your guitar case.
The most fundamental reason to use a capo is the ease. Guitar players have the luxury of using a simple device to quickly and easily change keys in an instant, and because not all keys are chorded equally, it is almost foolish not to make your life easier. Don’t think of it as cheating. Think of it as a way to make your fingers move faster and more easily when singing and playing at the same time. Seriously: does it make sense to play in B Major when you could play in G instead?
This ties into the concept of ease to some extent, but it has more to do with knowing your chording capabilities than simply wanting to make life simpler. Certain progressions are easier to go through in particular keys. If you have a bunch of inverted (bass-line-specific) chords, only certain keys lend themselves to these progressions without causing major strain on your fretting hand. Both G and C provide great stepping lines (G to A to B to C in the bass, for example). E doesn’t provide the same technical repertoire, simply because of the tuning of the guitar.
For me, this is the big one. When it comes to the overall tonal qualities of a set of chords, it’s hard to replicate them in a different key. G Major has its own tone (defined most by its upper notes). Likewise, E Major has a unique tonal quality (open strings can be incorporated easily). D Major has a beautiful variety of bass line options. However, if you’re in the key of E Flat Major, don’t expect those same qualities to carry through unless you’re using the capo to make it happen.
If you’ve never considered using a capo, I hope this has given you something to think about. If you struggle to move easily in strange keys, or if you simply want to incorporate more intricate bass lines or more attractive voicings, don’t fear the capo. Instead, embrace its mighty power and find your way to some excellent music!
This subject is continued in Part 2: Capo Theory.
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