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  • Using a capo to change key

    So, because it's a stringed instrument, the guitar is by default tuned to the key of C major, right (assuming no tuning adjustments)?

    So, if you put a capo on the 1st fret, you are now playing in C# major? And the 2nd fret, D major?

    I'm having issues understanding, because I've also heard that a capo on the 3rd fret makes it Bb major....so how does this work?

  • #2
    I think you're assuming that because the guitar's open strings are natural notes, then the guitar is in C major. Not necessarily so. Key is determined by the chords you play. If you played a D major (xx0232) and capoed first fret, you'd be have a Eb. If you played an A major (x02220) and capoed first fret, you'd have a Bb major.

    But those chords don't necessarily determine the key. If you played Eb-Bb-Eb, it would sound like the key of Eb; Bb-Eb-Bb would be Bb. There are other possibilities with those progressions. You can usually determine key by the melody and the underlying harmonic progression.

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    • #3
      Playing a G major chord with the capo at the third fret will yield a Bb major. This may be what you heard. Each fret interval is a musical interval of half a tone or the difference between, for example, Bb and B. As Stackabones noted (pun unintentional), while a guitar is tuned to notes found in the C major scale, it's not tuned to a specific key. You can, however, use alternate tunings so that the open strings produce, for example, a G major chord.
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      • #4
        Stackabones and DeepEnd are both right.

        The standard guitar tuning (EADGBE) produces a rather dissonant sound when strummed and is not tuned to a particular key, per se. You can tune your guitar to a chord if you'd like to, and a lot of slide guitar players do. I don't know any slide tunings off hand, but I'm sure you can find some without any trouble.

        A capo can be used to change keys, though. Take a song that's written in the key of E and play it without a capo, and it's still in the key of E. Play the same notes with a capo on the first fret and it's now in the key of F. Move the capo up another fret and now it's in F#.
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        • #5
          The only other thing I can think to add is that the guitar is not a transposing instrument, like a trumpet or clarinet. I don't think this is what you're talking about, but maybe this is what you're thinking of when you say it's a stringed instrument and therefore tuned to C. (Actually, a guitar sounds an octave below what's written, I think).

          As a side note, when I first started in band in 5th grade I played trumpet (which is a Bb instrument). I'd been playing piano for a few years so I understood key signatures - and I was very confused when I saw that the sheet music the flutes had was always in a different key than mine.

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          • #6
            So, because it's a stringed instrument, the guitar is by default tuned to the key of C major, right (assuming no tuning adjustments)?

            So, if you put a capo on the 1st fret, you are now playing in C# major? And the 2nd fret, D major?

            I'm having issues understanding, because I've also heard that a capo on the 3rd fret makes it Bb major....so how does this work?


            Basically that's how it works. Legitimately, every increase in fret does equate to an increase in a semi-tone. However, the chordal construct will differ.

            For example, try comparing a open G chord, and then play an E capo 3 (also a G major chord) and you will note the difference in sound.
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            • #7
              For my kind of playing, I never think about what key I am in--actually, I don't even know how I would find out. What matters to me as an acoustic rhythm player is that certain chord shapes can ring out with great fullness and power. Open E is that way [022100]--what a huge, voluptuous chord. Or its dark brother Em [022000]. Or heavenly G [320003], heart-wrenching Am (x02210] etc etc. IOW, all the easy chords you learn on page one of Mel Bay. These are giant fabulous chords that afford myriad opportunities for cool suspensions and hammer-ons/pull-offs and stuff.

              So--if for vocal-range purposes I need to play a song full of those low-self-esteem, sniveling, craven and apologetic chords that are not the slightest bit full and powerful--chords like Bb, Eb, Db etc.--I clamp on the Kyser and play them with those other chord shapes further up the neck.

              God, how I hate Bb...and it's such a necessary chord!

              Electric guitar playing--very different story. You can play all the pussy chords on electrics to good effect.
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              • #8
                etc etc. IOW, all the easy chords you learn on page one of Mel Bay. These are giant fabulous chords that afford myriad opportunities for cool suspensions and hammer-ons/pull-offs and stuff.

                So--if for vocal-range purposes I need to play a song full of those low-self-esteem, sniveling, craven and apologetic chords that are not the slightest bit full and powerful--chords like Bb, Eb, Db etc.--I clamp on the Kyser and play them with those other chord shapes further up the neck.

                God, how I hate Bb...and it's such a necessary chord!

                Electric guitar playing--very different story. You can play all the pussy chords on electrics to good effect.


                I think this is true. If you look at the way Peter Townshend, or Angus Young or John Fogerty play the electric guitar, they get those huge sounds primarily by playing first position cowboy chords. No fancy stuff at all.

                Capos can be useful. For example, I was learning to play The Allman Bros. Little Martha, which was recorded in open E. But tuning up to E puts a lot of stress on my guitar, so I ended up tuning down to open D. Capo at the second fret and, voila, you're playing in open E.

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                • #9
                  Okay ... so say a song is called to be played capo 9 (but it's to high for whatever reason) does it make sense to capo 6 or even 3?

                  Seems to sound right to me...
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                  • #10
                    Okay ... so say a song is called to be played capo 9 (but it's to high for whatever reason) does it make sense to capo 6 or even 3?

                    Seems to sound right to me...


                    It makes perfect sense to me; I do it all the time.
                    Originally Posted by jaxn slim


                    I'm totally gonna beat my kids until they can play like that.

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                    • #11
                      It makes perfect sense to me; I do it all the time.



                      I meant to say in increments of 3?
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                      • #12
                        I meant to say in increments of 3?


                        That i don't understand. I don't know why you would move in 1.5 step increments.
                        Originally Posted by jaxn slim


                        I'm totally gonna beat my kids until they can play like that.

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                        • #13
                          The only other thing I can think to add is that the guitar is not a transposing instrument, like a trumpet or clarinet. I don't think this is what you're talking about, but maybe this is what you're thinking of when you say it's a stringed instrument and therefore tuned to C. (Actually, a guitar sounds an octave below what's written, I think).


                          Your last parenthetical comment is correct, and the guitar is listed on the wiki page. The guitar is a transposing instrument.

                          And Darius' earlier comment about the guitar being in C does make sense when you buy a song book or fake book ... you'll need a C edition, not Bb or Eb (unless you can transpose quickly).

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                          • #14
                            That i don't understand. I don't know why you would move in 1.5 step increments.



                            An example Apologize Chords by Onerepublic

                            DDUUD STRUMMING----------Capo 8

                            Em7 022033
                            Cadd9 032033
                            G 320033
                            D/F 200033


                            Just sounds better to me at (Capo) 5 than 6 or 7.. But from what you say there is no order in that way.
                            "Plunk your Magic Twanger, Froggy". Andy Devine

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                            • #15
                              An example Apologize Chords by Onerepublic

                              DDUUD STRUMMING----------Capo 8

                              Em7 022033
                              Cadd9 032033
                              G 320033
                              D/F 200033


                              Just sounds better to me at (Capo) 5 than 6 or 7.. But from what you say there is no order in that way.


                              That's not what I meant to say. You can play whatever, wherever, I just thought you were saying you had some kind of system where you went 3 frets at a time and that somehow made transposition easier.

                              Originally Posted by jaxn slim


                              I'm totally gonna beat my kids until they can play like that.

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