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Thread: Why use capo?

  1. #26
    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by stevedenver View Post
    Just be grateful your not having to deal with this on a finnicky banjo.
    To be honest, I find banjo to be the easiest instrument to capo, or retune as the circumstances may require. Like a lot of OT players, I frequently switch back and forth between open G tuning (gDGBD), Double C (gCGCD), Sawmill (gDGCD), and a few others. Using the capo in combination with spikes on the 5th string easily allows me to accommodate any key, and the banjo is very easy to retune compared to other instruments.
    Keep that skillet good and greasy all the time!

  2. #27

    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Wow, we live in different worlds.

    My banjo needs retuning a good deal the first fifteen or 20 minutes. It seems to settle. And capoing is like detuning (sharp actually) and always requires retuning every string.
    Tips, please?

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    I have only gotten a ration for using a capo once. And that was at a jam years ago. I honestly cannot remember why I was using it. Someone smirked, and I explained that it was a tourniquet to prevent the mandolin from bleeding out.
    Indulge responsibly!

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  4. #29
    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by stevedenver View Post
    Wow, we live in different worlds.

    My banjo needs retuning a good deal the first fifteen or 20 minutes. It seems to settle. And capoing is like detuning (sharp actually) and always requires retuning every string.
    Tips, please?
    Are you using steel or nylgut strings? Plastic head or skin?

    I'm not going to claim my banjo stays 100% in tune after retuning. It is a banjo, after all. No instrument can get retuned and then be 100% stable without any settling. I'm always twiddling with the tuning, even when I'm staying in the same tuning all night. But the banjo is much more forgiving than mandolin tuning - I don't have to worry about unisons being slightly off in each course of strings. When I retune my banjo, though, it's usually only one or two strings that get retuned. So all I have to do is tweak the others as they go sharp/flat from the retuning of the other strings. With good quality planetary geared tuners, it's a piece of cake.

    Going sharp when using a capo is a struggle that a lot of people deal with, but I've found that it is minimized by first having a very low action setup so there's less distance the strings have to bend to be fretted. Second, use a quality adjustable capo (I use both a Shubb and a D'Addario Planet Waves capo), and adjust it as lightly as it can go without any buzzing. And I make sure to clamp the capo just behind the fret, not midway between frets. There really shouldn't be anything about capoing that causes the strings to go any sharper than they would when you fret them during normal play. All the same rules apply: minimal pressure, capo location, etc.

    Spiking the 5th string is a different story, though. I do have to run it down and then come back up to pitch when I spike it. There's no getting around it. I've tried various 5th string capos and don't care for them as much. Spikes are simple, and it literally only takes about 3 seconds to spike a string and adjust the pitch.
    Keep that skillet good and greasy all the time!

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  6. #30
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by mobi View Post
    Yes, I searched for topics with a heading "capo" and earliest came from 2013 (which I did read). So I thought of posting a new one!

    Let me explain the question. I have a tune (e.g. Katy Perri's Thousand Years for example) which is in D. Easy enough to play in mandolin.

    The original song is in Eb. Now I have 2 options:

    [1] Use a capo on fret 1.
    [2a] Transpose the song (it is in MuseScore - so very easy to transpose it) and just play based on new keys
    [2b] Transpose it mentally and just play along

    Now I admit I am not yet expert enough to choose option [2b] but I don't see any problem with option [2a]. In fact when going with option [1] it kind of feels unnatural to me

    Which brings me to the question, why do we need capo at all then?


    Next question, why capo is so common in guitar? Using same logic above, guitarists should not need it either.

    Yes, I know I missed something - but that's the question

    As several other posters have pointed out the capo is a special effects tool. It allows effects requiring the use of open strings to be transposed to higher keys. The most obvious example would be crosspicking relying on dissonances created by fretting two out of three notes high and playing the third note open. The lower instruments of the mandolin family also allow the use of low drones, which is one of the reasons mandola and octave players capo more frequently. To me crosspicking is more an occasional device than a method, hence I've never used a capo on a mandolin. In my bluegrass days, several decades back, I always felt at an advantage as I didn't have to capo. Clamping on a capo pulls the strings out of tune and mandolins are much slower to tune than guitars and banjos.

    On guitar, given the lower range (a minor tenth lower than the mandolin) and the greater number of strings (the strings outnumber the fingers) there are more special effects available, e.g., fast runs alternating open and fretted notes (listen to Tommy Emmanuel). Also the big fat six-note G chord is all but impossible to transpose to higher positions. One special feature of that chord is that there are three open notes forming a major triad, creating sympathetic resonances that may produce a fuller and more attractive sound.

    Mainstream jazz players favor closed chord forms with fewer notes for greater control and smoother voice leading. They have no use for open strings and a capo would only shorten the range of the instrument (The late Joe Pass specifically adviced against playing in keys like A and D!) As for classic guitar I've never heard of capoing in a solo context, but maybe in chamber ensembles. Finger style steel string players often use capos and strange tunings and then there are also partial capos and various other effect tools - just think of Antoine Dufour.

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  8. #31

    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tobin View Post
    Are you using steel or nylgut strings? Plastic head or skin?

    I'm not going to claim my banjo stays 100% in tune after retuning. It is a banjo, after all. No instrument can get retuned and then be 100% stable without any settling. I'm always twiddling with the tuning, even when I'm staying in the same tuning all night. But the banjo is much more forgiving than mandolin tuning - I don't have to worry about unisons being slightly off in each course of strings. When I retune my banjo, though, it's usually only one or two strings that get retuned. So all I have to do is tweak the others as they go sharp/flat from the retuning of the other strings. With good quality planetary geared tuners, it's a piece of cake.

    Going sharp when using a capo is a struggle that a lot of people deal with, but I've found that it is minimized by first having a very low action setup so there's less distance the strings have to bend to be fretted. Second, use a quality adjustable capo (I use both a Shubb and a D'Addario Planet Waves capo), and adjust it as lightly as it can go without any buzzing. And I make sure to clamp the capo just behind the fret, not midway between frets. There really shouldn't be anything about capoing that causes the strings to go any sharper than they would when you fret them during normal play. All the same rules apply: minimal pressure, capo location, etc.

    Spiking the 5th string is a different story, though. I do have to run it down and then come back up to pitch when I spike it. There's no getting around it. I've tried various 5th string capos and don't care for them as much. Spikes are simple, and it literally only takes about 3 seconds to spike a string and adjust the pitch.
    I have a deering jens kruger, steel strings, not certain but I think 10s, shubb capo, remo frosted plastic head, deering pegs. maybe im just too green at this banjo stuff.

    I thought about the statement capo should be no different than fretting, but, it in fact does go whacko, perhaps im clamping with guitar sensibilities.

    my brent, fern and ellis ALL are..pretty much stable, once tuned-I use JT 75s or TIs to help this. Not perfect of course, but once im tuned I don't have to fiddle but maybe every fifteen minutes ????I can play , it seems , five or so tunes, hard, with no big issues.

    damned banjo though.....either my ear hears the dissonance more clearly, or, its simply changing with temperature and string stretching when I take it out. capo positioning for me has been mid fret. ill try close to the fret as you suggest. my frets are not low, and , are stainless, im learning a soft touch when fretting.

    it really does change a lot when I capo and spike.

    I am finding, after one week of playing (ahem), I really enjoy the damned thing. I have played clawhammer on guitar for quite some time, and many open tunings so that parts familiar and ok , so far. the rolls, not so intuitive or natural, speed is........hopefully in the works......feel and fret spacing/finger reach is significantly different than guitar. Lots to learn.

  9. #32
    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by stevedenver View Post
    I thought about the statement capo should be no different than fretting, but, it in fact does go whacko, perhaps im clamping with guitar sensibilities.

    damned banjo though.....either my ear hears the dissonance more clearly, or, its simply changing with temperature and string stretching when I take it out. capo positioning for me has been mid fret. ill try close to the fret as you suggest. my frets are not low, and , are stainless, im learning a soft touch when fretting.
    It took me a while to adjust to the sound of the banjo, as it's not as "clean" of a sound as a mandolin. The flexibility of the head and the plunky sound makes the note more variable, I guess. Plus, the long skinny neck of a banjo is so much more flexible than a mandolin or even a guitar, for that matter. I can strike an open chord and then gently tug on the neck and pull it out of tune. Over time, I think I just learned to adjust my ears to all the variables of a banjo, and the things that drove me crazy at first no longer register to my ears.

    If you were playing an open-back, I'd suggest stuffing the head when frailing. It really tightens up the sound and cuts down on some of the overtones that can confuse the ear. But on a resonator banjo, especially if you're playing three-finger style regularly, it's probably not the thing to do.

    I haven't been very impressed with Deering's lower-end entry-level banjos, but that Jens Kruger model ought to be top-notch. Have you had a setup on it? I'm assuming you've checked intonation? Are you using a compensated bridge?
    Keep that skillet good and greasy all the time!

  10. #33

    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Yes to all but no comp bridge....yet.

  11. #34
    Fatally Flawed Bill Kammerzell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Now I want to get a capo.
    Rag "F" style #40 (2018)

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  12. #35
    Registered User mobi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Here is the notation for Whiskey Before Breakfast in D

    http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/am..._breakfast.htm

    If I put the capo in fret 1 and play the tune using same fingering/tablature, which key I am playing now?

    Is it G#/Ab because capo is in fret 1 and in G string it is G# (or Ab)
    OR
    is it D#/Eb because capo is in fret 1 and in D string it is D# (or Eb)


  13. #36
    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    D# surely as all you've done is raised everything a semitone.

    If you applied the logic of the first approach then the original tune would be in G

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    Registered User mobi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    OK, got it. So to play in Ab, I need to transpose it to G first and then put the capo to play it in Ab/G#

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    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Yes, or put the capo on the 6th fret and play as it is but that might be a little constricted....

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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by mobi View Post
    OK, got it. So to play in Ab, I need to transpose it to G first and then put the capo to play it in Ab/G#
    But, really, a much more natural approach to playing in Ab is using your A fingerings pulled back one fret.

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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by stevedenver View Post
    Well forgive me, but.....

    I too have found when i sing, Bb might be an optimal key, but chose A in order not to cause fits to others.
    My point is, your guitarist could easily change a half step to either E or D.

    Just be grateful your not having to deal with this on a finnicky banjo.
    That's a very strange attitude. If Bb is the optimal key, then why not sing in Bb. I see no point in restricting yourself to a limited number of keys - at least I would find that extremely boring. What's the advantage of A? Open strings, I suppose. And, yes, they allow certain special effects, like playing one string open and sliding into that same note on the next lower string. A nice old-timey effect on certain traditional fiddle tunes, but maybe not optimal at all on a song. Personally I find a lot more stuff in the key Bb than A, and in the latter key I would have to move out of first position so as not to be trapped by those open strings.

    This page:
    http://www.flatpickerhangout.com/myh...ic.asp?id=4924
    has my version of Crazy, played in Patsy Cline's key, Bb. And I doubt very strongly that I would find better figures on mandolin or guitar if I were to play it in A. And while I'm at it I could cite "Min soldat" on this page, http://www.mandohangout.com/myhangou...c.asp?id=22331
    in the key of Eb. Again, I don't believe the key of D (or E? - actually a harder key) would offer more or better possibilities. Flat keys, like F, Bb, and Eb, in my opinion/experience work better in songs beyond the I-IV-V formula.

    As for the final sentence, I repeat: banjos are much faster to tune than mandolins.

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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    And Bb has open strings at its disposal: the G (6th), the D (3rd), the A (MAJ7) - all useful, depending how approached.

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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanN View Post
    And Bb has open strings at its disposal: the G (6th), the D (3rd), the A (MAJ7) - all useful, depending how approached.
    Indeed, and much the same applies to the key of F. In keys farther out on the circle of fifths the open strings sometimes present nice phrase turns

    One attraction the two keys of F and Bb have in common is the many figures that combine first and second position. Whenever I pick up my mandolin and just noodle away on it most likely I will be playing in F or Bb.

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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Oh, yes. The low notes both keys afford are much appreciated. It is usual for me to play Wakefield's NCR several times/week, as so many possibilities present themselves to work within Bb - octaves, drones, chimes, pick-and-ring finger pinching. And to think he composed that number in 1953 is FRANKly boggling.

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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    much more natural approach to playing in Ab is using your A fingerings pulled back one fret
    Yes, that is the most elegant approach

    Since I mostly play in G/D/A, which have open strings, it is not easy to transpose instantly.

    In that way, I think playing by closed fingering position is actually better as it makes it easy to transpose same fingering to another key.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    So here is something. Take a tune you are going to play a lot. Figure it out in closed form. Play it a lot in closed form and get your own ornaments and melodic excursions and breaks down in closed form.

    Then you can play it anywhere, any time, at the drop of a capo.

    I know: But this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    My main instrument is 5-string bluegrass banjo. There is a lot of social pressure in that instrument's community to use capos for various reasons. In comparison, there is very little pressure to use capos in the mandolin community.

    I stopped using capos for playing the banjo because I frequently play for live TV and there is no time between songs for diddling with tuning after applying a capo. And no matter what the situation, if you're serious about how well you are tuned, you always have to re-tune after applying a capo. That applies to any fretted instrument for which capos exist.

    For banjo, I've stopped carrying a capo; I gave mine away and haven't missed it a bit. I use barre chords for just about everything. Keys have become very trivial matters.

    When I got serious about mandolin again about 5 years ago (after a ~30 year mandolin retirement), I pretty much decided I wanted to also not use a capo for it, preferring to also use barre chords. As has been mentioned, that is pretty difficult on mandolin due to the tension of four courses of strings, but if the action and frets are good and if your barring finger is strong, it can be done.

    That said, I do still carry a capo for my mandolins just in the case. I have only used these capos a few times since I got them, but I carry them. I'll always try to figure out a good way to play a song without capos first.
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  25. #47
    Registered User mobi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Last night I practiced closed finger positions. While it is difficult but doable.


    With closed fingers, I can play in any scale because fingerings are same since mandolin is tuned in 5th!

    However, I now feel that staff notation over complicates the tunes. For example, the notation changes depending on whether I play in C or Ab. Although, when I play in mandolin, the relative fingering position remains the same.

    I feel staff notation is for absolute pitches where as in mandolin, notation with relative pitches are good enough.

    If there is notation for relative positions, then same notation can be used to play in any scale.

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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    My main instrument is 5-string bluegrass banjo. There is a lot of social pressure in that instrument's community to use capos for various reasons. In comparison, there is very little pressure to use capos in the mandolin community.

    For banjo, I've stopped carrying a capo; I gave mine away and haven't missed it a bit. I use barre chords for just about everything. Keys have become very trivial matters.

    When I got serious about mandolin again about 5 years ago (after a ~30 year mandolin retirement), I pretty much decided I wanted to also not use a capo for it, preferring to also use barre chords. As has been mentioned, that is pretty difficult on mandolin due to the tension of four courses of strings, but if the action and frets are good and if your barring finger is strong, it can be done.

    That said, I do still carry a capo for my mandolins just in the case. I have only used these capos a few times since I got them, but I carry them. I'll always try to figure out a good way to play a song without capos first.
    The first paragraph is somewhat strange. Social pressure? I imagine some people would argue that without a capo you lose some of the idiomatic possibilities (involving open strings) that I've mentioned before (which, of course, work only in tunes with few chords, strongly rooted in the tonic chord.) But, again social pressure?

    Also contrasting the use of capos with the use of barre chords is beside the point. Bluegrass(and New acoustic, and jazz) mandolinists avoid chords containing open strings - and there are lots of closed form non-barre chords, e.g., the G chop chord. Personally I avoid barre chords altogether, even on the guitar, preferring three note chords on mando, or three and four note chords on guitar. They connect more smoothly. And some barre chords, deriving from the so-called two-finger chords (e.g. 2-0-0-2 or 0-0-2-3) shifted up a couple of frets, don't really sound good on the mandolin.

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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by mobi View Post
    Last night I practiced closed finger positions. While it is difficult but doable.


    With closed fingers, I can play in any scale because fingerings are same since mandolin is tuned in 5th!

    However, I now feel that staff notation over complicates the tunes. For example, the notation changes depending on whether I play in C or Ab. Although, when I play in mandolin, the relative fingering position remains the same.

    I feel staff notation is for absolute pitches where as in mandolin, notation with relative pitches are good enough.

    If there is notation for relative positions, then same notation can be used to play in any scale.
    But the fingerings for Ab and C are not the same. Arguably they would be the same for Ab in first position as for C in third, but only as long as you're staying within the scale and a specific range. What about passing chromatic notes? In Ab some of them could most conveniently be played open, whereas in C you would have to stretch back your index to catch them. Also, in the first case there are more forms available up the neck, and in the latter case more down the neck. Etc. etc. etc.

    Different keys simply suggest different possibilities.

  28. #50

    Default Re: Why use capo?

    ralph,
    your are dead right, the singer should be able to call the key, for optimal vocals


    I too use three note stabs , closed chords, open chords and other vehicles as I think suits the song, the mood, tempo, etc.


    I sense, perhaps wrongly, a certain point of view in your responses.

    Many of us can play in any key, capo or not.

    But, many players cannot. And, I sometimes play with those players.

    When playing with others, sometimes the groups overall ease and familiarity help contribute to the song's successful performance.

    and , more importantly the contentment of the group.

    There are many jams, where players DO utilize open strings, know certain stock tunes in certain accepted keys.

    Im one of them, for some tunes. While I could play them in a closed position, I haven't always learned them in this manner.

    For some of us, playing a song we've never heard, watching the capoed guitarist can be easy or challenging, sometimes a "double transposing" exercise, first from the guitarists hand shapes and chording, then again, another transposition of key, if capoed-couple this with a killer tempo, and sometimes, .....well......its nice to help others with keeping things familiar, or, simpler.

    I play with a fairly advanced keyboard player, and even for her, certain keys pose greater difficulty than others. so, sometimes I accommodate if I can.

    Other times too, say if one is using open strings for a drone, certain keys offer this, and others, only with a capo for the same impact. say, Get Up John. I know it in D, with its tuning , learned it in G , standard tuning ala Nash Ramblers and Emmylou at Ryman. sometimes things don't transpose well. sometimes they do.

    I have suggested playing Angeline the baker in A, (normally a D tune around here) because that's where I sing it....not very well greeted, and, there are many other similar factors.

    All that I am suggesting is that sometimes when one plays with others, one might try to compromise, if possible. Especially if it poses a hurdle for another.

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