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Thread: Why use capo?

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    Registered User mobi's Avatar
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    Exclamation Why use capo?

    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

  2. #2
    Mangler of Tunes OneChordTrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    My use is atypical: when I bought my octave mandola I didn't do much research so ended up with a very long scale so I play with a capo on the second fret to make the reach easier. But I just play for my own enjoyment so don't have to worry so much about being in the "right" key

    For most players I assume the reason is that it makes it easy to transpose a familar piece into another key without having to use/learn different chords or fingering.

    The "best" option is one of your option 2 choices....

  3. #3
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    This subject can often turn heated. Using a capo on mandolin is not often done. I have used a capo on my mandolin on occasion - I used to play with a guy who, due to his vocal range (and somewhat limited guitar ability) played everything with a capo, often on odd frets (5, 7, even 9) that at the time made mental transposition on the fly difficult for me. Now that I'm several years in on my mando journey I play songs like that by ear instead. I choose not to capo now because to me, shortening the scale of an instrument that already has such a short scale only hurts the sound and playability.

    Longer scale instruments don't suffer as much sonically and there is still room to manuever with a capo. Genre and tuning has a lot to do with it. For banjo or dobro a capo is a necessity to play in some common bluegrass keys. For bluegrass guitar a capo is used to access all those cool pentatonic runs using the chord shapes best suited for them.

    You almost never see a capo in jazz or classical guitar - different genres and conventions.

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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    It can just be a matter of preference. I knew an ol' Florida Cracker who used a capo all the time. He was, in my opinion, one very good mandolin player.

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    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    The capo is best when it's used to use open strings in keys other than those in the keys in which open strings work. No matter how good you are, an open string is always different to a fingered one, and you can't drone as efficiently.

    The key is to know how to use one and how to not use one.

    I asked mike Compton if he used a capo, and he said 'yes'. So if it's good enough for mike, it's certainly good enough for me.
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    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by mobi View Post
    Next question, why capo is so common in guitar? Using same logic above, guitarists should not need it either.
    Even if something "can" be played without a capo, it may not be worth the effort. Since guitars do a lot of chord work for backup, some of the chord shapes can be awkward-to-impossible in certain keys. Playing a 6-string instrument with only 4 fretting fingers means that compromises have to be made on chords. And the tuning of a guitar, being mostly thirds with that one odd interval at the B string, makes it very difficult to move standard chord shapes around. Mandolin players, on the other hand, enjoy only 4 courses of strings and an easy tuning in 5ths. It is much, much easier to use the same chord shapes all over the fretboard and across the strings when playing in keys that don't favor open strings.

    But it really goes even beyond that for guitars. Certain chord shapes have a distinct sound, and some players will want to take advantage of them regardless of which key they're in. When I was growing up, I never used a capo on the guitar. If a song was in D, I would play D, G, and A chords. I couldn't understand why I saw guitar players using a capo at the 2nd fret and playing these songs with C, F, and G chords. It took me a long time before I could really appreciate how different those chord shapes sound, and why players would prefer them.

    It can be a lot of fun to experiment on the guitar with capos and keys, trying to find or use chords that better suit the mood of the music. Or just making life easier and not over-stressing your hand to make chord shapes that are unnecessary. I have never really found it as useful on the mandolin, but it certainly helps on mandola.
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    The term capo shows up in threads back to the beginning of the cafe. They are all here.
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    Registered User Drew Streip's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    The main reason (for me and most) is the sustain you get from open chord voicings.

    Most popular songs use four chords -- 1, 4, 5, m6 -- which on mandolin (and guitar) are the easy chords with open strings like G, C, D, Em. Even if the key changes, the harmonic relationship between the chords is the same. See this video for a funny example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pidokakU4I

    I can do your [2b] option for dang near anything, but it just doesn't always sound as good, especially if you're using the mandolin for solo accompaniment where you need "drone" notes to fill in the empty space. And playing barre chords, where you hold down all strings at the same time, gets REALLY tiring and tedious, even on a well set-up instrument.

    For good players, it's not about "not wanting to learn new chords" -- it's about getting the best sound out of the instrument. Good players want to learn new stuff when it's appropriate for the music.

    Do what feels and sounds good to you. A capo is a tool. There's no reason to make a song sound worse just because some people on the internet say you should [use/not use] it.

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

    The OP left out one other mandolin option:

    "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"

    Why not learn to play it in Eb?

    Guitar players' note:

    many rock bands tune DOWN a half step these days, so many times a song that sounds like it is in Eb was played in E on a downtuned guitar.

    I am not familiar with the song, but it might be played in E on guitars tuned down.

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    Luthier Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Glad to see folks standing up for the capo. Before the capo police chime in, I'll say that I require all my mandolin students to keep a capo in their case and to use it periodically. They are not needed often, but there are times when it is the best choice for a variety of reasons. Better to have the choice when you need it (and know how to use it) than to need the choice and not have it.

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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    I use a capo frequently at our jam sessions, I'm mostly doing chordal accompaniment following guitarists playing songs I don't necessarily know how to play. Got enough going on to keep up without having to transpose in my head while following the rhythm and maybe adding backing vocals. If they capo, I capo.

  16. #12
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by mobi View Post
    Why use capo?
    If you're recording (or, live for that matter) and the tune is in--say--E flat--and you want to do some cross-picking up the neck, a capo comes in real handy...

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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    If I'm correct, Sierra Hull said in an interview one time that she used a capod octave mando on her new album. I think capos can be used to give the mandolin different sound, sometimes the ringing open sounds you can get with one come in handy (especially in the studio)

    In answer to your question, I think some songs (fiddle tunes in particular) sound best played open in the keys they were written in. But theres always the exception. Many people condemn capos on the mandolin but go for it! what ever works!

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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    in response to the OP, when playing duets with non-mandolins. Sticking to the original key is appropriate. Well, unless you got the other person to use your new score?

    Then. . . sure.

    In guitar land, it's completely different, up to and including partial capos and the like.

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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    I have a crossed tuned mandolin. It is just easier to keep one mandolin in cross than to retune all the time. I used to keep it in what some call sawmill tuning or G cross tuning: GDGD. If I needed A cross tuning AEAE tuning I would then use a capo.

    Now I keep it in Dead Man's Tuning - DDAD.

    Everything about capos that can be said has likely been said. I believe the real issue is personal awareness. You can, (and you may) use the capo as a tool, or as a crutch. As long as you know yourself which way you are using it.

    (Sometimes I use a capo for the sole purpose of irritating folks. But that is a different discussion entirely.)
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    Scroll Lock Austin Bob's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by David Lewis View Post
    The capo is best when it's used to use open strings in keys other than those in the keys in which open strings work. No matter how good you are, an open string is always different to a fingered one, and you can't drone as efficiently.
    This why I occasionally use one. And I don't really care which one is easiest to play, or even what other band members think. My only concern is which way sounds the best.
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    Registered User Paul Cowham's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by David Lewis View Post
    The capo is best when it's used to use open strings in keys other than those in the keys in which open strings work.
    I completely agree, but think that it's worth pointing out that open strings do work in keys which are not as "user friendly" (especially using the third of the chord), so in F maj (or Dmin) the open A is part of the chord, in Bb (or Gm) the open D works similarly and in Eb (or Cm) the open G works.

    I also think that open strings sound particularly good on long scale instruments that tend to have more sustain (i.e. guitars and octave mandos), making the capo more useful. Those instruments are also generally used by singers (or accompianists of singers) more and singers often want to "tweak" the key - at least in my experience - making a capo more useful. On a mandolin the scale length is so short anyway that shortening it even further by using a capo is restrictive...

  23. #18
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    The capo is a useful tool. I can play in most keys fairly fluently, at least chords and back-up. But some leads and accompaniments sound better if they can incorporate unfretted strings and "open" sounding chords.

    OP in an adjacent thread has mentioned difficulty in picking up the key and accompanying vocalists and "choruses." A capo can help there. One needn't become dependent on it, or decide not to learn how one might play accompanying chords in E-flat, or another key that doesn't incorporate a lot of open-string, first-position playing.

    I'd say try it, use it when it helps, and don't look on it as a "should or shouldn't" issue. Just another part of the tool box.
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    There are two reasons to use a capo. One is because you like the tone of open strings added to what you are playing. This is a good reason. Two is that your playing is limited to open string keys and to move about the mandolin neck and play in "odd" keys you have to used a capo. This is a less than good reason.
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  26. #20

    Default Re: Why use capo?

    I could tune my mandolin to GDGD and put the capo on to play cross-A tunes (AEAE). I have yet to do this, though.

  27. #21
    Registered User Mike Snyder's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    I lost mine. Must have been about twenty years ago.
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Another reason why guitarists may do it: if there's more than one guitar, having one put a capo on the fifth feet and playing the appropriate chord shapes can add a depth of sound that having two guitars playing in the same place does not.

    On mandolin I keep one available because it frequently happens that a singer will want to shift the key a bit. I'd love to be a good enough player to take the song I learned in C and shift out to D-flat on the fly, but I'm not. I need some time to figure out what to do in my non-standard keys.

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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    I also use cut capo. Excellent for "unusually open string" configuration.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/s...-wit-cut-capo)

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/s...capo-and-capo)
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  30. #24
    Luthier Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why use capo?

    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes View Post
    I could tune my mandolin to GDGD and put the capo on to play cross-A tunes (AEAE). I have yet to do this, though.
    I do this often for some dances I play at where the guitars are tuned to an open G or C "modal" tuning and are played in different major and minor keys. The "modal" tuning and a capo make it sound and play right on the mandolin. More often, because most of the songs are in Cm key, I leave the mandolin in standard tuning, capo at the second fret, and play out of the two finger "modal" A chord position - G & D strings 2nd fret, A & E strings open. This allows for easy chords and nice melody accompaniment that sounds correct in that circumstance.

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  32. #25

    Default Re: Why use capo?

    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.

    I am sensitive that a specific key can really nail it. But........

    Not perfect, not what jazz players expect (vocalist rightfully dictates best key)

    But this did occur to me.

    Btw, im all for capos , as needed. I just wish i could have a "get up john " capo...life would be easier. And, i can easily play in any key....but somehow C on mando is more challenging...really, i think its how it sits on the fret board, makes no sense as its G moved over, but my muse goes down a notch in C.....alas i digress, sorry.

    Just be grateful your not having to deal with this on a finnicky banjo.

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