Learning to play guitar is hard. So many have tried and given up. Building up the muscle memory, hand strength, and coordination necessary to play a simple chord progression takes time. This is why beginners should use a capo. Most beginners start with enthusiasm, but that wanes over time as they see little progress.
Anything which makes the guitar easier to play in the first few months has got to be a good thing, right?. Where there is visible progress, the motivation continues, and you are more likely to continue with your guitar-playing journey.
What is one of the best tools to help you learn? A capo.
A capo is a low-cost device that clamps down the strings at a specific fret on the fretboard. This little tool can make most guitars (especially acoustic guitars) much easier to play. This is why all beginners could benefit from using a capo.
Let’s look at five ways in which a capo can help.
(1) Lowers the action
The distance between the fretboard and the underside of the string is known as the “action”. Most beginners start with guitars that are ‘affordable’. One of the reasons those guitars are ‘affordable’ is that the manufacturers cut out unnecessary costs. One such cost is setting a low action on the guitar. As a result, most beginner guitars are hard to play. It is frustrating that those who need easy-to-play guitars the most are beginners, but that is not what they get.
By adding a capo, the guitar’s action can be significantly reduced.
It does not matter if you are playing open chords or barre chords; a capo will help. Capos are cheap, so don’t let a $20 capo prevent you from playing guitar.
If you want to play along with others, or with a recording, you could tune the guitar to 1 semi-tone lower (Eb, Ab, Db, Gb Bb Eb) and use a capo at the first fret. Detuning also has the added benefit of reducing the string tension, making it even easier to play.
Don’t view this as a permanent solution. Once you’ve built up some playing skills, the capo should be removed so your hand can build up the necessary strength.
2) Reduces the stretch
Another area that beginners struggle with is stretching their fingers into the correct position. It is normal to begin learning guitar in the first position (i.e., at the first fret); however, this is the area of the fretboard that also requires the biggest stretch.
Further up the fretboard, the frets are closer together. Therefore, applying a capo will, by its nature, require you the play higher up the neck, making the guitar easier to play.
How much difference does this make? For example, the 5th is 33% smaller than the 1st fret, so quite a bit.
Don’t go too far up the neck, though; else, you may encounter the opposite problem, the fingers being too squished together. Find a comfortable fret. Then, as your skills improve, move the capo down toward the nut until it is no longer required.
3) Makes more songs accessible
Most of us learn guitar because there are some songs we would like to play. We don’t want to play any old songs, but specific songs, songs that we love. If that song is in the key of F (using chords F, Bb, and C), it might be 6 to 12 months before a beginner can even attempt it; how depressing. Using a capo at the 3rd fret, you could play the D inversion (using chords D, G, and A), making the song accessible to beginner guitarists.
Chords in F Major (oh no!!! barre chords)
Chords in F major with Capo at 3rd Fret (much easier)
Remember, maintaining motivation is key to learning the guitar. Playing your favorite song (even with a capo) is more likely to keep you motivated.
4) Understanding note positions
Initially, we learn guitar by using shapes. We have no idea what the notes are, but we know what the shapes look like; such as G major or D major.
The 6th, 5th, and 4th strings are important when playing chords, as these provide the bass note for each chord. Taking the time to transpose chords to different capo positions requires an understanding of the notes on the fretboard, especially the 6th, 5th, and 4th strings.
Therefore, using a capo will help learn the note positions higher up the fretboard, an essential skill for every guitarist.
5) Teaches better technique
Have you ever heard somebody play guitar fast, I mean like really, really fast? Good technique is what makes fast playing possible. Good technique is effective because it makes as few movements as possible.
Since beginner guitars tend to have a higher action, it forces them to make more unnecessary movements, creating a bad technique.
Bad technique is difficult to correct later; I should know; I have tried. Therefore, using a capo can help to reduce unnecessary movements and avoid some bad techniques. It won’t prevent the risk of all bad techniques, but it’s a good start.
Most beginners do not use or even own a capo. However, it is a tool that makes a guitar significantly easier to play, can help maintain motivation, increases all-around understanding, and improves technique. So, if you’ve not got a capo yet… get one.
Remember: always remove the capo between playing sessions to prevent damage to the guitar.