I reckon the capo is one of the most overlooked songwriting tools that there is.
Recently, I went out and bought myself another capo as my old one finally snapped its spring after 12 years of faithful service.
It actually prompted me to think about why I use one and how much of an influence it had on my songwriting.
(In this post I’m making some assumptions that you, the reader knows what a capo is and what it looks like. If you don’t know what a capo is then I suggest that you go here. It’s very interesting stuff)
The capo is either loved adoringly or hated intensely by the guitar community.
In the hate camp the opinions range from “it encourages laziness in playing technique” all the way to the nonsensical “you’re not a real guitarist if you use one.”
I, on the other hand sit well and truly in the love camp. I love the capo is because I find it greatly helps my songwriting. Heres how…
Capo’s are used to change the key of a chord progression whilst still playing the same chord shapes at the same time. As part of my songwriting process, one of the things that I like to do is to take a chord progression of a well known song and transpose it up to say three semitones.
Once I start playing the chord shapes again I change the strumming and the rhythm and start humming some other melody just to see and hear what would happen.
Of course if nothing comes of the exercise that’s perfectly okay but most of the time by doing this I get some flash of inspiration which propels me forward onto another songwriting idea altogether.
This is where the fun starts.
Now I don’t see anything wrong with adopting a new idea from an old source (apparently Bob Dylan has said in interviews that he does this a lot in his songwriting too). Capo’s are a great songwriting tool for making this easier.
Capo’s also take the headache out of transposing a song to another key especially crucial if you are working with another singer.
If you are a songwriter/guitarist and you have been resisting using a capo then don’t resist anymore. Go out and get yourself one (at least for your songs sake) and start experimenting with the different keys, harmonic possibilities and open chord shapes on offer.
You’ll be very surprised where the capo journey can take you.
Until next time, keep on writing
All About Songwriting