~Monday 16th of July 2018~
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Complete Ukulele Capo Beginner’s Guide
I’ve recently received the request to write a guide on how to use capo’s on the ukulele. This was a great idea and now, here it is: the complete ukulele capo beginner’s guide!
To write a guide about this subject hasn’t really come to my mind once, probably because of my guitar background where I used my trusty capo all the time. When I picked up an ukulele and started playing it I’ve never thought twice about the difficulties with it and questions about the use of capo. Hopefully this guide will help you understand what a capo is, how to use it and what types of capo’s are out there.
What is a capo?
Capo is short for capotasto, which is Italian for “head of fretboard”. It is small tool you can strap around the neck of your ukulele to keep all the strings down on the same fret. So essentially, you are barring the strings on that particular fret with a capo instead of your finger.
History fact (WikiPedia): Giovanni Battista Doni first used the term in his Annotazioni of 1640, though capo use likely began earlier in the 17th-century. The first patented capo was designed by James Ashborn of Walcottville, Connecticut, USA.
What can you do with it?
Now that you know what it is, you probably want to know what it is used for. Using a capo will raise the pitch of the instrument allowing you to play in different keys without all the hassle of using the tuning pegs to tune your ukulele in a higher key or transposing the chords.
Example: The standard tuning for a ukulele (gCEA) is also called “C”-tuning. Remembering that the order of notes is the following: A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G#, putting a capo on the fourth fret will transform your ukulele’s tuning to an “E”-tuning.
When is a capo used?
There are two main reasons why you’d like to use a capo. The first one is to use the capo to raise the pitch of a song to a different key so that it’ll match your voice range.
The second reason is the following. On UkuTabs you’ll sometimes see: “alternative version” as a note on the beginning of a song. There I tell you you can try to transpose the song down to make the song easier to play. For example: transposing 1 step down changes A#m to Am, which is much easier to play. If however you are playing along with the original recording this won’t sound good anymore. In order to get back to the same key you can put a capo on the first fret and also play the Am chord. Now you are still in the same key as the recording, but the chords are much easier to play. All chords posted along with songs on UkuTabs do not require the use of a capo. You can choose for yourself whether you want to transpose the key and use a capo or not.
Do I need a capo?
This is a personal choice. I myself for example used the capo quite a lot when I started playing the ukulele, but nowadays I don’t use it at all anymore. When you get better you’ll learn how to play that A#m chord. I also find it easier not to rely on a capo when playing songs. It is however an amazing tool for beginning ukulele players since it allows you to play a wider range of songs using the transpose/capo solution.
What kind of capo’s are there?
Spring loaded capo
This is by far my favorite type of capo. The handle is spring-controlled and it allows for quickly changing the capo’s position on the fretboard with one hand. You can however not adjust the pressure applied to the strings and it tends to get quite bulky. I suggest looking at the several brands offering this type of capo. Kyser is a well known brand and sell a very decent ukulele/banjo capo.
The C-clamp capo
There is one big player on the clamp ukulele capo market and that is Shubb with their L9 Lite Ukulele Capo. A clamp capo allows you to adjust the applied pressure on the strings by turning on that little screw. To put it on your ukulele you’ll have to use the lever. These capos are very sturdy, reliable and compact. These are the most expensive capo’s.
The elastic / toggle capo
These are the cheapest capo’s out there. You can buy a few of these for the same price as one spring loaded or clamp capo. They are very lightweight and use a notched system or elastics to attach to your ukulele and tighten the strings. In spite of their cost and small size, most of them are very low quality, tend to pull strings out of tune and break easily. Jim Dunlop offers an elastic ukulele capo for less than $5.
NS Ukulele Capo Pro
This is one of the more recent capo’s. A dedicated ukulele capo by D’Addario (Planet Waves). It is a very lightweight capo (made out of aluminum) and has a very small footprint on the ukulele neck compared with the others (except the elastic capo). It is not that easy to manoever around the fretboard once installed, but that’s one of the only downsides about it.
I have a guitar capo, can I use that one?
Of course you can, nothing is stopping you from using your guitar’s capo, even I don’t own an ukulele-specific capo. I own a black Jim Dunlop 83 guitar capo. It works just fine, but I must note that I rarely use it anymore. If you are planning to regularly use a capo on your ukulele, I suggest buying a ukulele-designed capo.
One final note
While a capo can really come in handy sometimes, I suggest only using it to change the key of your ukulele to match your voice and actually play the original chords. Try not to depend on your capo when learning songs. If you bump into a song with an unknown chord, you can always find the chord diagram at the top of each song or hover over the chord here on UkuTabs. If it’s not a song on UkuTabs, use UkuChords to find out how to play that chord.