Banjo capo chart

Banjo capo chart DEFAULT

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Using a capo is an important part of banjo playing. If you are a new player and have not tried one it can add a whole new sound. The new tension on the strings gives the banjo a fun new feel and with the frets closer together it can even make your banjo easier to play. In the 3-finger Scruggs style and other bluegrass techniques we use the capo often, not only because it makes it easier to change keys without "changing what we already know" but also because in most cases the more open strings we have to work with the better. (This often just sounds better, but that depends on the genre played.)

For those of you who are new to this, here is a little chart to help you.

2nd fret - A     3rd fret - Bb     4th fret - B     5th fret - C     7th fret - D

When to Use a Capo

When playing up-tempo style traditional bluegrass in the keys of A, Bb, and B, I recommend using a capo. In other types of music other than bluegrass, or at slower tempos in these keys, depending on the sound or feel you desire, it could be appropriate and preferable not to use a capo, but generally speaking, in bluegrass banjo technique you would use a capo for A, Bb and B.

When playing songs in the keys of G, C, D, or F at any tempo, I would recommend playing out of open G and not using a capo. If you are more novice, you certainly could use a capo on the 5th fret for C and even 7th fret for D.  When doing that though you lose many of the rich low notes. So, I recommend that it be your goal to not use the capo above the 4th fret, especially not at the 7th fret for the key of D.

When playing in the key of E, I normally don’t use a capo but tune my fifth string to high B or sometimes F#. However, capoing to the second fret in G tuning and playing as if you were in the key of D can very often produce the sound you want.

Capo Types

I recommend using a capo that you can easily adjust the pressure on the strings. Your goal in using the capo should be to be able to get it on quick, but more importantly, minimize retuning!

This is the type of capo I use, this one is inexpensive and does the job well: Paige Banjo Capo

Attaching a Capo and Minimizing Re-tuning

A good way to attach the capo is to push the capo bar against the strings, straight on (being careful not to push or bend the strings) and hold it there with your right thumb while you tighten the screw with the left hand. I place the capo right behind the fret very close to it or even touching it. You should only tighten the strings as much is needed to make solid contact. Over tightening can throw the banjo way out of tune. For practice, after you have the capo in place, get out your electronic tuner and see where the strings ended up. If you’re lucky, you’ll still be in tune. More likely, however, you will need to make a small adjustment or two. Now, take note of what happened to each string and write it down so next time you’ll know what to expect. You can also experiment with exactly where you place the capo for the least re-tuning.

Important tip: If a string or two went sharp, before you start turning pegs, push on the string down near the bridge and see if that straightens it out. Many times that will push the string back where it belongs. My technique is to put the capo on quckly but carefully, then I take the palm of my right hand and push down on all the strings near the bridge. On my banjo, that's often all I need to avoid re-tuning. (keep in mind, if you strings are not fully stretched out and you do this, they all might go out) Try pushing on the strings next to the bridge with your palm in open G first to make sure they hold. I have a video on changing and stretching strings here. Video / String Changing/Setting the Bridge/Tightening the Head

The trick here is to learn how your banjo tuning reacts with a capo at each fret. Take the time to practice and study how to tune quickly and effectively with a capo. If you learn good capo placing and tuning technique, you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience at the gig or jam without the hassles of tuning or, even worse, playing out of tune.

If you need a capo or want a backup one, I put a great low price banjo capo available on sale for $15.00 this month at my website, Banjoteacher.com. If you like my free instruction on Banjo Hangout and need a capo, I'd appreciate your support.

Thanks,
Ross

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10 comments on “Tips on Using a Banjo Capo”

Big Doug Says:
Monday, February 24, 2014 @8:38:23 AM

Good information. I really appreciate it. Doug A

moonlightingronross Says:
Monday, February 24, 2014 @5:05:44 PM

i have great success with a shub...you can fine tune the adjustment to the minimum required with precision

Melvoid Says:
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 @6:15:29 AM

You're going to hate me for this ('cuz it's picky), but the capo doesn't put "new tension on the strings," as mentioned in the first paragraph. Rather, it shortens the strings without changing the tension (much). Same as fretting a string. The tension stays basically the same but a shorter string gives you a higher pitch. Sorry, my Physics of Music class from college is constantly lurking around in my head.

rjaykay62 Says:
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 @8:37:12 AM

Thanks for posting this. Good useful info.. Think I'll grab one of your capos now that they're discounted.

roar Says:
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 @9:29:23 AM

Thanks for the info. I will be referring to your tips a lot in the future.

SilasFSmith Says:
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 @10:39:28 AM

The best capo I have run across for ease of use is the G7th. Quick one hand installation. There are two styles, the one WITHOUT the screw is the best as it just squeezes on.

Larry Richardson Says:
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 @10:39:44 AM

Good article. I must mention though that I teach students to play in C as well as G (not D as Ross mentions.) Playing in C allows you to capo up to D, E and F and adds the benefit of having the open G chord as part of the playing!

dcraley Says:
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 @2:23:10 PM

Great information! I know a lot of players use 'spikes' for a 5th string capo, but I wanted to mention my homemade 5th string capo solution. Using a blank bone saddle, I fashioned a capo that neatly fits under the 5th string while also straddling the fret. It’s thick enough to apply tension to the string giving a very clear tone. The nice thing about it is that it can be used on any fret for the 5th string. I’d like to post a picture on the blog, but there doesn’t appear to be anyway to do that. Anyone who would like to see pictures of my capo, please send me an email at: [email protected]

rossnickerson Says:
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 @6:01:48 PM

All of these are good comments, its hard to cover all the bases. I like the shubb capos too, I also use the G7 but unfortunately they just discontinued them, but they are still making the G7 Newport. The Newport is also good because you can adjust the tension with a knob. Playing in C out of G tuning is a good technique and I use it often when playing in the key of C. My issue with playing in the C position as opposed to the D position is no open fourth string as a root note, (or unless you drop the fourth string to C tuning) and also using the capo when it might not be necessary. That's all free will though and it certainly doesn't mean anyone is wrong choosing to approach playing in different keys that way. Not only that for many it might produce the sound they want and that should be everyone's bottom line. As far as the tension, I'm not too scientific but the strings feel much tighter to me with less give and have less sustain with a capo on. I think that is what I am trying to describe by using the word tension. For instance, when you are capoed to B, the strings have a tighter feel, less sustain and it produces a much more percussive sound than in open G.

Just to be clear, most of my intention with this article is to encourage a lot of players that are new to using capos to get one out and practice with it. Many students never put one on at home and then are faced with it the first time they jam and never get any guidance on types of capos, putting one on, and minimizing any retuning. I also want to encourage those that have not used a capo or used one much that it can be fun and it gives your banjo a new sound and feel. Everyone will have a slightly different experience with it and form their own opinions but again getting to the bottom line, my humble advice and encouragement is to experiment with it and get to know your banjo when using a capo. Thanks, Ross

oscarmoats Says:
Tuesday, June 6, 2017 @5:02:48 AM

There are different choices for utilizing a capo on the banjo which enables you to effortlessly play melodies in numerous keys. Surprisingly music appeared that best thesis assistance to me.

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mezamurillo - Posted - 11/17/2010:  10:11:06


Im looking for a capo chart , showing the chords in the right keys. is there a chart where it shows the capo on each fret and the the names on the chords. I think I can learn faster if i see it . is there anything out there ?

mebacon - Posted - 11/17/2010:  11:12:31


You might check out a DVD by Gary "Biscuit" Davis called "Easy Chord Method for the Banjo" or something to that effect. He makes finding and constructing chords pretty easy and fun and you won't need no durned chart:)

Banjophobic - Posted - 11/17/2010:  12:57:54


The capo positions are basically barre chords. So the 1st frets can be labeled as "G#", then A, Bb ,B,C, etc when using the capo. The chords on your banjo are not changed at all by using a capo. They are always in the same locations. The only thing that happens is the capo occupies the same space as a barre chord, giving you open strings to play. If you think about chords in 'natural terms' (what they really are, not what they may look like when intersected by the capo), you dont need any charts. Your brain is the chart-

Hammerknocker - Posted - 11/17/2010:  13:18:25


You could easily make one on your compuer with Publisher or PowerPoint, even Word.
Start with the open string chord of your choice and just mark the frets on your chart with the key change as you move up the fretboard.
Example: Open G.
1st fret capo becomes open Ab.
2nd fret capo becomes open A. And just continue working your way up the scale.
Then move on to another open chord and work the scale from that chord.
Of course, it would probably be a lot simpler and quicker to just memorize the positions ...it's just basic scale/key postioning memorization of the chromatic scale.

minstrelmike - Posted - 11/17/2010:  15:56:03


A capo chart won't work as well as you would hope.

When you are down the neck playing chords with open strings such as C: 2012 or E: 2102, then if you put a capo on the 1st, 2nd or 3rd frets, the name of the 'real' chord (concert chord) goes up one fret on the Chromatic Scale. Memorize that because it _is_ the alphabet of music.

Once you start playing up-the-neck, then the capo is irrelevant. If you play a G: 9789, then it is still a G whether the capo is in your pocket or on the 2nd fret or the 6th fret. The only thing that changes about the chord is its relation to the nut (capo) and when you get too far away, it is irrelevant.

Memorize the Chromatic Scale to figure out down-the-neck chords and if it was a G or a C or a Ddim7b9, well you just add the number of frets as you move up the chromatic scale: A A#/Bb B C C#/Db ...

I'd encourage you to start playing chords up-the-neck and start listening for the 1,4,5 chord changes instead of trying to name chords and then change the names when you use a capo.

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What is a Capo?

A "capo" is a device which clamps the strings down at a particular fret to raise the pitch of the instrument. You can think of it as an artificial finger which lays flat across the fingerboard pressing the strings against a fret.

Capos are commonly used on the guitar and banjo, but are rarely used on the mandolin. The bass and the fiddle, having no frets on their fingerboards, cannot use a capo.

Here is an example of a capo:

the shubb capo

Capos are made in different widths to fit banjos or guitars. Most banjos have a flat fingerboard so a banjo capo is a straight bar. Guitars usually have a slightly curved (radiused) fingerboard so guitar capos have a slightly curving pressure bar.

Some sort of screw clamp or lever is used to apply downward pressure of the bar against the strings. Capos have padded surfaces where they contact the strings and the back of the neck, usually made of soft rubber material.

If you are a banjo player you also must raise the pitch of the 5th string to match what you did with the other 4 strings. A number of devices have been devised to "capo" the 5th string. Here is a typical example of a sliding capo which attaches to the side of the banjo neck to easily facilitate raising the pitch of that string.

banjo 5th string capo

If you only need to go up one or two frets, and you don't have a 5th string capo, it is possible to tune the string up to the higher note. You risk breaking your 5th string if you do this. Some banjo players resort to using small hooks (model railroad spikes) inserted into the fingerboard to hold the string down at preselected frets. There is also a wonderful, yet easy to lose, banjo 5th string capo called the "Reagan" which is great if you don't want to, or don't know how to install one of the sliding, permanent 5th string capos. The "Reagan" is just a little block of brass with a thumbscrew in it for clamping anywhere on the 5th string. They work great!

How to Use a Capo

To fully understand how to use a capo let's take a look at this diagram of all of the music notes. This is called the "chromatic scale":

diagram of chromatic scale

The letters shown on the chart can represent single notes, scales, keys or individual chord names since they all operate in the same way. We will confine our discussion here to chords and keys.

If you start on any chord on the circle, let's say a C chord, and move clockwise you will be going up in pitch--to a higher sounding chord. Each fret on your instrument corresponds to one position on the circle of chromatic scale notes.

For example: If you start on a C chord and count up clockwise two positions you will land on a D chord. This means that D is TWO FRETS higher than C. If you place a capo just behind your 2nd fret and form a C chord shape you will get a D chord sound!

Here is another example: Let's say you are playing the song Cripple Creek and you want to play the chords written in the key of G since you only know the G, C and D chords. But, your mandolin player learned the song in the key of A and only knows the melody in A and the chords in the key of A! What do you do so you can play together?

Simple. Look at the circle and find the key you want to play the song in. That is G for you in this example. Then find the key that the other person wants you to play in. That is A. Now, starting on a G, count in a clockwise direction the number of positions required to step up to the A. The answer is 2! This means the key of A is 2 FRETS HIGHER than the key of G. So, the guitar and banjo players slap a capo on their second frets and play the song as if it is in G but the sound comes out in the key of A.

It is probably obvious to you that once the capo is in place you simply play the instrument like it is slightly shorter and treat the capo as if it were the nut.

That is the basic instructions for using the Chromatic Circle to determine how many frets apart any two keys are. Here is a little table showing what the resulting sound is, if you play "G positions" and use a capo to raise the sound. Study this chart and compare it to the notes on the circle above and if it all makes sense you are off to the races.

You Play This Key

Position of Capo

Resulting Key Sound

G

No Capo Used

G (duh!)

G

2nd Fret

A

G

3rd Fret

B-flat (Bb)

G

4th Fret

B

G

5th Fret

C

Here are some examples if you play "C positions"

C

No Capo Used

C

C

2nd Fret

D

C

4th Fret

E

C

5th Fret

F

Here are some examples if you play "D positions"

D

2nd Fret

E

D

3rd Fret

F

Look at that table and you can see that you can play in a lot of keys and only "think in a couple of keys."

Here is another little bit of music theory to keep in mind: On the circle chart I wrote all those "in between" notes as "sharp" using the "#" symbol. A sharp means the note or chord is raised one fret. All of the notes which are called sharp can also be referred to by an alternate name if they are named for the note above. If they are named for the note above they are called "flat" and are indicated by the "b" symbol. For example: C# (C sharp) can also be called Db (D flat). For all practical purposes they are the same note. Two different names, same sound. G# = Ab, Eb = D#. If you want to explore all of this in a lot more detail check out my video lessons or ebooks here: Banjo eBooks or Mandolin eBooks

By the way, capos are rarely used above the 5th fret. Most of the time they are only used up to about the 5th fret. You are free to put your capo where you like, but the tone of the instrument gets a little strange if you capo up at really high frets.

Here is a little more information about capos. The rubber that presses the strings down is designed to act like the flesh of your finger. After a long time that rubber will get harder and harder and become "unfingerlike". As that happens, over time, you will have to apply more pressure with the capo to get clean sounding notes AND, very importantly, the strings will be pulled more and more sharp, in terms of tuning, because they are being bent into more of a curve by the capo.

To counter the fact that all capos (it's worse when the rubber is old and hard) tend to make the strings go sharp when the capo is applied, here are a few tips:

First, don't crank it down any harder than is needed to produce buzz-free, rattle-free sounding notes. The harder you crank it down, the sharper the capo will push your tuning.

Second, if you put the capo right behind the fret (like 1/8" back) you can use less pressure to get a clean note than if you place it way back from the fret (like 1/2" back). Try an experiment and put your capo almost all the way back to the 1st fret. (Assuming you were going to capo at the 2nd fret.) Leave as much space as you can between the capo and the desired fret. Play something! You will hear a buzzing mess. Placing a capo too far back causes few tuning problems but allows for tons of buzzing! Incidentally, everything I just said in this and the previous paragraph is true about your fingertips too! The capo is an artificial finger so all of this is true when you fret notes with your digits.

Finally, it is hard to tune with a capo locked in place. Yes, you can and sometimes must do it, but be aware that the string will not glide under that tight capo very well. Tune up with open strings and try to put the capo on in such a way that it doesn't screw up your tuning.


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Banjo Capo Advice - How and When to Use a Banjo Capo

The banjo or guitar capo is sometimes called a “cheater.” In a sense it is, but it doesn’t make you a poor musician to use it. In fact, in bluegrass banjo playing, many times it is proper. By using the capo, we are able to play everything we know in open G tuning; by simply placing the capo on another fret, we change the key. For those of you who are new to this, I made a little chart to help you at the bottom of the page.

I do not recommend using the capo above the fifth fret because it’s like cutting the neck in half. I recommend playing in the key of D without a capo, it has a great tone and many uses. Playing in C without a capo, I think, is a preferable technique in most cases as well.

One of the things we should consider when determining whether to use a capo or not is open strings. In most cases, the more open strings we have to work with the better. That is why, in many instances for the best sound for bluegrass songs in keys other than G, it is best to use a capo. This holds true for the right reason “it sounds better” and even supersedes having the technical knowledge and ability to play every note of a song in Bb, for instance, without a capo.

Let me cut to it and give you some practical advice for when and when not to use a capo, along with some practical advice on studying their use and playing in other keys.

When playing up-tempo traditional style bluegrass in the keys of A, Bb, and B, I recommend using a capo. In other types of songs in these keys, it could be appropriate and preferable not to use a capo, depending on the sound or feel you desire, but, generally speaking, in bluegrass you would use one.

When playing songs in the keys of G, C, D, or F at any tempo, I recommend playing out of open G.

When playing in the key of E, I normally don’t use a capo but tune my fifth string to high B or F#. However, capoing to the 2nd fret and playing as if you were in the key of D (in G tuning) can sometimes produce the sound you want.

Again, producing the sound you want should be the priority and a determining factor in capo use, not ego on how smart you are for not using one. I will admit I wish I never had to use one. They make tuning more complicated. I played electric guitar in a band for awhile and I tuned once or twice a night. Using the capo will create tuning havoc if you let it. Next are some tips on types of capos and tuning when using a capo.

Types of Capos and Tips on Using Them

I began playing in the days of the “Bill Russell Double Action” capo that used stretched elastic. They were a pain and could really pull the strings out of tune if you weren’t careful. The type of capos that are used today are the ones that allow you to adjust the tightness of the capo against the strings. This is important because tightening the capo too much will cause the strings to go sharp, and, of course, not enough pressure will cause the strings not to ring fully. I recommend placing the capo close up against the fret and tightening just enough for the strings to sound clearly.

A good way to attach the capo is to push the capo bar against the strings straight on (being careful not to push or bend the strings) and hold it there with your right thumb while you tighten the screw with the left hand. After you have the capo in place, get out your tuner and see where the strings ended up. If you’re lucky, you’ll still be in tune. More likely, however, you will need to make a small adjustment or two.

Take note of what happened to each string and write it down so next time you’ll know what to expect. If a string or two went sharp, before you start turning pegs, push on the string up near the bridge and see if that straightens it out. Many times that will push the string back where it belongs.

The trick here is to learn how your banjo tuning reacts with a capo at each fret. Take the time to practice and study how to tune quickly and effectively with a capo. If you learn good capo placing and tuning technique, you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience at the gig or jam without the hassles of tuning or, even worse, playing out of tune.

Capoing the Fifth String

Your banjo should be equipped with spikes to put the fifth string into in order to raise the pitch of the fifth string since the capo will not be covering it. These spikes were introduced by some genius. They are actually railroad spikes from small HO hobby train sets. They work great and have made the sliding capos from my era obsolete.

You will likely have to fine tune the string after sliding it under the spike. The best way to quickly tune is to drop the string flat at least a half-step and bring it back up slowly and steadily until you reach the correct pitch. No complaint with these spikes! The old-timers must have re-tuned the string every time they used a capo and probably broke a few in the process too.

 

Key of A

Key of Bb

Key of B

Key of C

Key of D

Capo 2nd fret

Capo 3rd fret

Capo 4th fret

Capo 5th fret

Capo 7nd fret

5th string 7th

5th string 8th

5th string 9th

5th string 10th

5th string 12th

 

Key of C

Key of D

Play out of Open G

Play out of Open G

or

5th string open

Capo 5th fret

or

5th string at 10th

5th string 7th

Open G preferred over capo 5th fret

Open G for the key of D is normally much preferred over capo at 2nd or 7th fret

 

 

 

Key of Eb

Key of E

Key of F

Capo 3rd fret

Play out of Open G
with 5th string 9th fret

Play out of Open G with 5th string open or on 7th fret

5th string 8th

or

or

or

Capo 2nd fret

Capo 3rd fret

5th string on 10th

With 5th string 7th or 9th

5th string on 8th or 10th

PostedbyRoss NickersonHome, Learning Banjo, Instruction Articles2

Tag: banjo capo, when to use a banjo capo, how to use a banjo capo, putting a banjo capo on, why use a banjo capo

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