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Demystifying the Guitar: Transposing with a Capo

Here’s another question I was asked regarding the use of a capo and playing with another musician that is not using such a device. Note that this is a beginner’s question, so the terminology used in the question isn’t correct, but this is addressed in the answer as well.

 
Q: How do I transcribe a song with a capo on the third fret of my guitar so I can play with piano?  The chords are G, C, D, Em.   How do I get those chords in standard tuning?

 
A: When using a capo your guitar is still in standard tuning, but the chords you are playing are transposed.

Each fret of the guitar changes the pitch by a half step.  Therefore, with the use of a capo on the third fret, the G chord is moved up three half steps. You simply count up three notes of the chromatic scale from the note or chord you want to transpose, in this case G: G, Ab, A, Bb.

With the capo on, while you’re fingering what you know as a first position G chord, it sounds as Bb.  That’s what the piano would play. It’s not the “shapes” that you play that make the chord be named one thing or another, but the actual notes that are being played that determine what it’s called. If your guitar was tuned down a half step (low to high: Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Bb, Eb) and you played the “G” chord shape, it would actually be a Gb.

Back to having the capo on the third fret:
 
After renaming the first chord, you’d do the same for the other chordsin the same manner. Keep in mind that there are no flats between B and C, and E and F: as shown in the chromatic scale shown below:

C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A Bb C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A B C

Counting up three half steps from C is Eb.

Counting up from D is F.

And counting up from E(m) is G(m). Of course, since the original chord is minor, it is still played minor after being transposed.

Sometimes when you transpose, the flat chords may be more accurately described as their enharmonic equivalent, in which case you’d use the notes below as your transposing guide:

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C

But that’s not the case with the transposition in question here, but something to keep in mind for later…as is learning why.  But you have enough to get jamming.

For the record: transcribing is the notating of music, putting the notes and music on paper, which should not be confused with transposing…switching keys.

 
Photo courtesy of SHUBB CAPOS
 

Jake Kelly is a man on the constant search for enlightenment, if anyone finds it let him know so he can get some. For more of this hombre’s ramblings and the rest of L2P check out L2Pbandspace and L2Pnet.com.

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