The subject of Capos had many of you clamping down on your keyboards to tell me what you think of them. Most feedback was in support of the lowly capo but several of you dislike them. I think all the reasons are valid ones depending on the circumstance. Here is your feedback:

Pro-Capo

I wanted to perform the Leroy Van Dyke song – Walk On By. His key was perfect for my voice, but when I tried to work out the chords from listening to the CD I just couldn’t get it. Until finally I realised he was playing in the key of A#. So what horrible and unfamiliar shapes A#, D# and E7# would be. So I had the idea to put a Uke capo on the first fret and voila – I just played my familiar shapes of A, D, E7 up on the next fret and I had my key of A#. John, Australia

If I want a nice choppy swing, I will not be wanting many open chords, if any. So, no capo. However, if I’m going for a smoother, sweeter sound, or a folksy feel, I am looking for open chords, and possibly using a capo to get the key right for vocals.  Shannon

For us older folks with some arthritis issues, playing constant bar chords can become tiring. I write original songs and do a lot in the keys of A#/Bb and G#/Ab. That capo in the first fret keeps me from having to do all those barres. At my first ukulele festival the other attendees looked down on my use of the capo. But I’ve since learned that many professional guitar players use capos. If it’s good enough for them, it’s certainly good enough for me! Mike

Anti-Capo 

I attempted to use a capo a few years ago & hated it. With the uke’s non-steel strings, it seemed to de-tune my uke (it had to be clamped down pretty hard to get true-tones, and that stretched the strings a bit). Since then I’ve learned how to form & use closed chords, and that is a much better solution. Cliff

I like the pronounciation of ‘capodastrum’. I don’t use one on a ukulele though. Short scale, combined with low tension of the strings, means that those contraptions often press a little too hard and thus make things go sharp and out of tune. Another disadvantage is that it’s hard to move them mid-song, especially with modulations. There’s a Harry Belafone song that goes up one fret, and then up again, and then up again… around five times. Try moving a capo five times in a song. Although there could be some comic relief in that, come to think of it. Karl, Belgium

Capo? I purchased every capo I could to check the ease of use, quality of compressing strings, and clumsiness created for the left hand. I have given up on clamp capos for the tenor uke. The capo complicates the uke. So, as you point out, strings go out of tune. Strings may deaden as you begin playing the song. Then what? Stop the song? Some success may be achieved if you retained a uke with a capo at the first fret for select songs and never change the capo. Again, you complicate things….”must have that uke or I can’t sing that song. Sorry, gotta change my uke, again”. The shortening of strings degrades the sound and makes the action stiffer. Jerry

Pro-Capo

I teach ukulele at a Senior Center. Everybody’s playing sopranos, concerts and tenors, so capos don’t enter the picture much, but they all like the baritone. However, confronted by its different tuning, I tell them they would have to capo on the 5th fret to sound like the rest of us unless they want to transpose. They would rather travel to another planet.

They say also, that the capo “gets in the way”. Having a guitar background, it doesn’t bother me—–a capo on a guitar is almost mandatory. I’ve used the spring-loaded type, but on my uke I just use the el cheapo one that’s like an elastic strap. I think capos can be a useful tool but I can’t convince my class. Martha, USA

As with so many issues in life, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle. Two years into my capo ownership, I find that there are some songs with particularly wide range, low to high, that I always use the capo with. (Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” and “Georgia on My Mind” are two that immediately come to mind.)  I now find my capo to be like bringing along a jacket to the beach – you may not need it, but if it’s windy and/or cold, you’ll be glad you have it.  Scott, USA

I keep my capo handy for when I’m playing my C concert ukulele along with D-tuning ones. I do sing-alongs with seniors every week and I use my capo to get them to sing in just a bit higher key to challenge their range. For example, we’ll do Edelweiss in F during a warm-up, and I’ll have them sing it again in F# and then maybe G. Pam

Ralph says, I like this next email because the writer wrote it in poem form.

I love your newsletter and the introduction

To using a capo.

I recently began playing the ukulele

And just love it and have tried to learn all

The chords in the keys that we play

At the two jams I go to but some of the

Chords are just too difficult for my arthritic

Fingers to stretch!

Is there a way you can write further on the capo

In the next newsletter and give us a chart

To use so we know what key we are

Playing in when we capo at each fret.

I know minimal music theory so a chart

Would be of much help.

Also can you talk more about the kinds of

Capos that are used.

Thanks in advance, Chris

Ralph says, Here’s your chart:

A  A#/Bb  B  C  C#/Db  D  D#/Eb  E  F  F#/Gb  G  A  A#/Bb  B  C etc.

It works like this, for example: If you are playing in key of C but with a capo on the 4th fret then count 4 notes up the chart from C and you’ll see you are now playing in the key of E.

I  use a capo when playing with other instruments, especially guitars. They will call for a song in a certain key, and then instruct everyone to play it at “capo 2”.  I could transpose it, but the following week, someone else might call the same song but ask that it be played at “capo 3”. I don’t need or want every song in every key, so using a capo works for me. That being said, I much prefer the sound of my ukulele without the capo.  Linda

Anti-Capo

In response to your request for input on the use of capos I personally hate to see a capo on a ukulele. There are two main reasons and you alluded to them. First it often just points to a lazy player and second they get in the way of an instrument with a short neck. In summary, never on a uke or mandolin, sometimes on guitar and almost essential on 5 string banjo. I will qualify my never on a uke statement to say that I’m one of those pedants who don’t consider a baritone uke a uke but rather think of it as a tenor guitar especially if tuned DGBE. Don’t get me started on low G strings. 🙂  Tony

Regarding capos:  I never use a capo on my ukuleles (concert and tenor–I do not play baritone).  I find it a good challenge to transpose material into other keys, until I hit the sweet (i.e. singable) spot. And regarding “Ukulele Lady” …. I don’t think you looked hard enough for a wonderful chordal arrangement in the key of C!  I love to play this song in C — I start with a C6 chord, 5430.  Fool around with that, and see what you think! Again, thanks for your wonderful newsletter!  Juli

Pro-Capo

I play in a casual string band with a female singer.  We change keys to suit her voice.  When we play Old Crow Medicine’s version of “Wagon Wheel” I capo up three frets. In doing this I find I get a new dimension on the uke: a slightly mandolin sounding quality which really suits this song and is appealing.   Jeffrey, Australia

I use a spring loaded capo when I have the music for a new song that I would like to try but when I search youtube to play along and get any ideas on how to play it, it is played in a different key. The only problem is when I move the capo up any more than three frets the sound starts to get very thin, otherwise it is very useful. Lazy, probably, but sometimes changing the key can give me unplayable (for me) chords.  Gary, Australia

I just used a capo for the very first time 2 nights ago while playing with guitar friends.   Their music sheets started with “Capo on second fret” … so they did.  This is extremely common on guitar music.   I pulled out my itty bitty ukulele capo (that they said was very sweet), put it on the second fret and had no trouble playing this key change without having to transpose the chords or re-think the song at all.  Really, if you need to play a different key on the fly, then the capo is the only way to go!!!!  The capo I used was a clamp style. Very quick and cheap. I have a really good Schubb I have put in a safe place … and I will find it one day.  Then I’ll be able to comment on different capo styles.  I say a capo is a great thing when you need it.   Linda, Canada

I love my capo and I use it often.  I entertain folks at Alzheimer’s clinics all alone and my capo is invaluable. It’s really nice to get the right key for my voice without compromising with other players.  Ana

Since taking up the Uke 10+ years ago, I kind of avoided the capo, thinking I could play this little instrument easily. Then I did my first CD and most of my songs were in the same key. James (Hill) gave me an honest retort… Change up your keys, use a capo… His first advice opened a path to different voicings and arrangements. My advanced ukulele journey had begun.  Kevin, USA