If you’ve ever tried to find music sheets for your favorite songs, you may have noticed that a lot of the guitar chord charts ask you to use a capo on your guitar. But what if you don’t have a capo? Is there a way to play a capo song without a capo?
To play capo songs without a capo, you can use a capo substitute like moving your fingers up the fretboard, using your index finger as a temporary capo, tuning your strings up, transposing the chords of the song, or by making a simple capo using a pencil and rubber bands, a shoelace, or zip ties.
This article will show you how to play a capo song without using a traditional capo by using a capo substitution technique or making a DIY capo at home using one of the methods we will demonstrate. We will also discuss the function of a capo to help you better understand how you can replace it. Now let’s get into the article!
What Is a Capo Used For?
Capos are some of the most commonly used accessories for acoustic and electric guitars and are small tools that are clamped onto the necks of these guitars. They are fastened onto the neck of the guitar behind one of the frets, their location depending on the sound the guitarist wants to achieve.
The most significant advantage of using a capo is that it lets guitarists play a song in a different key while still playing the open string chord form with their fretting hand. To understand what a capo does, we first need to discuss the nut of the guitar.
The nut on a guitar is a thin piece of metal, plastic, or bone that is placed across the guitar’s neck where the neck and headstock meet. The nut serves as a device to end the string’s vibration length (also known as scale length). It has grooves in it, in which the guitar strings lie as they move from the fingerboard to the headstock of the guitar.
The grooves in the nut and those in the bridge on the guitar’s body ensure that the strings stay in place as they travel across the guitar’s neck and body. However, the nut’s primary purpose is to terminate string vibrations and set all of the strings at the same pitch.
In essence, when you put a capo on your guitar’s neck, you put a temporary nut on the neck in a different position than the original one. The capo shortens the vibrating length of the strings, and in turn, raises their pitch. It helps to change the pitch of open strings without having to change the guitar’s tuning keys.
This means that the pitch of the open strings is changed; however, only the key of the fretted notes are changed, and not their pitch. In essence, capos are used to raising the pitch of guitar strings.
There are many different types of capos and many different designs, but the most common are those covering all six strings on your guitar’s neck. If you’re looking for a way to substitute these capos or make your own, then this is the right article for you. In the next section, we will discuss some capo substitutes, and then we’ll tell you how you can make your own capo.
If you want to play a song that usually calls for a capo, but you don’t want to use a capo, don’t have one on hand, or don’t own one at all, it isn’t the end of the world. You don’t need to worry about not having a capo; in fact, many songs can be played without one and will sound just fine.
Many advanced guitarists say that they prefer playing without a capo, as a capo can often “pull” the guitar’s strings out of tune, and getting them back in tune after putting a capo on their guitars can be quite tricky. However, if you are not as advanced a guitarist, a capo will allow you to play some “easier” chords instead of some of the technically challenging ones a song might call for.
We know that a capo is used to raise the pitch of a guitar when playing the strings open. We can then assume that playing without a capo will mean that you’ll be playing at a lower pitch. However, there are some ways you can substitute the function and sound of a capo, which we will discuss now.
Move Your Fingers Up the Fretboard
This technique is by far the easiest substitute for using a capo; however, there are some prerequisites to using this trick. If the song you are playing has no or very few open strings, you can play the song with the same chords as the capo-ed version and just move your fingers up the fretboard (closer to the body of the guitar).
This will also raise the chord pitch you are playing and help you achieve the same sound as the original song you are playing. You will need to play around with how far up the fretboard you place every chord; however, which will take some time to get the right placement so that you can find what sounds right for the song you’re playing.
You will also have to do this process over for every new song that you want to learn to play this way, but if you have two different songs that place the capo on the same fret, you can play the chord on the same place, so it will become much easier once you’re practiced at it.
Use a Temporary “Capo”
This is a trick you can use if you do need to play open strings in the song you want to play without a capo. By doing this, you place your index finger across the neck of your guitar as you would a capo and put pressure on the strings that way.
This creates what is called a “temporary capo,” as your finger is doing what a capo would usually do when playing open strings. However, this isn’t a permanent fix and can be a bit hard on your finger if you have to do it often, so we would recommend using this technique sparingly, just in the interest of not hurting your finger.
If the song you want to play has only one or two open strings that you need to play, this technique can come in very handy if you don’t want to use or have a capo.
Tune Your Guitar Up
This is another easy way to substitute the use of a capo when playing guitar or any fretted instrument for that matter. To achieve the same sound as you would when using a capo, you can tune your strings up by whatever interval you would transpose your strings with when using a capo.
However, experts warn not to tune your strings up by more than three semitones; otherwise, you risk damaging your instrument’s neck or, even worse, breaking your strings. This can lead to a serious injury on your part and might cause damage to your guitar’s neck and body too. Not to mention that you’ll need to replace the broken strings as well.
So if the song you want to play only needs the capo to be on one of the first few frets, you might be able to use this trick to save you the effort of having to use a capo or any of the other techniques we have described.
Transpose the Chords of the Song
The last capo substitute we have to offer is the one that will probably make the most effort on your part (unless you’re already a guitar aficionado). Transposing the chords of the song you want to play is the technique that will be the most time-consuming upfront, but it will help you a lot in the long run, and not just to be able to play without a capo.
Transposing the chords of a song is essentially playing the same song but using different chords that sound similar to the song’s original capo-ed chords. Obviously, these chords will never sound exactly the same as the original chords, but most likely, you’ll be able to find chords that can be played without a capo that will sound very similar to those of the song you want to play.
Most websites with music sheets for songs will also offer a transposed version of the song that you can play without a capo. But if you want to look really cool, you can also learn how to transpose the chords yourself; most often, people who learn music theory will also learn to transpose chords.
Learning to transpose chords will help you in the long run because you’ll transpose the chords of any song to be able to play it without a capo or change the sound to suit what you like or can sing along to.
It is good to know that there are ways you can get around using a capo, and often without anyone even noticing that what you are playing would typically be played with a capo. However, you need to know that not all songs that call for a capo can be played without, especially if they include a very unusual chord or chord progression.
There is also nothing wrong with wanting or needing to use a capo, whether it be because you are not quite skilled enough to play some more challenging chords quickly or simply because you like how it sounds. But if you don’t want to or can’t front the cost of getting a capo right now, we will show you a few ways you can make your own capo at home in the next sections.
Now you’ve looked at the ways you can substitute using a capo on your guitar. But say that you do want to use a capo, but you don’t want to buy one right now, or you have already bought one online, but it hasn’t arrived yet, and you can’t wait to start playing the song that requires a capo.
Then we have the solution for you! We have several solutions for you because we will show you DIY methods that you can follow to make a simple and inexpensive capo with items you already have in your home in this section and the next.
The Pencil and Rubber Band Capo
This is the most commonly used capo substitute, as it is easy to make and doesn’t require any special tools or parts.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Rubber band or hair ties
Here’s how to make it:
- Gather all of the necessary items.
- Align your pencil with the desired fret. Remember to place it above, but quite near the fret you need to capo on; this way, you’ll avoid buzzing and ghost strings when you play.
- Loop the rubber band around one end of the pencil. Depending on the length of your rubber band or hair tie and the thickness of your pencil, you may need to loop it around the pencil several times.
- Loop the rubber band around the other side of the pencil. Go around the back to your guitar’s neck to secure the pencil in place.
- Test how your guitar sounds on open strings. This will give you the most accurate indication of whether the makeshift capo is doing its job.
- Add more rubber bands or hair ties. If your guitar doesn’t sound quite right after adding the first band or hair tie, you can add more to increase the pressure the pencil exerts on your fretboard.
Some people have suggested wrapping your pencil in a tissue, as the pencil itself can be quite smooth and might slip around on your guitar’s neck. However, you’ll need to test your pencil capo first to see if this is a necessary step for you.
Homemade Capo Without Rubber Bands
If you don’t want to use rubber bands, you can use a few other methods to make a DIY capo. We will go over two of them in this section.
Zip/Cable Tie Capo
This is the first type of DIY capo you can make that doesn’t require rubber bands, but it is still equally easy to make.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 2 Pencils
- 2 Zip/Cable Ties
Here’s how to make it:
- Create two separate loops with the two zip/cable ties. Make each of the loops roughly 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in diameter to ensure they can fit over the pencils.
- Align the two pencils with the desired fret. One pencil should be in contact with the strings and the other behind the neck of the guitar. Make sure they are parallel.
- Put the zip/cable ties onto the pencils. While holding the pencils in place, slide the zip/cable ties onto the ends of the pencils until they touch the sides of the guitar’s neck.
- Tighten the zip/cable ties to secure the “capo” in place. Don’t tighten one zip/cable tie and then the other, instead go back and forth between the two, tightening them slowly to ensure that they are equally tight.
- Pluck your guitar strings to test the sound. If it’s not quite right, tighten the zip ties some more until you’re happy with the sound.
The is the second method of making a capo without using rubber bands or hair ties.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Shoelace or string
Here’s how to make it:
- Place the pencil on the strings behind the fret you need to use.
- Loop one end of the shoelace or string around the one side of the pencil.
- Loop the other end of the string around the other end of the pencil.
- Pull both ends of the shoelace tight to secure the pencil in place and tie a knot in it. Make sure to tie the knot at the back of the guitar’s neck. With this method, you’ll essentially have the shoelace running across the back of the guitar’s neck twice, which will keep it in place very securely and make it extra strong.
- Test the sound of your guitar. If you’re not happy with it, untie the shoelace, tighten it, and then retie it.
Make sure the shoelace or string you are using is good quality and now fraying. We wouldn’t want it breaking on your midriff and ruining your performance.
Playing a song on a guitar using a capo is becoming more common these days, but it isn’t necessary to use a capo when playing these songs. Hopefully, the information we provided you with in this article has helped you see the alternatives to using a capo. But even more than that, you may even have learned why capos are used in the first place. Regardless, good luck on your journey to playing music, with or without the use of a capo.
If you play the guitar long enough, you'll eventually run into a situation where you have the wrong guitar for the occasion. Sometimes you may have to play an acoustic-style song—but you only have...
Most guitarists start on an acoustic guitar, then graduate to an electric. Acoustic guitars are notoriously harder to play, with high action and heavy strings. It's common to question if you're...