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Banjo Lessons: Using the Capo

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After you've been playing a while,
and particularly when you start playing
with other people,
you'll find that it's a pretty important
thing to start using a capo.
In other words, banjo players are always
playing in G cuz-
Everything's in G.
And hopefully, even though you're probably
at the more beginning level,
you're starting to think about playing in
the key of C.
But the thing is, what if you want to play
in the key of A?
Playing in the key of A without a capo is
something that you're
not gonna have to worry about for a while
In fact, you never have to worry about it
if you have the capo.
There are many different kinds of capos.
There are some kind that have a spring
action that,
kind of you squeeze it and place it on the
This one here, is in fact I'll just take
this off for
a second and hold it up for the camera.
And this is a kind that I like because it
fits right at the end of the neck,
right up by the head stock.
And this little thing comes down and
clamps on over the strings.
So this is what it looks like here.
And again, this doesn't work on all
I find that it doesn't work on my
And I love Stellings too, so it's not a
slam against Stelling,
it's just, it may not work on all banjos
that it just sits there.
But it's really handy rather than having
to reach into your pocket and
grab it and put it on.
This kind, just, you loosen up the screw
at the end, and pull it forward.
If you want to play in the key of A you
have to go up to the second fret.
And you place it, well there are a couple
of ways of doing it.
Traditionally you place it just behind the
second fret, and
then tighten up the screw at the back, to
the point where-
It's in tune but not,
you don't want it too loose or else you
get this-
That kind of sound which might be good for
some experimental kind of music but,
if you're playing bluegrass you might not
want to sound like that.
So have it just so-
So just that, that-
Buzzing sound kinda dies away.
Now, [COUGH] someone had suggested this to
me at one point and
I'd not thought of it but, the idea of,
if you get it almost on top of the fret,
it's just a maybe slightly muffled, and
then move it back just a hair-
You'll find that
you're pretty much in tune.
You don't have to re-tune cuz what happens
many times is when you capo up,
in this case, two frets-
And you start tightening it up, things
start going a little bit sharp and you
don't want things to go sharp of course.
So, but starting with it just about
actually on the fret and
then back it up just a hair.
So you're getting a real tone, and tighten
it up but not, again, not too much.
If you tighten it too much everything will
go a little bit sharp.
So that's a little trick that someone told
me, I don't know, a couple of years ago.
But you may find that you will go a little
bit sharp, and you may have to retune just
a little bit.
Okay so, besides that, 'kay, let's say
you're up in B.
I'm sorry, in the key of A at the second
Now you have the short string here, the
fifth string.
You also have to deal with that.
You have the flatted seventh.
Which gives a nice bluesy sound but it's
not gonna be much good if you're trying to
play a straight ahead bluegrass tune.
[SOUND] And there are a couple of ways of
dealing with the fifth string, or
a number of ways.
I like to use the, we call them railroad
HO model railroad tacks, and it's a very
delicate thing to deal with.
You can check Mike Munford's lessons,
his setup lessons to talk about where he
talks about that.
But what you do is you take the fifth
string, and there's one of these little
tacks just placed in the head, I'm sorry,
in the neck, in the fingerboard here.
And sometimes, depending on who puts it
the string has to come from above, down
underneath it.
Sometimes it'll be from below, and up.
But in my case it's coming down from the
And I take my middle finger with the index
behind it, and my thumb.
Middle finger and index on the left hand
and my thumb on the right hand.
Push it up, and then bring it down
underneath the fifth string
tack there at the, at the seventh fret in
this case,
cuz just as we went up two frets from the,
the nut here, you're also going up two
frets from the fifth string that in which
in this case is another railroad tack.
Sometimes it'll have a little ivoroid
that sits there like the nut up here.
Anyway, once you get it under the tack-
It's gonna,
it's probably gonna be a little bit sharp.
Cuz the tack is offset a little bit.
It's not directly under the string.
So you take all of one or two seconds-
And you're in tune.
This is what I prefer to do.
Some people
like to use a fifth string capo, which is
a metal bar that goes along the side here.
And there's a little metal piece that
slides along it, and you can tighten up
a little screw on the side so,
Let me, get off this for a second.
And you bring it to the seventh fret and
then tighten the screw on the side.
[SOUND] Or you can do B-Flat if you go up
a half step.
Or one more fret higher to the seventh
fret here, for B.
Or one more to C.
And in a way it's very easy because it
just slides right along and
you just tighten it down wherever you want
to place it.
And you don't be, you're not drilling
holes in the in the fingerboard here,
but along the side.
Pu, put a couple of holes alongside to
drill in the, the fifth string capo.
So, a lot of people use this.
Personally, I don't care for it.
Because it's extra stuff you have to do
to, for,
to bring your thumb around like this, cuz
there's this metal bar here.
And also cuz sometimes the Scruggs.
Back up you'll have your thumb wrapped
around the fifth string.
With that bar there it's a little bit
tricky, and also sometimes it covers the
dots on the side of the neck so
you know where you are.
It, it may obscure that, so for
my taste, and plus there's all this metal
stuff down here.
It's my personal thing, I'm not saying
don't do it.
Just how I feel about it.
And then there's another device which is
just a little metal clip that can
come off and come back on.
I'm not even used one of those before so,
but I know that they exist, so
that's another thought.
Now let's say you want to go into the key
of B, which is the,
a really popular bluegrass key, if there's
a man singing in the tune anyway.
You go up to the fourth fret, cuz it's G,
G-sharp, A at the second fret,
B-flat at the third fret and then B at the
fourth fret.
And then again, the fifth string capo or,
in this case the tack.
I have a railroad tack at the seventh and
ninth frets, and
you bring it out underneath-
[SOUND] The ninth fret.
And now anything you can do in regular G
You can do up here.
Now you, it just has a little more oomph
to it when you're up in B, just everything
is a li, under a little more tension and,
and it just, maybe it sounds a little more
So anyway, that was Train 45, which is
often played in the key of B.
It's just where it's played.
And especially if you're playing with
fiddle players.
Certain tunes are played in certain keys
And again, if you just want to move around
the neck,
just loosen up the screw in the back and
move this capo back down.
Or if you have a, a spring-loaded kind
then just release the pressure and
clamp it back down at the second fret.
Fiddle players, tend to play tunes in
certain keys because of the drone strings,
the open strings on the fiddle.
tunes like Cripple Creek which I've always
thought of as a banjo tune,
it's actually a fiddle tune.
And if you play with a fiddle player
they're gonna want to play it in,
in the key of A.
So you can just capo up two frets.
Old Joe Clark is another case in point.
You know, it's very nice just to play an
open G, but a fiddle player
He's gonna want to play it in the key
of A, so you're capoing up two frets.
So anyway, that's a, just an introduction
to the capo, and
its uses and and again this is when you,
playing with people,
this is when, when this comes in handy,
otherwise it doesn't matter.
Unless you're trying to learn music off of
a recording and
then to get in the same key you might
wanna, yeah, you will wanna capo up,
unless you have a little various speed
So, and again, this is mostly for playing
with other people which is what,
this whole site is about to encourage you
to do that and for
you to have enough information to be able
to play with other people,
that's where all this stuff gets really
So, anyway there's the capo.