Monday, August 17, 2009

Capos for songwriting

I just returned from the 2009 Song School. Again an wonderful experience that I'll try to recap over the next few weeks.

I took classes with Justin Roth and Bill Nash on using capos and partial capo. Want to open up your playing, take a class from either one of them. Below is a place to start.

1) Changing the voicing - Using a normal six string capo, you can easily change the voicing of your song without changing the key. For example start playing a E A B pattern with no capos. Move the capo up 2 frets and play D G A. Move it up another 2 frets and play C F G. Same key of E, just different voicing and more flexibility in the fingering.

2) Drop D without re-tuning - You can use a drop D capo, standard capo covering only 5 stings (leaving the low E open), or a 5 string banjo capo to get the drop D sound. If you place it on the second fret, you are really playing a drop E tuning.

3) Short cut or partial capos - If you place a three string partial capo down from the top (A,D,G strings) on the second fret, you can stil play around in E with some open strings open to play with. Hint: With partial capo on two, you need to cover the base on 2 to use the Em shape. Using a Shubb capo (that is not in the way), you can also put it on the bottom (D,G, B strings).

Things get really interesting when you try alternative tunings and partial capos. Bill demonstrated a full sound and some amazing complex songs using Travis picking and just one finger. I won't try to explain, just experiment!

I immediately took our song Saturday Morning and applied this. I had been playing A, Bm, C#m without a capo. With a partial capo on 2, played G, Am, Bm. I then experimented leaving some strings open for a fuller sound. Originally the sound was OK, but using partial capos things really opened up. It was also easier to play. Thanks, Justin - I'm sold!

I see capos as a way to change the landscape of the guitar. New landscape, new possibilities for songwriting.

PS - You can see Julie and I (my best side, with purple shirt) in the front left corner of the picture on Planet Bluegrass' site I really was there!

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