What we’re going to do is jump down in pitch by changing the chords of the song so that the song is in a much lower key. Then we’ll use the capo to refined the change by putting it on one fret at a time until we’ve raised it to the right key.
This is where a brief lesson in changing the key of a song will come in handy.
A simple definition of the key of a song would be the note or chord that sounds like the tonic or home. In other words, a place of rest on that note or chord. Using notes and chords from the scale for that key established the key.
Let’s use the key of G as an example. A song in the key of G would have a melody composed of notes from the G scale. Chords would come from notes from the G scale. It’s also common, but not absolute, to begin and end the song on the tonic chord… In this case the G chord.
To jump down to a lower key I would pick a key that’s quite a bit lower and still easy to play on guitar. Then I would change all the chords to match the new key. One way to do this would be to count the distance from the old chords to arrive at the new chords.
Here’s an example. Let’s use a song that in the key of G and uses the G chord, the C chord in the D chord. I want to jump down to the key of D.
Here’s a quick review of the musical alphabet.
And then starts over again.
We’re going to go down 3 notes. We will be going down from G, to F, E, and arrive at D.
Now for the G chord you would use the D chord instead.
For the original C chord you would countdown three notes…
C, to B, A and then to G.
Now will do the same thing for the final chord in our song… The D chord.
Counting down we go from D, to C, B and arrive at A.
The new chords for our song are the D chord, the G chord, and the A chord.
We can now say we have transposed, or changed, do the key of D.
That’s cool. Now we know how to transpose a song.
Now I would test it out and see if in fact this is too low. If it is I would start putting my capo on one fret at a time until it seemed about right.
For example… If I put my capo on the first fret I would now be raising the pitch by one half step. I can also say I’ve raised the key from D to D sharp.
If I put the capo on the second fret I’ve raised it up to have steps, or to the key of E.
But what if, after transposing the song to the key of D, it still seems to high?
One of the things I could do is to transpose the song to an even lower key. In this case I could transpose the song to the key of A. For practice let’s do that transposing exercise one more time.
Here’s the musical alphabet again
Starting from the G chord again I could count back six notes to get to A.
Another way to do this would be to count up one note. Since the musical alphabet goes in the cycle counting up one note is the same as counting back six. For me it’s easier to count up… So let’s do that in this example.
For the original C chord let’s go up one note to D…
For the D chord we’ll go up to E.
The new chords for our song are the A chord, the D chord, and the E chord.
We can now say we have transposed, or changed, do the key of A.
Again I could use my capo to raise from the key of A by half steps until the sound is at the pitch I want.
If I put the capo on the first fret I would raise the pitch by one half step… or to the key of A sharp. If I went with two frets I would be at the key of B.
On the third fret I would be at the key of C. Remember there’s only one half step between the B and C.
It’s one thing to understand something intellectually but another to actually use it. Here are three exercises that will help you integrate this understanding. You’ll get the chance to play and hear the effect of using a capo.