The ‘Ukulele Capo: How to Change Keys With Ease

When you clamp a capo onto your ‘ukulele you are essentially changing the functional tuning. This can be handy for playing a picking part in a different key from what you know it in. Instead of fumbling around and trying to relearn the part, just slap on the capo.

A capo is an accessory that clamps across the strings acting as a “movable nut”, stopping the strings on a certain fret. The most commonly used capo for the ukulele when the “old school” was in session was the Kyser banjo/mandolin capo. It is the perfect size for the ukulele’s four strings. Nowadays there are more options.

Ukulele CapoUsing a capo is considered “cheating” by a lot of people (me included, most of the time). It is not to be used as a substitute for learning chords and keys. But it will save your butt when you are called up onstage to play a song in F# that you usually play in F. Use it as a creative device to make something impossible possible.

Using a capo is easy. You just have to think of it as a movable nut. Clamp it on the fret you will use for the key you are playing in, and just play chords or picking from a key you know. You can play in G using chords from the key of F if you put the capo on the second fret. Using chords from the key of C, you can play in the key of D (with the capo still on the 2nd fret). And so on…

Transposing With a Capo:

There are only a few “key shapes” that will be used with a capo, so figuring out where it needs to be and what shapes to play should be pretty easy. Here are some common capo “chords to keys“.

1st fret – E becomes F, D becomes Eb, Bb becomes B, A becomes Bb, etc…
2nd fret – C becomes D, F becomes G, A becomes B, G becomes A, D becomes E, Bb becomes C, etc…
3rd fret – C becomes Eb, F becomes Ab, G becomes Bb, A becomes C, D becomes F, etc…

For example, if your friends are going to play Ulupalakua in A, but you only know it in F. No biggie. Put your capo on the 4th fret and play along. Use this opportunity to get familiar with the chords you are playing (the actual chord names, not just the shape). If you learn the chords as you go along, next time you need to play the song in A you will know it.

Favorite Capo Moment:

My favorite use of a capo on the ‘ukulele is by James Hill playing backup for Anne Janelle on her song Good Lover. He’s playing in a key that is comfortable for Anne to sing in. Without the capo he’d have to work a lot harder. He’s tuned in D – A D F# B and the capo takes him up another two frets.

Here’s a tab for the riff: