Guitar capos can be useful, but relying on them too much will severely limit your understanding and knowledge of the fretboard. You can play any song on the guitar without a capo, in its original key, and you should know how to play any song in any key without a capo. Developing this skill will unlock your full potential as a guitarist and musician, which is what I'll be showing you in today's lesson!
Before You Begin:
Download my free resources to guide you along!
Musical Concept: Movable Chord Shapes
The key to playing any song in any key on the guitar, without a capo, is to use movable chord shapes. What are movable chord shapes? As the name suggests, these are chord shapes that can be moved up or down in pitch by retaining the left-hand fingering shape while sliding it up or down the neck.
This is opposed to open chord shapes, which make use of open strings and hence are normally played on the first three frets of the guitar. The magic happens when we take the five basic open chord shapes, C-A-G-E-D in both major and minor, turn them into barre chords, and shift them up the neck. These allows us to play any chord using any of these five shapes!
To help you understand this, I've put together a chord position guide that you can download right here!
Musical Example: 'Be Exalted, O God'
When I arrange fingerstyle guitar pieces, I like to challenge myself to arrange it in the original key, no matter what it is. In arranging the song 'Be Exalted, O God', it was in Bb major, not a particularly guitar-friendly key.
Still, I was able to do it by applying the concept of movable chord shapes. Looking just at the first verse, the chords Bb, Eb, Gm, Dm/F, are difficult if not impossible to play in open position. But I simply make use of open chord shapes and move them up the neck to achieve these 'difficult' chords!
Musical Exercise: Moving Up The Neck
Our musical exercise for today is simply to get used to moving the five open chord shapes C-A-G-E-D up to the fifth fret.
Start first with the basic open chord, change your fingering to free up the index finger, then move up the exact same fingering shape five frets to reach your new chord!
Work on mastering these five movable chord shapes and you'll be well on your way to unlocking the entire fretboard, enabling you not only to play any song in any key without a capo, but also equipping you with a variety of different ways to play the same song.
This flexibility in playing the same song multiple ways will complement your musicianship development. As your artistic and creative mind develops, movable chord shapes will provide you the tools to express your music exactly the way you want to.
Do leave a comment with any questions you might have and I'll do my best to answer them. Follow along my musical journey on my YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and website neilchanmusic.com as I share new music videos and lessons on those very music videos, each and every week, to help you along your own musical journey.
Until next time, I'll see you again!
By Neil Chan