I have a website that allows you to transpose songs and will generate the appropriate chord charts. In doing so, I have come across a question I can't find an answer to with regards to using a capo to change keys.

If I want to play in the Key of D Major, but what to use Key of C Major shapes (common when playing a Ukulele in Standard / C tuning), I'd put a capo at the second fret (+2 semitones). Thus, my C Major chord shape is phonating the D Major chord's pitches (these examples are for a Ukulele in Standard / C tuning).

C Major becomes D Major

Note the pitch names for each string have changed, but the shape name is still the same. This is what people want when using a capo (same chord shape, different pitches).

Typically chord charts show a thick dark line at the top indicating the nut, but for capoed shapes, I use a hashed line. It serves the same purpose, but is visually different.

Further, sometimes shapes are so far up the neck of you don't see the nut in the chart, so I have to indicate which frets are visible. For example, here is a C Major chord up at the 7th fret.

C Major Chord at the 7th fret

Note, that the top of the chart indicates a thin line because it is not the nut.

Ok, here is my question. When displaying a chart using a capo for a chord shape far enough up the neck so the nut doesn't show which fret number do I display? Do I display the physical fret on the neck of the instrument or the number of frets above the capo?

Fret 7 or Fret 9?

In this example, I am capoed at the 2nd fret, so I am phonating a D Major chord, but which fret number should be displayed? Fret 7 because I am 7 frets above the capo (similar to be being 7 frets above the nut if no capo was there)? Or Fret 9 because I want to fret at the 9th fret physically on the instrument? Make sense?

Thanks for your expertise!

  • 1
    As a guitar player you are very much used to indicate the 12th fret with 2 double dots and the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th fret with one. If you would put a capo at the second fret and indicate now 12 it will be pretty confusing which one is actually used. Instinct leads you to the 2 double dots. Also, the absolute count of frets on a guitar does not change using a capo.
    – Jürgen
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 19:57

1 Answer 1


A capo changes the transposition of the instrument, and all notation should be written as if the capo is the nut. Note there is an accepted way to indicate that chord boxes are not at the nut. It’s with a Roman numeral indicating the fret number at the top of the chord box (not the lowest fret that is fingered).

The correct way to write a chord box for the C chord played at the seventh fret without a capo is to put a Roman numeral VI at the side of the chord box aligned with the top line of the chord box. If you want that to be a D because of the capo, then it’s still a VI at the side of the chord box because the capo is the new nut and counts as fret zero for all notation.

Personally I think the string names should never be changed when notating with a capo because that makes it seem like a different tuning is being used. I find most of your examples hopelessly confusing.

Side note: I thinking “sounding” is commonly used instead of “phonating” in English. The sounding pitch is what you hear, which isn’t always the same as the written pitch.

  • Thanks for the response. It makes a lot of sense that the capo becomes "fret 0" as it becomes the new nut. In all of my experience, I have never see any chord chart (chord box) use a Roman Numeral to indicate the top fret. Ever chart book I've seen (Hal Leonard books and many others) all use the notation as I have used above where the second fret (not the top most fret) is marked with a number and the text "fr" (ex "7 fr"). I'm not saying you're wrong, but can you point me to where you've learned this notation method? Thanks! Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 16:55
  • The roman numerals are seldom used today, and more often found on scale charts.
    – Jürgen
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 19:58
  • @jürgen Right. The main use of Roman numerals is for scale degrees. They are also used for the Nashville numbering system (which is just a simplified scale degree system). I’ve never seen them used for fret identification. Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 1:06

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