I'm singing Bella ciao (an Italian song) with 4 chords:

Am E A7 Dm

The problem is that I find it very low to me, so I tried to barre the 5th fret with my index finger and play the usual chords with my other fingers and it sounds good.

My question is:

Do I need really to replace my index finger by a capo or do I need more exercise on the 5th fret? (I find the playing on the 5 fret hard and the sound not really clear because of my index finger barre)

More general:

What are the cases when the capo becomes indispensable?

8 Answers 8


There is nothing wrong with using a capo, if it makes the sound you want.

Having said that, the barred shapes you are using are pretty simple ones, and it will be worthwhile learning to play them without a capo.

In your example you are raising the pitch of the whole song by 5 semitones.


  • The Am becomes a Dm
  • The E becomes an A
  • The A7 becomes a D7
  • The Dm becomes a Gm

Most people choosing to barre the shapes for this set of chords would play the A/D7/Dm on the fifth fret. But rather than play a Dm shape barred on the 5th fret (tricky!) to get the Gm, they'd play a Em shape on the 3rd fret. Not using a capo gives you the freedom to move your barre around.

But you could also play the song using the standard shapes for those chords; it will sound different from the song with the capo, since these are different voicings of the same chords, but it will harmonise properly. It will be up to you which version you prefer.

Because it contains both an A and an Am this isn't a very common set of chords. However, A, D and E are the 1st, 4th and 5th in the key of A, and I, IV, V is a very common set of chords, so it's worth remembering what they are in various keys:

  • C, F, G
  • D, G, A
  • E, A, B
  • F, Bb, C
  • G, C, D
  • A, D, E

So you can try your song in at least 6 keys without using a capo, for example using Em, E7, Am and B. Some keys will need a barre for certain chords; others won't.

A capo becomes indispensable when you want to transpose chords that can't be played without open strings.


When you use a Capo you basically just change the key the song is in, in this case you go up 5 frets. This means you are not playing Am E A7 Dm anymore, but Dm A D7 Gm. You can play these chords now whereever you're comfortable, and sing as you would play with a capo in the 5th fret. This process is called transposition (you find a brief explanation here, there's also a useful chart), and basically just means move a song up or down x notes. If anything is not clear just ask :-)


Use capos all you want! However, you do need to learn and get comfortable with barre chords. As chiou wu said, in your case of you liking how all of the chords sound with the 5th fret barred down, then you're better off using the capo.

As aforementioned, it is important to be comfortable with barre chords as well as movable chords that are not barred. The capo is indispensable when you want to play in weird keys on the guitar like Ab or something. Not that it's impossible to play without a capo, but it is a whole lot more comfortable putting a capo on the 4th fret and playing the same way you'd play a song in E.


The capo is an accepted addition to a guitarist's armory. It's not cheating to use one. The sound from most guitars is crisper when using a capo on 'open' strings that need to be moved up the fingerboard. If you're playing, for instance, the Dm chord, and hammering on the top string from open to first fret, it sounds effective (and good) open, but try doing it with some sort of barre. The better way would be, as you say, to capo on the appropriate fret, and use the same shape to hammer on from.

All this is not saying use a capo instead of learning to barre properly, but there's no mileage in struggling when a better alternative - ease of playing and clearer produced sound- exists.


If you're using a capo for one specific song it doesnt matter. You wont have to depend on a capo for another song that you like in its original key.

Using the capo is the perfect solution to your problem of the song sounding too low.


You definitely don't need to use a capo in this case, what you should really do is learn the barre chords so that you're not dependant on a tool.

That said, whether you want to or not is up to you. I'm not a big fan of capo's because I feel like they're somehow cheating unless you need the open strings moved up a few frets.

Capo's become indispensable in cases where the chord shapes they make are impossible otherwise.

  • Playing a whole song with a continuous barre on the same fret seems crazy! I doubt anyone would want to do it, except for some sort of extreme "workout".
    – anatolyg
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 16:17
  • Like I say, it depends on the particular chord. For the chords described above I don't think it would be too difficult once you have your barring down. Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 16:39
  • there's a tough one in Leonard Cohen's 'suzanne' where you need to barre an F# minor at the 2nd fret, which can be a nightmare if you're articulating every note Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 16:40
  • 1
    If you want to call yourself a guitarist, you need to be able to barre an F#m on the 2nd fret.
    – slim
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 17:12
  • I think that's the definition in the wiki @slim Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 17:22

There exists a system, called by different names…most often CAGED, because it employs the C, A, G, E and D open chord forms with either partial or full barring and/or dampening. It is useful for transposing and also for playing a song in any key and any position.

Blues players often use their thumb on the E string, but my hands are quite small and it has taken me a long time to develop the strength and stretching to accomplish it correctly. Jazz players comp sixth, ninths, diminished and augmented chords in the same manner.

Most lead improvisation works from this same basic technique without the use of capos. As the others have said, it is a matter of preference and I believe that players that sing well and play along use them to good advantage. James Taylor is a good example.

I don't sing because I have no range and a bit of a tin ear….but I do thoroughly enjoy playing and I don't use a capo most of the time. I also don't use open tunings much, except when I play slide, which is pretty rare, too.

I play because I enjoy it and I do not enjoy performing. I would recommend that you study the theory and the CAGED system if you want to play in the key you sing in without using a capo because the capo limits your range of notes, whereas systems like CAGED give you the entire neck and you will have a chord available in every key and position…with practice.


With your example the chords happen be as easy to play in D minor. However, if your voice demands a capo on, say, from first to fourth or sixth fret, you should use one. Singing is hard enough. You can build your muscles with barres during instrumental numbers.

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