How to prepare song charts with capo involved?

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by GottaPracticeMore, Mar 26, 2015.

  1. GottaPracticeMore

    GottaPracticeMore Member

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    One of my 'jobs' for our group is to prepare the sheet music we initally use to prepare the songs. Typically I write down the song structure (Intro/verse/chorus/bridge/verse, etc.) and indicate the chord changes. In general this is pretty straightforward - a progression will look something like: E A B.

    When we start using capos, things get complicated. I'm unsure whether to write: E A B (Capo II) or indicate the actual chords used: F# B C#.

    The singer always uses a capo, I often just use bar chords without a capo, the drummer doesn't care. :)

    I'm starting to find it easier just to leave the simple chord shapes, and indicate something like: "Key of F#, voicing E A B (Capo II). I also want whatever song charts I prepare to be easily read by bassists and friends stopping by to play. Is there a standard way to note the chords when using a capo? Thanks.
     
  2. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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    I've seen it done both ways but personally I'll take the real chords. Having transposed capo parts is a mess especially when you want to communicate with other musicians about the music.
     
  3. JonR

    JonR Member

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    I don't think there is a standard way. As with all notation, it has to be designed for whoever is going to be reading it.

    For my students (beginners and intermediate), I used to prepare parts - both notation and tab - with notation in concert and tab measured from the capo (ie capo fret = 0). But that became too confusing, especially if I added chord symbols. Either there'd be two sets of chord symbols in different keys, or the concert chord symbols wouldn't match the tab.
    (And tab measured from the nut made little sense, because an open string wouldn't be "0".)

    But I soon realised that - for that kind of guitar music (commonly fingerstyle) - capo position is arbitrary anyway. It's a matter of choosing shapes (including open strings) that are easy to play, and then putting the capo where the key is easy to sing. So the capo position depends on who's singing it. Another singer/guitarist would (ideally) place the capo where it suited their voice, while keeping the guitar shapes and patterns.
    So it makes best sense (in that scenario) to treat the capo fret as zero, in both the notation and the tab.
    That's now how I prepare my parts - for my students as well as any professional commissions: written as if there is no capo, just adding a note to say "capo fret [n] for original key". That focusses on the critical guitar part, and allows the player to set the capo where they like - to play along with the original, or change the key for their voice if they want.

    Naturally this means the vocal notation will appear lower than the original vocal - and in some cases (deep male vocals) I raise the octave to save space (and make a comment accordingly). The only problem I get is with my notation software playing back in that low key (I could fiddle with the settings to transpose it, but it's not a big issue).

    In a band, it's different, for various reasons:
    1. How much does the singer know (or care) about what actual key they are in?
    2. If they also play guitar, are they in the habit of choosing a capo fret freely to suit their voice, or do they always try to sing in the original key? (The singer in my band does the latter, and never uses a capo, even when it would suit his voice...)
    3. Does the song depend on specific guitar figures that require open and fretted strings together in certain patterns that only work in open position, and therefore demand use of a capo if the singer can't manage the open position key?
    4. Are there other musicians (bass, keys) in the band for whom only the concert key matters? (Or horn players, who need a transposed part anyway?)

    Eg, in your example of E-or-F#, I would guess the singer wants (or needs) to sing that song in F#, but the guitar part needs to be played with E-A-B shapes.
    If this is true, I'm guessing there would be notation and/or tab too for that guitar part.
    If not - if you only need to write chord symbols - why the need to specify a capo position? Why not just write in concert (F#) and let the player choose their capo position? (2 for E, 4 for D, 6 for C...)
    Would your singer (or another guitarist) not know how to do that?

    The bassist, meanwhile - I'm presuming he/she doesn't use a capo! - will need a part in concert anyway. So the question is, do you need different parts for the different musicians? (To hold the guitarists' hands about where to put the capo?)

    In short, the only reason - in a band situation - where I'd see a need for parts done the way I generally do them - in capo key, not actual key - is when there is a specific written guitar part (in either notation or tab) that needs to be played note for note, with the original sound. (Thankfully, my band is not like that. Any specific guitar parts are my job, and I learn them by heart anyway.)

    Writing in a capo key is the same thing as writing a transposed part for a horn player. Eg, an alto sax player is like a guitarist who has a capo glued to his 3rd fret. For him, if you want him to play in C, you'd need to write a part in A. The alto sax player doesn't need to know the concert key is C - he knows, but doesn't need his part to say so (it's not relevant); he just plays "in A" as he sees/feels it, and it sounds like C to the rest of us. That's standard transposition.
    Of course, guitar is a little different in that we can take a capo off!
     
  4. Flyin' Brian

    Flyin' Brian Member

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    It depends (once again!) on the player's knowledge of the fretboard.

    You can either write E - capo 4th fret. or C - capo 4th fret if the player only knows "cowboy" chord shapes. It's very common with singer/songwriters to have very little actual guitar knowledge...people like James Taylor and Paul Simon notwithstanding.
     
  5. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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    Number charts work well too.
     
  6. sidneystreet

    sidneystreet Member

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    I am also a longtime bass player. Routinely I must play from guitar chord charts with capo indications. They are always named as if the chords were to be played in open position. Confidently transposing on the fly is just par for the course.
     
  7. GottaPracticeMore

    GottaPracticeMore Member

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    Thanks for the comments! It's pretty obvious there is no one-size-fits-all solution for notation.

    JonR mentioned that "As with all notation, it has to be designed for whoever is going to be reading it." Since I'm preparing it mainly for myself, knowing which chord shapes to use are very important, so I'll just stick with the approach "Key of F#, voicing E A B (Capo II)."

    I realize this makes things a little difficult for non-capo users such as bassists, but I figure if I put in hours preparing the sheets, it's not too much to require that they either transpose the notes on the fly like sidneystreet mentioned above, or spend 10 minutes going through the sheets transposing the chords in advance.
     
  8. cram

    cram Member

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    If you think a capo clouds and confuses a situation for sheet music - try being a sax player.
    :)
    I don't envy them sometimes.
     
  9. JonR

    JonR Member

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    I'd agree, but it does depend on the bass player. Sometimes, it takes less time to prepare a concert part for the bass player than it does to explain to him how to transpose a capo'd part.... ;)
     
  10. JonR

    JonR Member

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    It's not generally them that have the problem. They're used to the transposing nature of their instruments. It's the arrangers who have the headache, having to remember all the different transpositions (and ranges) for the different horns. The sax players (etc) only have to read their parts (and trust the arranger's got it right...).

    Naturally, they hate guitarists and their preference for sharp keys like E and A, which are a pain for horn players (whose parts have to add 2 or 3 sharps to the concert key).
    When a guitarist has an awkward key - hey, he can use a capo! a versatile transposing tool! (if he's too lazy to work without). The sax/trumpet etc player is stuck.
     
  11. Megatron

    Megatron Member

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    Some times I just do it by the shape. Especially if I think it might get transposed again to a different key at a rehearsal or show.
     
  12. ohiomatt33

    ohiomatt33 Member

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    If I'm reading a chart someone else has prepped (someone ELSE made charts ahead of time?!?) I'd like to see the actual notes. I prefer to not play with a capo if I can avoid it.

    Number charts are nice too, just put what key the song is typically in at the top of the chart. I play fill-in gigs with an artist who will go back and forth of keys of certain songs each night depending on how his voice doing. Number charts are nice for that.
     
  13. bayAreaDude

    bayAreaDude Member

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    Nashville numbers all the way.
     
  14. GottaPracticeMore

    GottaPracticeMore Member

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    How do Nashville numbers work when you want to indicate specific chord shapes?
     
  15. bayAreaDude

    bayAreaDude Member

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    They can't, because those would be different for each key and the point of this system is to agnostic of a key.

    The only way I've ever seen a particular chord shape noted in any kind of notation is the fretboard with dots and that's always for one particular key.
     
  16. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Nashville numbers - like chord symbols - are for those who know how to choose their own shapes.
    If you want a specific chord shape (voicing) you need to notate it (or maybe use tab, if you want a clumsier system).
    The only kind of chord symbol that specifies voicing in any way is slash chords - and even those are really just a combined symbol for guitarist and bass player.
     
  17. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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    Numbers (been around before Nashville was country BTW) can indicate inversion just fine. Yep, they require understanding of basic harmonic theory.
     
  18. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Ah, those kind of numbers....;)
     
  19. GottaPracticeMore

    GottaPracticeMore Member

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    Ok, so let me take this well-known progression as an example, and express it in what seems to me as 'standard' notation:

    G D/F# Em Em F C D

    Wait a sec - the singer says he needs it a whole-step higher.

    I have a couple of choices:
    1) I can just CAGED the whole thing, and notate: A E/G# F#m F#m G D E

    Benefit: These are the actual notes played (good for bassists/non-capoists)
    Disadvantages: a) I wouldn't know how to play unusual voicings like E/G# on the fly
    b) If the singer says, 'Actually, I need it only 1/2 step higher' I've got to replace all the chords with the new chords, which is a pain.

    or 2) I can stick with the 'standard' notation, and indicate the key and capo position: Key of A / Capo II G D/F# Em Em F C D

    Advantages: Uses preferred chord voicings, minimizes re-writes
    Disadvantages: Complicates things for non-capo users

    or 3: I can notate with Nashville numbers (1st time ever, so I hope I don't make a hash of the whole thing):

    The basic progression: Key of G: 1 5/7 6- 6- b7 4 5
    Whole-step higher: Key of A: 1 5/7 6- 6- b7 4 5

    Advantages: Seems to minimize the amount of notation needed, can easily shift keys
    Disadvantages: dunno. Guess it takes some getting used to. Might get some flak from other guitarists used to standard notation.

    In the key of G, the F chord is expressed as 'b7'. So how does one notate say 'F7' or 'F9'. Do they become b77 and b79? Seems a bit strange.
    Maybe someone can post some typical progressions using Nashville numbers?
     
  20. GaryOz

    GaryOz Member

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    Hi, I just thought I'd add a few things here. I work quite a bit with capo charts and I usually prefer to just have the chart written normally and add "Capo X" to the top as a note for myself. I don't need to pretend the chord is an open shape. If you know the fretboard just capo where you can take advantage of the open shapes, doesn't take much getting used to. I find this is best if you are improvising at any point in the song, as you move away from the open chords you are still in the same key further up the neck. If you are reading a TRANSPOSED CAPO chart then you have to do a quick mental transposition to work up there, too much to think about when you are improvising.

    When recording often a Capo part can be added to give another register on acoustic parts, for example Guitar 1 G (1st pos Open) Guitar 2 Capo 5 (D shape at 7th fret). Much easier if you can do this on the fly.

    There are times when a Transposed Capo Chart is preferable if it is just the part and nothing else, I use both. It's important to clearly mark a "Transposed Capo Chart" not just to use "Capo chart", saves any confusion.

    Hope this helps,

    Gary
     

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