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Thinking in a capoed key

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Jan 10, 2019 - 4:32:31 PM
1058 posts since 1/14/2011

I have practiced quite a few years to learn scales and pockets of notes in different keys using frets as references. That means I know a bunch of G patterns, plus a decent number of D, C, B, and Bb patterns. All the rest of the keys can be played using a capo and one of the above patterns.

I don't have any patterns for other keys. When I capo at the 2nd fret and play in A, I think in G and play G patterns with different reference frets: the nut has moved and the 7th fret now becomes the 5th fret, the 9th becomes the 7th, etc. The only time I can think in A is when I am not capoed

Mike Witcher says that he doesn't do that. No matter whether the capo is on or off, he thinks in the key that is being played, whether it's B, Eb, or C#. I wish that I could do that, but every time I capo 2, I cannot equate a pattern I know in G/C/D with their equivalents in A/D/E. I guess it will just take more practice, but time is limited and I'd rather spend it improving my right hand, left hand, and repertoire.

If you successfully made the leap from what I'm doing to thinking in the key being played using a capo, I'd appreciate your advice.

Edited by - Oboe Cadobro on 01/10/2019 18:52:31

Jan 10, 2019 - 4:57:40 PM

2850 posts since 7/27/2008

I kind of see where Mike is coming from since it's an old axiom that musical keys have different "flavors." If you're playing without a capo it seems easy enough to grasp. I was rehearsing with a  group a couple years ago and the leader decided with a song we working on in D that it would be a better fit for his voice notched down a half step to Db.  I don't recall if he noticed me rolling my eyes since D is so much easier a key to play in and there is an abundance of open strings at your disposal. But after practicing it for awhile I came to appreciate the move to Db, the song took on a different vibe and it worked out nicely. 

Trying to wrap my head around this in  regarding the using a capo part.  it strikes me that it's from the Mike Witcher/Dobrolic Zen Master school. More information is needed, but Master Mike might say "Grasshopper - less information is needed."

Jan 10, 2019 - 7:47:21 PM
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913 posts since 1/10/2009

It helps me to think in the actual key I’m on, that way I don’t get lost. You just have to remember what your open chord is when it’s not the “1”. Sometimes I’ll just lapse into how I think when I’m playing steel, in the number system. I totally see where you are coming from, I did the exact same thing for years starting out on a banjo. After playing pedal steel for a long time I got away from thinking in G. Partly due to all the other chord progressions and keys you play in, but mainly because one almost never uses the opens strings on PSG. My usual mental check down before a song is to find out the key and identity the location of the chords of the number system. It helps to memorize the commonly used chords of all the keys you play in, but I’m often thinking numbers in the moment. Sorry if that’s not much help.

Jan 11, 2019 - 6:26:40 AM

406 posts since 1/29/2013

I wonder if you can clarify your post, Dane. 

You say you can only recognize patterns as they relate to their position relative to the nut, then later in the post you say you can’t do that, or at least that’s what I interpret. I’m sincerely looking to understand what you mean because I know you’re on to something.

I find I have pattens at the nut, meaning utilizing open strings that work for G, C, D. I tend to think of using those patterns without a capo not only to play in those keys but to play making ”4th home” for C or making “5th home” for D. I think most players do this to utilize open string patterns they know. The nut, capo 1, 2 and 3 now get you 12 keys, and you only have to get used to relative fret locations 3 times if you don’t count the nut.

Where the big boys hang out, they don’t rely on open strings and play melodic runs and scales strung together using bar tip, bar tip, bar tip-T-M-T all in a row. Knowing these locations on the neck makes no difference with or without a capo. These moves were a focus of Rob Ickes at a workshop I attended last year.

Is this what you mean, Dane? Thinking of letter names and locations of note groups on the neck?

Jan 11, 2019 - 7:02 AM

1759 posts since 8/3/2008

I think that when you play above the 4 or 5 chord position, especially melodic stuff above the octave the capo position becomes pretty irrelevant.

fwiw

h

Jan 11, 2019 - 7:09:16 AM

784 posts since 10/27/2013

Agree with Greg. Since almost all my playing these days is on a lap steel, I never use open strings anymore. So it is not an issue,

But when i was playing Dobro, I really worked on not using a capo at all. Doing arpeggios through out all the keys can help

Jan 11, 2019 - 8:04:21 AM

67 posts since 8/17/2015

Dane,
My first stab at the dobro was with Mike Witcher’s beginner series where he teaches major scale triads in what he calls the root shape, first inversion, and second inversion. Each one of these has the root of the triad on a different one of the three strings. Once you have that down you can learn the rest of the scale that corresponds to each shape.

Now you can play any scale, in three different positions, based on your knowledge of the root note.

It didn’t take me long to realize that within these patterns I could also identify the position of the 6th note of the scale or 2nd etc in relationship to what string I was playing it on.

Next up, Billy Cardine’s class on how to effectively memorize every note on the neck.

If I use a capo now, thinking about the capo and the G position just confuses me. I just try to stay focused on the notes I am playing and what string I am playing and where I am on the neck.

Hope this helps some.

willie

Jan 11, 2019 - 8:57:27 AM

rick b

USA

159 posts since 9/3/2014

I can appreciate this discussion and the OP's question. Last night my son came home from Berklee. I was excited to show him how I worked out the melody to I'll Stay Around. My version was very "G licks" focused; in other words the melody along with Josh-like licks or phrases. My son suggested we play it in E because he could sing it there. So, I had to adjust. It didn't go so well. I could play some of the melody on the high D string, but to me that was just too linear. And I couldn't use any of my G material. I realized that I am just not familiar with playing in E outside of staying anchored at the 9th fret.

Jan 11, 2019 - 9:24:27 AM

1058 posts since 1/14/2011

quote:
Originally posted by BrianMac

Is this what you mean, Dane? Thinking of letter names and locations of note groups on the neck?


I guess you can divide all licks into two groups: those that use open strings and those that don't. All the licks without open strings are transferrable anywhere. I guess my problem comes when using a capo. My mental map of the notes at various frets is what gets me into trouble...I haven't able to mentally move the map when I capo. My right hand can play the licks anywhere, but if I have to jump somewhere that relies on knowing what note is there, that's where I struggle.

quote:
Originally posted by rick b

My son suggested we play it in E because he could sing it there. So, I had to adjust. It didn't go so well.


How come you didn't just capo at 9?  cheeky

Jan 11, 2019 - 10:00:08 AM

406 posts since 1/29/2013

When I started thinking of scales /chords in numbers, all music got much easier. We all have different ways of processing information and applying knowledge, and for me and my style, numbers and the relative positions to the root makes more sense to process than letters, especially when you throw in the accidentals (?) required to make the “whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half” thing happen outside of the key of C.

Maybe your formal training is tripping you up to thinking of note names on the staff?

By the way, I’m not claiming to be good at this! We’re all a work in progress...

Jan 11, 2019 - 10:11:33 AM

rick b

USA

159 posts since 9/3/2014

quote:
Originally posted by BrianMac

When I started thinking of scales /chords in numbers, all music got much easier. We all have different ways of processing information and applying knowledge, and for me and my style, numbers and the relative positions to the root makes more sense to process than letters, especially when you throw in the accidentals (?) required to make the “whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half” thing happen outside of the key of C.

Maybe your formal training is tripping you up to thinking of note names on the staff?

By the way, I’m not claiming to be good at this! We’re all a work in progress...


Yeah, I agree. I'm primarily a bass player and I don't believe I could survive without thinking in Nashville Numbering. A great piano player who I toured with for a while said it best when he said "once you start thinking in numbers you begin thinking of the function of the chords and notes, and then everything starts to make sense, and much easier to memorize".

Jan 11, 2019 - 10:18:54 AM

2850 posts since 7/27/2008

quote:
Originally posted by rick b

I can appreciate this discussion and the OP's question. Last night my son came home from Berklee. I was excited to show him how I worked out the melody to I'll Stay Around. My version was very "G licks" focused; in other words the melody along with Josh-like licks or phrases. My son suggested we play it in E because he could sing it there. So, I had to adjust. It didn't go so well. I could play some of the melody on the high D string, but to me that was just too linear. And I couldn't use any of my G material. I realized that I am just not familiar with playing in E outside of staying anchored at the 9th fret.


Rick, primarily being a bass player aside, I know that you have been playing dobro for quite some time. 

I'm not going to assume what you know or don't know here - what about playing a song in the key of E with the capo on the 2nd fret, the IV chord of the key of E? Now you are essentially in Open A and the the three notes (A C# E) are all in the E major scale. I think many players will tell you it's generally a better option than keeping you bar around the 9th fret most of the time with no capo. 

Jan 11, 2019 - 10:27:07 AM

rick b

USA

159 posts since 9/3/2014

Thanks, Mark. Good idea and I should have clarified. That is actually what I did. I capoed at fret 2. I've spent enough time working with Mike Witcher on tunes in D, and some in E, that capo 2 is my first instinct when playing in E or F. Then I can find familiar "D patterns". It's once I start playing beyond fret 10 that I start to get really lost. I have a lesson with Mike next week. I think I'll add this topic to my "want to work on" agenda. I'll report back for the OP's benefit (and the rest of us).

Jan 11, 2019 - 10:41:47 AM
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2850 posts since 7/27/2008

Okay, got it -and when you have your lesson, since Mike only posts here once in a blue moon, and I have no idea if he's lurking and following this thread, can you ask him to elaborate on what he meant from Dane's original post about still thinking in a specific key even though he is capo'd?

Jan 11, 2019 - 10:44:47 AM

1058 posts since 1/14/2011

quote:
Originally posted by BrianMac

When I started thinking of scales /chords in numbers, all music got much easier. Maybe your formal training is tripping you up to thinking of note names on the staff?


I believe that you may be right...50 years of playing scales, chords, and patterns in distinct keys is hard to set aside, but I will try playing scales using mental step numbers rather than notes and see how that goes...thanks!

Jan 11, 2019 - 12:25:32 PM

406 posts since 1/29/2013

I listen to a lot of old country and bluegrass music. That type is easy to identify the 1, 2M or 2m, the 4, 5, 6M or 6m and the b7 by listening. 

For me, that brain exercise got me to thinking of numbers. When you get good at it, all you need to know is home. I think that’s how the experienced players think and that’s how they learn songs quick. 

Or not. cheeky

Jan 11, 2019 - 12:33:44 PM
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1058 posts since 1/14/2011

quote:
Originally posted by BrianMac

I listen to a lot of old country and bluegrass music. That type is easy to identify the 1, 2M or 2m, the 4, 5, 6M or 6m and the b7 by listening. 


Oh, I can do the numbers quite well for chords. It's trying to play single-note improv melodic licks where I get in trouble when capoed. My brain says "I really want to play a high C# on the 2nd string...where is that normally and now where is it with the capo?" Too long a thought process when you only have 500 ms to figure it out...

Jan 12, 2019 - 9:03:58 AM

142 posts since 11/28/2012

Interesting topic. I decided to deep-six the capo. Our band plays in a lot of oddball keys (mostly non-bluegrass). I orient myself to the key in the open position by finding the root note on strings 1, 2, or 3 (whichever gives me a convenient root note closest to the nut) and using scale steps/ nashville system from there. I also use the barre position as a reference point. I rarely “anchor” there, but i know it’s a safe harbor if i get lost anywhere on the neck during the heat of battle. If you want “those” bluegrass licks in different keys, you won’t find them this way...but i find some interesting flavors, and we don’t do much bluegrass anyhow. So yeah, i always think in the key i’m playing, without a capo, within the framework of my tuning (which happens to be Open D). But i see there are several viable ways to approach this.

Best regards,
Uncle Jack

Edited by - UncleJack on 01/12/2019 09:06:18

Jan 18, 2019 - 5:41:33 AM

rick b

USA

159 posts since 9/3/2014

quote:
Originally posted by MarkinSonoma

Okay, got it -and when you have your lesson, since Mike only posts here once in a blue moon, and I have no idea if he's lurking and following this thread, can you ask him to elaborate on what he meant from Dane's original post about still thinking in a specific key even though he is capo'd?


So, I had the lesson with Mike last night. In response to working further up the neck and increasing fretboard knowledge, he had several ideas to share. He said the first step would be to take the melody that you worked out in an open position (close to the nut using open strings when possible) and figure out that same melody up the neck. So, for example, we took the tune I was working on (I'll Stay Around in G) and moved the melody from the open position all the way up to the 12th fret and worked out the same melody there. This pattern then becomes moveable (like Dane alludes to in one of his previous posts). Since I was wanting to play it in E, we moved it to the 9th fret, and viola, I could play the melody there. Again, this was the first step according to Mike. He said it's really helpful to do this exercise with a dozen or so songs you know because it increases your fretboard knowledge and gives you a handy device to play in all keys.

From there, he started working back down the fretboard ,towards the nut, making use of inversions and eventually open strings. That part was a bit of an eye opener for me as it gave me a window into how I could begin to connect the dots across the fretboard in any key. We didn't get to the point of adding the capo to the equation, but I can see how it wouldn't be too difficult eventually to play with or without the capo using these concepts. I'll tackle more of this next time with Mike, but I can see how it makes sense to think in the key you're playing in as it relates to the chord center up the next and the inversions regardless of whether or not you're using a capo.  

Jan 18, 2019 - 2:30:19 PM

2850 posts since 7/27/2008

I went back and reread the thread from the beginning. Good posts here - but I'm still trying to wrap my head around Dane's original comment about Mike Witcher thinking in the key that is being played whether the capo is on or off.

Say you're in a band working on a song and the lead vocalist  asks if it would be cool with everyone to move the song from G to A because it's more in the sweet spot for their voice. 

If you leave the capo off and you elect to use a combination of barred and open strings then of course you're now "thinking in A" because with the guitar being tuned to a G chord - it changes everything.  

If you go for the capo at 2, I guess you're "thinking in A," but it's the same kind of thinking you were doing with no capo and the song was in G. You've just moved everything up, or two frets to "the right." There is always going to be the same 7 fret distance including the I, IV, and V chord. 

I must still be missing something here...

Jan 18, 2019 - 4:08:21 PM

rick b

USA

159 posts since 9/3/2014

quote:
Originally posted by MarkinSonoma

I went back and reread the thread from the beginning. Good posts here - but I'm still trying to wrap my head around Dane's original comment about Mike Witcher thinking in the key that is being played whether the capo is on or off.

Say you're in a band working on a song and the lead vocalist  asks if it would be cool with everyone to move the song from G to A because it's more in the sweet spot for their voice. 

If you leave the capo off and you elect to use a combination of barred and open strings then of course you're now "thinking in A" because with the guitar being tuned to a G chord - it changes everything.  

If you go for the capo at 2, I guess you're "thinking in A," but it's the same kind of thinking you were doing with no capo and the song was in G. You've just moved everything up, or two frets to "the right." There is always going to be the same 7 fret distance including the I, IV, and V chord. 

I must still be missing something here...


For me, when capoed 2nd fret for a tune in A, I am typically thinking G licks and patterns. But, with Mike's approach, I would think G licks and shapes maybe for the first 4 or 5 frets. After that I would be thinking A inversions up the neck and A scale patterns, especially based around the 14th fret. To me, if I were thinking about the distance of 7 frets between I, IV, V when capoed at 2 in key of A, then that would also be thinking in G just moved up 2 frets.

Jan 18, 2019 - 5:53:41 PM

1058 posts since 1/14/2011

quote:
Originally posted by MarkinSonoma

I must still be missing something here...


Yeah, I really don't know...best ask him yerself at the next lesson...wink

Jan 18, 2019 - 9:54:17 PM
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913 posts since 1/10/2009

I think the main thing is navigating the neck in closed positions with the capo on...the capo changes nothing! The B chord octave is at fret 16 etc. etc. So if you keep in mind the actual key you're in you won't get confused up the neck. Your open strings are all that is affected by the capo. Am I missing something?

Jan 19, 2019 - 7:35:27 AM

rick b

USA

159 posts since 9/3/2014

quote:
Originally posted by AK Slider

I think the main thing is navigating the neck in closed positions with the capo on...the capo changes nothing! The B chord octave is at fret 16 etc. etc. So if you keep in mind the actual key you're in you won't get confused up the neck. Your open strings are all that is affected by the capo. Am I missing something?


Thanks, Greg. That's the idea I was trying to convey. It's always the great players and teachers who can take the complicated and make it sound simple (and more comprehendible).

Jan 19, 2019 - 8:46:53 AM

1058 posts since 1/14/2011

quote:
Originally posted by AK Slider

I think the main thing is navigating the neck in closed positions with the capo on...the capo changes nothing! The B chord octave is at fret 16 etc. etc. So if you keep in mind the actual key you're in you won't get confused up the neck. Your open strings are all that is affected by the capo. Am I missing something?


No, I don't think you're missing anything. But when you are playing with a capo on 2 and are playing fast licks with open strings, hammer-ons, and pulls-offs, are you thinking in A or thinking in G?

Jan 19, 2019 - 10:13:52 AM

913 posts since 1/10/2009

A, because I see that’s where I am on the neck. I would have to disregard all my position markers to think in G. Banjo was my first instrument as a teen and I would always think in G, adding the capo for A, Bb etc. It was a handicap because when I would play songs in C or D without the capo my hands would want to go to the wrong place for the 1 chord or the 5 chord. Now I often just think in numbers and rely on experience to know what and where the numbered chords are for the key I’m playing in. I’d be interested to hear Michael or Orville chime in on this.

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