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Partial Capo for Total Beginners (Guitar Lesson)

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Randall Williams

Partial Capo for Total Beginners

In this lesson Randall introduces the partial capo (using a short-cut capo by Kyser) and talks about how it can make the life of a beginner easier.

Taught by Randall Williams in Lessons with Randall Williams seriesLength: 12:46Difficulty: 0.5 of 5
Chord Charts

All chords in this lesson information section are played with a cut capo placed on the fifth, fourth, and third strings at the second fret. The first chart listed under each chord instructs you where to place the left hand fingers on the fret board. The second diagram for each chord is a composite of the notes fretted by the left hand and the cut capo. The numbers within the diagrams represent fret numbers NOT finger numbers.


(Strum all six strings.)




(Strum the five highest strings.)




(Strum all six strings.)




(Strum the five highest strings.)




(Strum the five highest strings.)




(Strum all six strings.)




(Strum the five highest strings.)



Lesson Overview

In this lesson and the next couple of lessons, Randall introduces the "partial capo" or "short cut capo." The information presented in these lessons is geared primarily towards people that are brand new to the guitar as well as people with disabilities. However, intermediate and advanced players can definitely pick up some fresh ideas by watching these lessons.

Lesson Objectives

-Learn how the partial capo was developed.
-Explore the numerous advantages of playing with a partial capo.
-Learn how a partial capo can be used to play basic chords with only one fretting finger.
-Play some basic folk songs that utilize the chord voicings taught in the lesson.

Additional Resources

For additional instruction, check out Randall's DVD released by the Kyser company. You can purchase the DVD here.

Additional Capo Information

Check out the following links for excellent information concerning the history of the partial capo:

Link 1

Link 2

Link 3

Using a Standard Capo / Transposition

A standard capo (one that covers all six strings) is a tool that allows you to transpose any material to a new key. Essentially, by clamping a capo on the fretboard, you are changing the location of the nut. With a capo, you are free to use basic "open" chord shapes higher on the fretboard. Since the location of the nut has changed, the location of what is considered to be an open string has changed as well.

Using a capo is especially advantageous if you are singing along with the guitar. The original key of the song may simply be too low or too high for you. In this case, you must transpose the song to a key that is more comfortable for your voice.

It is not necessary to learn new chord voicings when transposing a song to a new key. The chord voicings used for the original key of the song can still be used when playing with the capo. These voicings will simply sound higher or lower in pitch since they have been transposed to a new key. Always sing a song in the key that is most comfortable for you. This might not necessarily be a key that the song is typically sung in.

Standard Capo Use in Tablature

When a full capo is used for a song, all of the tablature numbers are written relative to the capo. Since the capo changes the location of the nut, the fret where the capo is attached is now considered to be the location of an open string.

Placement of the Capo

The way in which you clamp the capo on the fretboard is extremely important. Similar to playing slide guitar, the capo must be positioned perfectly parallel to the frets. Otherwise, your guitar will sound out of tune. Unlike playing slide however, the capo must be placed just behind the fret instead of directly on top of the fret. In addition, make sure that the capo does not bend the strings upwards. This will also cause your guitar to sound sharp.

Note: The following information about tuning issues involving a capo are taken from lesson 20 of Jim Deeming's Phase 1 Series. Please visit this lesson for more information.

Capo Problems

Playing with a capo can potentially cause tuning problems. The capo must be placed in the proper location and checked with a tuner. If it is clamped too tightly or too close to the fret, it will force the string to sound sharp. To eliminate this problem, give the strings a small tug after clamping on a capo. As a result, the strings will go slightly flat and balance out the problem. It's always a good idea to check your tuning once the capo has been clamped properly in place. Just remember that the pitch of the open string has been changed when referencing an electronic tuning device.

Partial or "Short Cut" Capos

The partial capo is a regular six string capo that has been cut so that it does not cover all six strings. Most partial capos clamp on the A, D, and G strings. However, partial capos can be attached to the guitar in a variety of different locations.

Clamping the partial capo at the second fret on the A, D, and G strings is the most common application. When the guitar is tuned to standard tuning, attaching the capo in this way produces interval relationships similar to DADGAD tuning. The same chord voicings and ideas that are used in DADGAD can also be used when playing with a partial capo. However, it should be noted that using a partial capo in the manner described above is NOT the same as playing in DADGAD tuning. Essentially, using the partial capo creates DADGAD tuning transposed up one full step. Strumming all six open strings with the capo produces the notes E, B, E, A, B, E. Together these notes form an Esus4 chord.

Other Common Partial Capos

Drop D Capo -
This capo clamps on the 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings at the 2nd fret. This produces a Drop D tuning transposed one whole step higher.

Double Drop D - This is a four string capo that clamps on the 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd strings at the second fret. Strumming the open strings results in the same notes as Double Drop D tuning. However, all of the pitches are transposed up one full step.

Partial Capo and Tablature

When a guitar part that features a partial capo is transcribed, the tablature is written as though the capo is another fretting finger. For example, if all six strings are strummed with no left hand fingers on the fretboard, the following tablature numbers are indicated in the score:


Chord Shapes with the Partial Capo

A wealth of colorful chords can be played with just one fretting finger, when a "DADGAD" partial capo is clamped on the guitar. It really doesn't matter which fretting finger you use. Choose the finger that feels most comfortable to you.

The list provided below will get you started with some basic chords. Simply fret the note at the location indicated.

3rd String / 4th Fret: Fretting this note results in an E5 chord. This chord can be used effectively as the I or tonic chord in the key of E major.

4th String / 4th Fret: Fretting this note results in a Bsus4 chord. Bsus4 provides an option for the V chord in the key of E major.

5th String / 4th Fret: An F#m11 chord is produced when this note is fretted. In relation to the key of E major, F#m11 is the ii chord.

ii V I Progression

Second only to the I IV V progression, the ii V I is arguably the most common chord progression used in folk music, rock, and jazz. Literally thousands of songs can be played with the three chords that Randall demonstrates in the lesson video.

Playing Songs

At the beginning of Scene 3, Randall demonstrates how the voicings listed above can be used to play "John B. Sails." He provides a slower performance example of the song at 01:34.

"The Water Is Wide" is another popular folk song that can be played using just a few simple chords. Randall demonstrates the progression to this song in Scene 5.

Note: Tablature and notation to all musical examples can be found under the "Supplemental Content" tab.

Strumming Rhythm

Keep in mind that a strumming pattern does not necessarily need to be elaborate in order to be effective. For example, Randall strums "John B. Sails" in a simple half note rhythm. As long as the right hand supplies a steady rhythmic feel, the integrity of the song will remain intact.

Feel free to strum either with a thumb or with a pick. However, you must be aware of the difference in tone that is produced between these two methods. Strumming with the thumb produces a much softer tone. On the other hand, playing with a pick results in a much more aggressive attack.

Additional Chord Voicings

At 01:00 in Scene 4, Randall demonstrates some new versions of the ii V and I chords in the key of E major. These voicings are slightly more challenging since they require a few additional fretting fingers. Diagrams to these voicings are provided under the "Info About This Lesson" tab. Once you are familiar with these new shapes, try playing "John B. Sails" and any other songs you may know. For example, "Country Roads, Take Me Home" can be played using these simple three chord voicings.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

lethallee61lethallee61 replied

Great teaching philosophy and creative ideas from this lesson. I saw an interview with Mark Knopfler where he said to become really good at the guitar it has to possess you - when you fall asleep at night with the guitar in your arms, then you know you're playing because you need to, not because you have to. Thanks for a great lesson. Now I just need to source some short-cut capos. BTW - nice singing voice!!

grburgessgrburgess replied

When I look at the notes of the cut capo with nothing fretted, unless I made a mistake, I get: EBEABE, with the low 6 string open, and the first 2 strings open B and E, assuming standard tuning. So then when you fret the 4th fr 3 str, a B, I am seeing the notes: EBEBBE, or an E5, which is called the 1 chord, fair enough, but it was called the D chord. I think that it should have been called the E chord. Then for the 5 chord, the 4th string, 4 fret was fretted, an F# leaving us with the notes: EBF#ABE. Since this was called the 5 chord, I'd have to assume that the F# was the 5th of B (the fifth chord of E, not D), and the A would be the dom7 of B, with E as the sus 4, giving a B7sus chord, which is fair to call the 5 chord. But for the next chord, the C# was fretted, the 5th string, 4th fret, giving the notes EC#EABE. I don't see any F# in here to call it a 2 chord, but I see the C# as the 6th of E. So I'd call this a 6 chord, not a 2 chord, some sort of C#m7 aug5, but easier to just call the 6 chord, since i Know that you like the approx method. They are beautiful chords, and I like the 1 finger approach to it, and the cut capo, but I always like to drill down to the actual notes out of force of habit. So - I did pause the video.

SodaPopSodaPop replied

just got my first cut capo looking forward to it

victorialeevictorialee replied

You are such an imaginative teacher, Randall! But how do you make or where do you buy a short capo? --Victoria

aussie twangaussie twang replied

Randall your too hard to learn from, im allways rolling around on the floor laughing :D

burbaniakburbaniak replied

I think I need a little more convincing. I just don't hear it.

Randall.WilliamsRandall.Williams replied

burb, thanks for that - you don't hear the chords, or the difference between them?

stefano ottolinistefano ottolini replied

Another simple and wonderful lesson. Thanks Randall. One question: you showed both the simple and the complete form of some chords. Could it be possible to have in the "supplemental content" section the chart of these chords? More. Could it be possible to have chords and tabs even of the previous lessons when you played some wonderful pieces? Thanks Stefano

mattbrownmattbrown replied

The chord charts for this lesson can be found under the "Info About This Lesson" tab. I couldn't do the normal JamPlay chord charts for this lesson due to the cut-capo. I'll get the tabs up for everything that Randall plays in lessons 4 and 5 as soon as I can. I'm guessing this will probably be this coming Tuesday (9/30).

blackriderblackrider replied

Wow...where do I get such a CAPO..that is cool.

gone workingone workin replied

I like the training wheels comparison. Can't wait to see how they do the supplemental. You have a great demeanor that sounds like it really coaxes into the party those people who need a quick identification with being guitarists right off the bat. Straight shot to the fun. What could be more winning. Great lesson.

Lessons with Randall Williams

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Randall Williams is a dynamic, powerful, classically trained acoustic musician who interest is found in the dynamic and relevant world of folk. One of Randall's specialties includes the style of cut or partial capo.

Useful Music TheoryLesson 1

Useful Music Theory

In his introductory lesson, Randall Williams discusses music theory in a useful and practical context. This knowledge will be required for his future lessons.

Length: 26:39 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Music Theory Part #2Lesson 2

Music Theory Part #2

Randall Williams returns with the second part of his lesson on useful music theory. In this lesson, he talks about using a capo, ornamenting chords, and the minor scales.

Length: 36:38 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Open TuningLesson 3

Open Tuning

In this lesson Randall introduces the concept of open tuning. He will talk about how open tunings work as well as how they alter your chords and scales.

Length: 31:48 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Open Tuning Part 2Lesson 4

Open Tuning Part 2

Randall Williams returns to the world of open tunings to talk about open d, open g, and open c. He also give tips on slide guitar and playing in these tunings.

Length: 41:30 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Partial Capo for Total BeginnersLesson 5

Partial Capo for Total Beginners

In this lesson Randall introduces the partial capo (using a short-cut capo by Kyser) and talks about how it can make the life of a beginner easier.

Length: 12:46 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Partial Capo Part 2Lesson 6

Partial Capo Part 2

In this lesson Randall returns to the world of the partial capo (or cut-capo). He covers additional right hand techniques and a few sample songs.

Length: 18:00 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Partial Capo Part 3Lesson 7

Partial Capo Part 3

Randall returns to the world of the partial capo. In this lesson, he talks more about playing songs and chords. He also introduces a second capo.

Length: 9:41 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Partial Capo Part 4Lesson 8

Partial Capo Part 4

Randall returns with the fourth part of his partial capo for total beginners lesson set. Randall introduces more right hand patterns and talks about playing with a disability.

Length: 11:28 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Randall's ToolboxLesson 9

Randall's Toolbox

Randall Williams shares his technique toolbox in this lesson. He explains over twenty different rhythmic patterns that can be applied to a chord progression.

Length: 27:38 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Randall's Toolbox Part 2Lesson 10

Randall's Toolbox Part 2

Randall shares part two of his toolbox mini-series.

Length: 25:47 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Partial Capo TechniquesLesson 11

Partial Capo Techniques

Randall Williams shares many new ideas in part one of his Partial Capo Techniques mini-series.

Length: 38:25 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Partial Capo Techniques Part 2Lesson 12

Partial Capo Techniques Part 2

Randall Williams shares part two of his fantastic Partial Capo Techniques mini-series.

Length: 16:30 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Partial Capo Techniques Part 3Lesson 13

Partial Capo Techniques Part 3

Randall shares part three of his Partial Capo Techniques mini-series.

Length: 19:29 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Partial Capo Techniques Part 4Lesson 14

Partial Capo Techniques Part 4

Randall Williams continues on to part four of his exciting Partial Capo Techniques mini-series.

Length: 29:34 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Partial Capo Techniques Part 5Lesson 15

Partial Capo Techniques Part 5

Randall concludes his Partial Capo Technique mini-series.

Length: 32:08 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Exploring Songs Part 1Lesson 16

Exploring Songs Part 1

Randall Williams explains and performs the song "Causeway" by Daithi Rua.

Length: 8:24 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Exploring Songs Part 2Lesson 17

Exploring Songs Part 2

Randall Williams takes a look at his original song "Stronger For Your Flame" and offers a wonderful performance.

Length: 10:18 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Exploring Songs Part 3Lesson 18

Exploring Songs Part 3

Randall Williams shares an inspiring, original song called "Draw the Line."

Length: 6:06 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Exploring Songs Part 4Lesson 19

Exploring Songs Part 4

Randall Williams shares his beautiful original tune, "Praying for Land" in this lesson.

Length: 7:50 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Exploring Songs Part 5Lesson 20

Exploring Songs Part 5

Randall Williams teaches his original song "Ghost in the Machine."

Length: 9:37 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Exploring Songs Part 6Lesson 21

Exploring Songs Part 6

Randall Williams shares his touching original song, "I Will Come For You."

Length: 8:38 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
PerformingLesson 22


After sharing many great tunes in his Exploring Songs mini-series, Randall Williams says a few words about performing.

Length: 10:29 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Short Form SongwritingLesson 23

Short Form Songwriting

Randall Williams creates a song with you from scratch in this fascinating lesson about short form songwriting.

Length: 31:18 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Singing with the GuitarLesson 24

Singing with the Guitar

Randall Williams presents his introductory lesson on singing with the guitar.

Length: 10:36 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Singing with the Guitar Part 2Lesson 25

Singing with the Guitar Part 2

Randall explores more singing topics in this lesson. He provides sample exercises and encourages you to sing along.

Length: 26:15 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Exploring Songs Part 7Lesson 26

Exploring Songs Part 7

Randall Williams shares another beautiful original tune called "Guatemala" in this lesson.

Length: 6:55 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Songwriting Part 1Lesson 27

Songwriting Part 1

Randall Williams continues his exploration on songwriting. In this particular lesson, he focuses on musicality and the creative process.

Length: 14:39 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Songwriting Part 2Lesson 28

Songwriting Part 2

Randall Williams continues his discussion on musicality and creating songs.

Length: 23:34 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Songwriting Part 3Lesson 29

Songwriting Part 3

Randall continues his discussion on songwriting in part 3 of his songwriting mini series.

Length: 21:06 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Songwriting Part 4Lesson 30

Songwriting Part 4

Randall Williams concludes his mini-series on songwriting in this lesson.

Length: 13:24 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Randall Williams

About Randall Williams View Full Biography He felt that classical music lacked the inclusiveness of folk music, and that the inevitable division between performer and audience was unbearable. And so Randall returned to the world of traveling with his guitar, writing songs in train stations and sleeping on couches, then singing and playing on street corners, cafï, and pubs. For a time he lived aboard a 20' sailboat that he bought for $800, teaching himself how to sail by single-handing through the Baltic and North Seas with his guitar sleeping in the berth beside him at night. He wrote a book about the trip, which begins with the story of almost getting squashed by a tanker before dawn one morning in the North Sea.

He moved to North Africa, then set off across the Sahara by hitching with locals - bouncing through a minefield on the way that made his mother have bad dreams. He loved the adventure, but he missed the music.

In 2005, Randall returned stateside to scrounge up a career as a performing songwriter, hoping it wasn't too late. So far, it hasn't been. As the "Partial Capo Guy," Randall has written two books for Hal Leonard, recorded a DVD for Kyser Musical Products, and given workshops at some of the biggest festivals in United States. As a performer, Randall has been a finalist in the Founder's Title and Mid-Atlantic Song Contests, A regional finalist at Kerrville, a showcase artist at Northeast and Midwest Folk Alliance, and at the International Folk Alliance in Memphis, and an Audience Favorite at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. His 2007 live release, "One Night in Louisiana" made a respectable dent in the folk DJ charts (One single, "Lebanon," was #8 in May,) and he's generally a nice guy to have around, capos or not.

Randall is as much at home in a Bangkok slum or a Senegalese village, at the Kennedy Center in D.C. or the Fine Arts Palace in Brussels sandwiched between a twitchy orchestra and a full house, or shoeless on the floor of your living room. Randall has sung in a dozen languages in over 35 countries.

Lynne Andrews: "When Randall left the confines of classical music largely behind, they lost a great talent, but the world gained a good friend - a friend who will tell its stories with grace, compassion, humility and humor."

Randall began playing guitar seriously in 1988, and played his first open mic one year later. Randall kept playing and learning more and more. Randall began teaching guitar in 1992, while studying musical composition, analysis, and performance. Randall got his undergraduate music degree in 1996, then studied flamenco for about a year (1997) before beginning studies at the royal conservatory of music in mons, belgium.

From 1998 to 2001, Randall studied voice, analysis, and harmony at the conservatory, with classical guitar lessons on the side for about 6 months. Randall's undergraduate study and the conservatory courses added a degree of musical structure to his improvisational ability, and gave him a strong music theory base. He recieved the premier prix for concert singing from the conservatory in 2001.

Randall's most recent discoveries: how to build a structure for creating chords in open tunings, and learning how to structure placement of partial capos in standard and alternate tunings.

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