Partial capo techniques & tablature notation

• Feb 5, 2021 - 23:32

Tricky topic!

I recently saw a PR in MuseScore's Issue Tracker regarding the banjo's 5th string

The 5th string is essentially a partially capoed string so I wonder if the finished concept could be applied to stringed instruments when partially capoed. The following image includes some illustrations of partial capo examples:

Banjo 5th string _ Guitar Partial Capo configs.png

Here are some of my thoughts on partial capo techniques.



A nice idea. I just had a play with 022222 and, of course, it's a pseudo drop-D tuning. How are these described at the top of score? e.g. where you might see "capo 2"

(Not sure how a capo can press B,G,D without pressing top E)

In reply to by yonah_ag

>> I just had a play with 022222 and, of course, it's a pseudo drop-D tuning.

Partial capo is a really fun exploration and it affords a creative and solid footing two worlds, if you understand the boundaries.

I usually call the pseudo drop-D effect Partial Drop-D. This means:

• The guitar is in standard tuning EADGBE

• on scores I indicate capo arrangement as a simple fret list, i.e. Capo: 022222

With this configuration:

• you have all the function of Drop-D tuning—if you only fret on the caped strings—except you're actually in the key of E. The sounded notes of the open strings are EBEAC#F#

• you have the function of Standard Tuning on any frettable note—which is not the case in Drop-D. That's why the bass note of a G chord is on the 3rd fret of the Low E string, whereas in true Drop-D that G note would be on the 5th fret. And the uncapped open strings do NOT behave like Standard tuning.

Comprehension of these realities become more essential when exploring situations with less strings capoed, like 022200.

• Standard Tuning + capo 022200 produces Partial-DADGAD, but in the key of E.

• again, the open strings and fretted notes on capoed string work exactly like DADGAD

• and simultaneously all the frettable notes act like Standard Tuning; additionally, as in the previous example, the uncapoed open strings no longer behave like Standard Tuning.

These concepts help us keep our wits when combining partial capo with alternate tunings! Here's an example.

I originally wrote Between the River and the Road in the slack key tuning CGDGBE. (…)

I soon noticed that the CGDGBE tuning is quite like G tuning, so I realized I could Capo: 002220 and lower the 6th string a whole step. The result is Drop-D Capo: 002220. And nicely, since the performance only frets notes on the capoed strings, the piece plays exactly the same whether my guitar is fully retuned to CGDGBE or in standard tuning capoed as described. The only difference is that the resulting key is a whole step higher.

Later still I discovered I could use two capos (Capo 024440). And that eliminates the need to retune any strings! I accomplish the 024440 by placing a full capo on the 2nd fret, omitting the 6th string, just like Partial Drop-D; and I put a partial capo above to attain the 444 —as shown in the following diagram. The key is now another whole step higher, but one can play the piece without any retuning.

Between the River and the Road Tunings and partial capo.png


In reply to by scorster

I like your composition - but no sign of it here on MuseScore.

I'll have to check Amazon for the specialised partial capos as my capo has no way of bridging an open string. Partial drop-D, (which actually isn't dropped at all!), is fun and reminds of the time that I first experienced an open tuning, ("Romeo & Juliet", Dire Straits, open G), as it adds a new dimension to playing.

I found this on Amazon:

In reply to by yonah_ag

>> I like your composition - but no sign of it here on MuseScore.

Thanks. I haven't yet started posting to MuseScore.

Randall Williams sent me a complimentary copy of his book when it was first published. I thought it was pretty good, but like others who write about partial capo, he never really explains how it works, or how to look at it. They'll just say the effect is "like DADGAD" or "like Open G" but then you're left to grapple with how the effect is also dissimilar to those tunings. My online article fully explains the needed perspectives.

If you're looking to explore 022200 or 002220 I recommend the Shubb CB7 capo. The Kayser capos are big and get in the way of my hand. I use a regular Shubb capo for 022222, as shown in my article.


In reply to by scorster

Guitar Pro 7 has a simple, elegant interface designating partial capo configurations, as shown in the images below.

I'll title each of the following examples using my textual capo nomenclature, where the series of numbers indicating the fret(s) capoed, from the lowest string number to the highest.

For instance, full capo 2 is written 222222—in other words all frets capped at the second fret.

The first example below can be named "Partial Drop-D" but its' cleared to specify: 022222—where the 6th string is left uncapped.

Capo: 022222

      Guitar Pro 7 - Tuning-Partial capo settings 022222.png

Capo: 022200

      Guitar Pro 7 - Tuning-Partial capo settings 022200.png

Capo: 355533

      Guitar Pro 7 - Tuning-Partial capo settings 355533.png

Capo: 557775

       Guitar Pro 7 - Tuning-Partial capo settings 557775.png

I'd like to see Musescore match this ... and go a step further by allowing multiple partial capos.

One of my original compositions Between the River and the Road can be played using partial capo: 024442.

IF Guitar Pro 7 could make this 024442 configuration it would look like this:

Capo: 024442

      Guitar Pro 7 - Tuning-Partial capo settings 024442.png

Which is also represented by the following diagram of capos on a guitar fretboard:

Partial Capo 024442 over Standard Tuning.png

When Musescore support partial capos I hopeit will go the extra step of allowing multiple partial capos!


In reply to by scorster

Musescore has implemented capo as an attribute of text elements rather than attributes of the guitar tuning setup which seems a bit odd, (you can change capo position with every note!), but it should still be easy to provide multiple capo support since it's just an alternate tuning. I guess there's not enough user requests to justify the programming effort.

In reply to by yonah_ag

yonah_ag wrote > Musescore has implemented capo as an attribute of text elements rather than attributes of the guitar tuning setup which seems a bit odd ...


yonah_ag wrote > ... you can change capo position with every note!

Yes, I'd like to see a guitarist keep up with that.

yonah_ag wrote > it should be easy to provide multiple capo support since it's just an alternate tuning

At first blush the affect of a partial capo appears to be equivalent to an alternate tuning, and it's often helpful to think that way. For instance:

Capo 022200 behaves exactly like DADGAD—though two semi-tones higher: EBEABE, essentially DADGAD capoed at the second fret—but ONLY when fretting on the capoed strings or playing any open string. Conversely it's exactly like standard tuning except when you play on the uncapped open strings; even fretted notes behind the partial capo behave like standard turning.

The full story here in an article I wrote.

That said, tablature notation is another hurdle. It would require:

• a symbol for open strings at the nut
• a symbol for open strings at any capo
• negative frets referring to frets behind the capo — OR—uniquely identifiable positive fret numbers from the nut to the nearest capo, and then restarting at the capo

I have solid ideas regarding partial capo notation, but not a full proposal.

I had only recently remembered about GP7s partial capo setting and I haven't yet delved into its approach for notating. I hope to do so soon.


In reply to by scorster

I just checked how Guitar Pro 7.5 deals with partial capo tablature. From where I stand, it's not pretty. Which is a shame because, as mentioned in this thread, the GUI for defining the partial capo is simple and elegant—a touch a panache in GP7's overall slog field.

Here's the skinny.

When notating for partial capo GP7 users must enter the "absolute" fret numbers, relative to the nut. That probably made it pretty easy for the developers, but it surely creates cognitive dissonance for guitarists. I could problem learn to read it, with momentary lapses when concentration dips.

Here's the only "partial capo" entry in the GP7 User Guide:

      GP7 User Guide - Partial capo entry.png

And indeed this is true, I mean, truly the way GP7.5 handles partial capo notation. (And kinda of humorous that the User Guide includes the caveat that a partial capo is meaningless behind a full capo.)

So, for anyone interested, I'm attaching a simple GP7.5 test file with:
• open strings
• a I chord
• a IV chord (in two voicings)
• a V chord

Partial Capo

In the attached score (on line 1) you'll see that due to the "absolute fret numbering" all the second frets sound the same as the open strings. So everything but the 3rd fret sounds like the open strings. Sure. That stands to reason from an absolute perspective: the real second fret also equals the open capoed string ... but it's not a natural or reasonable presentation for the reading guitarist.

Also in the attached score (on line 2) you'll see that that the absolute 4th fret sounds the 2nd fret above the partial capo. It's written as 4 ... but a guitarist would naturally think of it as 2. And that's not good. But everything sounds right—you can hear the I-IV-V progression.

Janky! And that's the way it is in GP7.5.

Musescore could do it better! I'm glad to advise.


The way to write the tablature is different to the 5th string of the banjo:
it is only one string and it starts at the 5th fret so in tablature it is clear that the first frettet note is fret 6.
If I take your last diagram: to write like this the easy way would be to make the 4s on string 2-4 invisible and make it to 0 (with text or a symbpl). the playback will still be ok. If we put every number down like with a capo on fret 4 what to do with string 1 ? I would recomend to seperate the notes on the real fret 0-4 (differnt colour, size ....) from the virtual frets 1 (5), 2 (6) ...

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