I want to play a 2nd guitar part using triads & others are using open chord shapes with capos

I am new to this and have no idea if this is the right place to post this or maybe it’s such a daft question I shouldn’t be asking it. Here goes.
I jam with other players who play in the first position, I want to play triads to add some variety however when they add a capo at the second or third fret to get the pitch for their voices, I get lost. Is there a clever way of finding the positions or transposing to the key they are playing.

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Good for you! Comping is how I got started learning the fret board and eventually got invited to play on some Sunset Blvd bar gigs with a friend pre-COVID.

Learn your triads, the notes on the fretboard, some scales, and you are free of a capo altogether even if the other players are using one. It can seem like 3D chess at first but you’ll get the idea if you work through it.


  1. Learn your triad shapes and how they are movable and what they become across the neck. You can comp any song.
  2. At the very least get the major and minor pentatonic scales under your fingers. You can play fills and solos on anything.
  3. Learn the chords in a key. You can feel/see/hear/anticipate where to go musically.
  4. Ask what key the song is in – if they don’t know you can still figure it out based on an understanding of triads. Example: Capo 1 D major is an Eb, etc.

Hopefully this is helpful and not overwhelming. :slight_smile:

Thank you, yes a bit overwhelming. I know a few triad shapes and some scales but am unsure how to use them for example a tune in C, F, G, Am. I can arpeggio the triads but when the others are playing C should I play C major scale. Not surreal what you mean about learning the chords in a key. Sorry to be a bit dim.

You could or play C major pentatonic 2 less notes to deal with.
When the song goes to the F play Cminor pentatonic. Over the G and Am play the C Major pentatonic. On the Am target the note A.

You can also just use the chord tones in the triad you’re playing and add a few adjacent notes which would basically be changing scales with the changes.
If you get lost fall back on the good old Cminor pentatonic. Beware it will sound Bluey which could be a good thing or note.

There are no short cuts.

  1. Search the forum for triad discussions. @Richard_close2u has some great postings on this subject.
  2. Search the forum on “chords in a key.” Sir Justin has a lesson on this subject, and there are plenty of discussions as well.
  3. Do the work. You can do it. Good luck!

Hello @rosdav and welcome to the community.

What a great situation to be in and playing around with triads (plus 6ths, scale fragments, etc.) is a fine way to add a 2nd guitar part to singing / strumming by others.

It is most useful to know several things here:
The Note Circle: The Note Circle | JustinGuitar.com
If you know the chord progression by chord shapes and think of their names based on the root notes of those shapes, the note circle can be used as a quick reference. You count clockwise as many jumps as are needed to match the capo position.
chord progression (by shape):

| C | Am | G | Dm | F | G | G7 | C |

capo position: fret 3

using the note circle and counting 3 clockwise jumps:

C → Eb
Am → Cm
G & G7 → Bb & Bb7
Dm → Fm
F → Ab

The chord progression in actuality is:

| Eb | Cm | Bb | Fm | Ab | Bb | Bb7 | Eb |

Another approach is to know the chords in a key, along with major scale kwedge across multiple keys, and be able to label chords using Roman numerals. Major chords are assigned upper case and minor / diminished lower case.
Again, starting with the chord progression (by shape):

| C | Am | G | Dm | F | G | G7 | C |

| I | vi | V | ii | IV | V | V7 | I |

With a capo at fret 3, C becomes Eb. You need to know the notes of the Eb major scale:

Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb

You can then list the corresponding diatonic chords:

Eb, Fm, Gm, Ab, Bb, Cm, Ddim, Eb

You can then use the listed progression in Roman numerals as your reference tool.

I have written a tips guide on using a capo to stay in the same key which may provide some useful insight even though the capo use you ask about is keeping the shapes the same and changing key.

I hope that helps.
Richard :slight_smile:

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For me, the key is learning the notes on the fretboard - at a minimum the 6th (and 1st) string and the 5th string. Once you know that, when you watch your friends play, pay attention to where their hands are on the whole fretboard (not relative to the capo) to figure out what chord they are actually playing. As an example, if they have a capo on the 2nd fret and are playing an open C-shape chord, their finger is on the 5th fret of the 5th string. So they are playing a D chord rather than a C. Then you can play any D triads that you know over that chord.

If you want to learn more about chords in a key, I highly recommend Justin’s Practical Music Theory course. The first few modules are free and will get you on your way to understanding why some chords work better together than others.

Hope this is helpful!


Thank you for that, I hadn’t thought about it in that way. I think I shall use a combination of that and a chord circle when, say, I am given a chord and lyric sheet.

Thank you, this is really helpful, I have never come across that diagram before, I shall carry it with me in my guitar case and hopefully be able to memorise it. Thanks again Richard

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