Naming of the Key on a Chord sheet when a capo is being used

This is not a query about what a capo does in changing key but how it is written in a chord sheet or similar.

I have seen a quite a few combinations that do not seem to make a lot of sense but perhaps it is just me. I am thinking of sources like UG but not Justin’s tabs.

Perhaps best if I give you some examples to show what I mean.

Example 1

No capo
• You play chords D A E you are therefore the song is in the key of A

Now place the capo on the third fret
• Play the same chord shape grips but the sound you make is actually chords, F C G so this is in the key of C, which is the Key of A moved three semi tones.

How should this be described
• Key of A – that is no longer correct
• Key of C – that is the correct key
• Key of A with capo 3 played with these chords grips
• Or some other way

I am sure I have seen something like A(C) is this what it means, original key A but transposed to C with capo and using the non capoed chord grips or the other way around C(A).

Example 2

Song is in the key of A - Chords D A E

But the Capo is on the second fret which would be the Key of B if chords D A E were played but you actually play chord grips C G D so the sound is actually D A E just a different voicing than with no capo.

This would be correctly described as still in the key of A


So, what should be shown on the chord sheet.
• Original key or transposed key

Is there no convention, or do you just have
• know what the original key of the song is
• look at what chords voicing are being played with capo position

and work it out for yourself to be sure.

Michael :question:

PS Since I drafted this an came back to it, I though actually thanks to Justin Theory Course, I am consolidation Grade 4, and Richards @Richard_close2u Circle of Fifths etc I can probably make a reasonable assessment of what is going on.


The capo is irrelevant. If a song is in the key of A it doesn’t matter whether you play an open A chord or capo at the second fret and play a G shape chord. You are still in A. If you place the capo on the second fret and play the original Chord shape you have changed the Key to B.

Most chord sheets don’t show the Key of a song. They show the chord shapes and whether or not there is a capo and what fret it is on.
The key of the song if shown should be The Chords You are playing Not the Chord shapes your using


Rick @stitch

Thanks for your comments.

As a beginner you don’t really have the skills to work out what the key is or what the capo has changed it to.

Fortunately I think my theory skills have developed enough, as I said in the PS, to ignore what it says and work it out for myself, thank goodness.

Michael :grinning:

In a rush just now.
Check the a tips topic I wrote on using a capo for further reading.

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Thanks Richard @Richard_close2u
Tracked down will give it a read tomorrow.

Michael, it will really depend on whether you are reading what could be called a basic chord chart or whether you are viewing something with notation and TAB / chords … or indeed other.

A basic chord chord will likely just give an indicator for capo position with chord shapes written and perhaps chord diagrams too. This would be for something using mainly open / cowboy chords.
A more advanced chord chart would likely give the actual chord names and allow the player to choose their own chord forms, barres, open, triads etc.
A notation and TAB double chart could do either. I am unaware of any hard and fast convention.

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Usually chord charts don’t “describe” anything. They just give the chords (A, D and E) with the notation “Capo on fret 3” or something similar.

If you want a description, however, I would say something like: “played with chords from the key of A, but capoed at 3, so sounding in the key of C”. I’m not familiar with the A(C) notation and would not know what it meant if I ever came across it.

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Richard @Richard_close2u

Now found time to go through the tip you mentioned and I see I posted in the thread in May last year, I am sure I didn’t understand what was going on then. Twelve months later I do, but was a little surprised but shouldn’t have been to see the CAGED system appear.

Thanks again.

John @jjw

You see all sorts of things when you step outside Justin’s safe space.

Thankfully I think my theory is up to working out what is going on with whatever is presented.