This video gives you a brief introduction to using a “Drop D” partial capo, which leaves the 6th string open. This partial capo is often called a “Drop D” capo because you can get a tuning similar to Drop D by using it on the 2nd fret. This capo can also be used in other positions though, and people use these capos a lot on the 4th fret as well. This video offers a brief overview on using a “Drop D” capo, however I’ve decided to include a few more in-depth pointers below for those interested.
The following are some additional things to consider when using a “Drop D” capo, some of which are covered in the video:
Popular Keys – I mainly talk about playing in the key of E in the video, and this is logical since we have an E in the bass. With a partial capo, the key of E works well in both the 4th fret and 2nd fret capo positions. Of course there are other key options, and songs in a given “key” often contain non-diatonic chords. Experiment to find out if the chords in a given song sound good with a partial capo. For example, on the 4th fret you might also play in the Key of B; on the 2nd fret you might also play in the key of A. It depends on the chords involved. Something like a missing ‘E’ or ‘Em’ shape (see more below) may rule out a particular partial capo option.
Some chord shapes don’t change – Any voicing that doesn’t use the 6th string will be the same, although you may now be able to add the open 6th string in if it didn’t work before (see more below). Any shape that does use the 6th string will be the same as long as you’re fretting notes above the capo. (Chords that normally use the open 6th string probably won’t work, per below.)
The missing chords – any fist position chord that uses the open 6th string in the bass won’t work the same – notably the “E” and “Em” shapes. For example, if you’re playing in the key of B with the partial capo on the 4th fret, the vi chord – G#m – will be tough to grab unless you leave the 6th string out. One option here is to move the capo back further from the 4th fret so that you have space to fret that 6th string 4th fret note with your finger, but I’ve found this is not always practical – either the capo still gets in the way or the strings start to buzz because the capo isn’t close enough to the fret. So you may want to try another capo position &/or other chord voicings when you’re ‘missing’ these chords.
Deciding when to use the low E in the bass – while the open E bass string may not work with some chords (and can be left out), it may be usable for other chords – either in strumming the chord or as part of an alternating bass pattern. For example, with the partial capo on the 4th fret, the “D shape” gives us an F# Maj. We probably want to leave the low E bass out of this chord. (Note you could make it F#7 by adding the low E, but a voicing with the b7 in the bass may not work.) More examples – still with the partial capo on the 4th fret: we can play C#m using the “Am shape”, and of course E is the minor 3rd. Even though E is part of the chord, it may not sound good to play C#m with E in the bass when you’re strumming… however the low E could work as part of an alternating bass pattern when fingerpicking. Use your ear to decide in borderline cases like this. Playing the A (“F shape”) and B (“G shape”) chords with fingerpicking, you could try alternating the 6th string bass between a fretted note and the open string. You may find this works better for the A chord (where E is the 5th) than the B chord (where E is the 4th). Even if you don’t know all the theory, you should be able to figure out what sounds good for your song – experiment and use your ear.
Expanding your key options with a second capo – A second ‘normal’ capo (or one that can cover the 6th string) can be used to give you more key options using the partial capo either 2 or 4 frets above a normal capo. For example, put a regular capo on the 2nd fret – this gives you F# in the bass. Then use the “Drop D” partial capo on the 6th fret and it will work in F# similar to how the partial capo works by itself on the 4th fret in E. You could also play in F# with a normal capo on the 2nd fret and a partial capo on the 4th fret, giving you the Drop D style tuning. For the key of G, you could use a normal capo on the 3rd fret and a partial capo on either the 5th or 7th fret. Other options are around, so feel free to experiment.
Using a regular capo ‘off-center’ – if you don’t already have a partial capo, you may be able to experiment by using a regular capo ‘upside down’ and ‘off-center’ (as shown in the video) to see how the tuning sounds. You may decide you don’t need a partial capo, but if you like the sound you get and want to use it a lot, it’s probably good to go ahead and use a partial capo.
A final note – while you usually see partial capos used on acoustic guitars by fingerstyle players or singer-songwriters, you can of course use them on electric guitars and with different styles of music.