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Capo vs no capo in "I've Just Seen a Face"


One of the primary goals of this web site is to help guitarists who love The Beatles turn themselves into one-man bands. Most of us don't have the luxury of regularly playing with large groups where we can divvy up the various parts, so we have to find ways of squeezing as much music as possible -- bass lines, lead lines, chords, even percussion -- out of just one guitar.

The Help! track (or Rubber Soul track, if you only had the U.S. albums) "I've Just Seen a Face" presents a particular challenge along these lines, because this lovely wall of acoustic guitar sound was created by three separate guitars, at least one of them using a capo, at least one of them not.


Some songbooks have the song being played straight up in A major, no capo, no fuss. Other books have it being played with a capo at the second fret, using chords in G major. Both are, technically speaking, correct, but as a solo guitarist, I suppose you have to make a decision one way or the other.

Here are the pros of each method, as I see it.

No Capo, Key of A Major

The chorus is a climactic, thrilling adrenaline rush, with a big E major chord to kick it off. You really want that deep, bassy low E string here, and you can't get it when you're capoed up at the second fret and F# is now the lowest possible note.

The guitar solo in the middle of the song is a must-have, and it can be done if you're willing to do a fair bit of thumb-wrapping and finger-stretching, but it really only works without the capo in a situation where you can mute the low A string and put the focus on the moving notes in the lower register:

 

... and so on.

To be able to hammer on the low A string to the second fret while holding down the F#m chord, you have to have the open strings available, and the whole thing just goes out the window with a capo on.

Capoed at Second Fret, Key of G Major

If you want to start the song properly, you've got to play the instrumental opening, which begins with that initial three-note descent into an F#m chord. If you want to have that low F# note ringing out while your fingers are climbing the fret board on the higher strings, having a capo there to hold down that note really helps:


During the chorus, the second "yes, I'm falling" lands on a D major chord (or C major if you're capoed up) that very briefly shifts to a Dsus4 (you can especially hear this at around 1:38 and 1:46 in the final chorus). This note movement to include the single G-natural happens in the middle register (although you can hear it in the higher register on the recording as well, because it's being played on a 12-string) using a hammer-on technique.

To make that work without a capo is very difficult, but with the capo it's as easy as hammering on the third fret:


Yes, you could approximate this same move without the capo by simply shifting everything to the top strings:


But then you lose the middle notes, and to my ear, the whole thing just sounds more pleasing when voiced using the C chord with the capo, especially if you have the luxury of working with a 12-string guitar. 

Your mileage may vary, of course.

So, to capo or not to capo? I say "learn it both ways." Both methods have their bonuses and perks, both have their drawbacks. Get comfortable with both styles, and the next time you're playing in a group, you'll have the capacity to use whichever option everyone else isn't using.

(Bonus note: Paul famously played this song as part of a short "acoustic set" during his 1976 Wings Over America tour. How did the master and original writer of the song perform the piece? In G major, without the capo. Really.)

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