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If you’re a guitarist, Capo is the bionic upgrade you wish you could give your ears. Drag any track from your iTunes library into Capo, and it quickly displays the music as visual data--a spectrogram full of blue smears. Those smears represent notes in the recording; the smears near the top are the higher-pitched notes and the ones below are the lower pitches. Click the cursor on a spectro-smear to hear its corresponding MIDI note. If that note is part of the solo or chord you are trying to figure out, drag the cursor on it a bit and, like magic, a tablature number appears below, showing you exactly where to place your fingers on your guitar.
Right note, wrong string? Option-click a spectrogram market to cycle through all its possible fretboard positions in the tablature.
With Capo, patience, and a good ear, you can reverse-engineer your favorite songs to generate personalized guitar lessons. Capo also lets you slow down tracks, change pitch, and loop segments--pretty standard functionality when it comes to digital music tutors, but Capo manipulates the music with a bare minimum of distortion. Once you’ve implemented your playback tweaks, you can export a new audio file of either just a segment or the whole song--voilà, instant custom practice track.
If your goal is to learn guitar solos note for note, you’ll find Capo well suited to the job. For instance, I’d always wanted to learn how to play the delicate finger-picked opening riffs of a song a friend wrote. By slowing down the track and tagging the proper smears in the spectrogram as they passed by, I was able to generate accurate tablature in a matter of minutes. However, in that case, the guitar was the only thing on the recording; other songs with effects (Van Halen), layered parts (Indigo Girls), or unusual chord voicings (Jonathan Coulton) were much trickier to suss out, even with the built-in equalizer and vocal reduction. In some cases, stabbing my way through the spectrogram wasn’t any better than using my ears.
If you’re a rhythm guitarist simply looking for chords to strum, you can tap the K key in real time, and Capo will offer its best guess as to what chord is being played--a neat trick. When it misses the mark (reporting a minor for a major was common), Capo is often close enough to give you a solid starting point. In other words, you’ll still be using your ear to pick things out--Capo is just there to help you take notes on those notes. But if you’re trying to create your own six-string arrangement of a keyboard song, or if you want to deconstruct a song’s vocal harmonies--an unexpected bonus--Capo’s educated guesses become quite valuable.
Speaking of the ivories, it’s odd that the default MIDI sound for such a string-instrument-specific program is a piano, especially since Capo also supports tablature generation for bass, mandolin, and ukulele. Plus, even with the spectrogram intensity cranked, some quiet notes are simply too faint for Capo to display, so prepare for some point-and-click guesswork. That guesswork would be more enjoyable if Capo’s window could expand to fill the whole screen vertically as well as horizontally.
While I initially balked at the $50 price tag, it occurred to me that I don’t know any other program that offers quite what Capo does--and it’s pretty darned useful, especially if you’re still training your ear to pick out melodies, chords, and solos. Capo definitely won’t replace that skill, but it can certainly help strengthen your ear’s connection to your eyes and fingers.
REQUIREMENTS: Version 2.0.1; Mac OS 10.6 or later
Drag-and-drop songs from iTunes. Easily create personalized practice audio files. Even when slightly wrong, chord guesser feels pleasantly like magic.
Spectrograms can be tricky to read. Recordings of multiple, layered, or distorted guitars make generating reliable tablature even trickier.