A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Capo Tasto

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CAPO TASTO (Ital., from Capo, head, and tasto, touch, or tie; Germ. Capotaster, sometimes Capo d'astro). In Italian the nut of a lute or guitar, but also the general name of a contrivance for shortening the vibratory lengths of strings, thus forming a second nut, expressed in French by 'barre,' to facilitate change of key. The construction of a capo tasto varies according to the stringing and shape of the neck of the instrument it is to be applied to, but it may be described as a narrow rail of hard wood, metal, or ivory, clothed with leather or cloth, and often fastened by a screw upon the fret from which it is intended to mark off the new length of the strings. There are other but less simple ways of attaching it. The technical advantage of using a capo tasto is that higher shifts can be more easily obtained; and the use of open strings, upon which the possibility of chords often depends, is facilitated in a higher compass than that natural to the instrument. How much transposition may be facilitated by it is thus shown by Herr Max Albert in Mendel's Lexicon. Take a guitar the strings of which are tuned in real notes

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 8/4 \clef bass \relative e, { e4 a d g b e } }

the basis of sharp keys: with a capo tasto on the first semitone fret we have

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 8/4 \clef bass \relative f, { f4  bes ees aes c f } }
the basis of flat keys, the fingering remaining the same. With bow instruments the capo tasto is no longer used, but it was formerly with those having frets as the viol da gamba. The use of the thumb as a bridge to the violoncello serves as a capo tasto, as also, in principle, the pedal action of the harp.

[ A. J. H. ]