Capo in Music Education

Rock Band Class

Matt Vanacoro

Bedford, NY USA ›

  • Musician (Guitar and Piano)
  • Middle and high school music teacher
  • Music director
  • Vocal coach
  • Author of a comprehensive course on Capo for

Finds Capo useful for…

  • Accelerating the music learning process
  • Developing individualized learning plans
  • Teaching the art of playing music by ear
  • Prepping songs for school musicals
  • Rehearsing for gigs
  • Charting songs

Quicker learning curve

At Fox Lane Middle and High School in Bedford, NY, students in Matt’s Rock Ensemble Program are graduating with music theory and ear training skills previously learnt at the college level. Matt says that he has kids in high school playing through incredibly difficult passages of Dream Theater, and outside of school they’re learning songs from Barenaked Ladies, Yes and Rush for their gigs.

On the surface, people have a fear of technology – that it’s changing the landscape so they assume it’s negative. It’s the opposite!

“Technology like Capo is helping me get more kids to learn these challenging songs, not just the top 5 kids. They know they can slow the song down and change the song to a key they can play or sing.  It takes the fear away.  It’s helping a great percentage of kids feel like they can perform more songs.”

Matt credits this in part to Capo’s ability to break down songs so students aren’t overwhelmed. Whether he uses Capo to slow down the speed, change the key or visualize a chord, he finds that the combination of these tools are helping more of his students succeed.

Individualized learning

At Fox Lane School, Capo is currently on five Macs that the students all share. The plan for next year, upon approval by the school district, is that Capo will be on every machine used in their three music labs.

Matt feels that if everyone has their own copy of Capo, each student can learn at their own pace. When Matt is teaching an entire class, he’ll slow down the song to where most of the class is at but then there are always those kids that can’t play two measures of the song yet. When everyone has their own copy, the students can work with the song in a way that suits their learning needs.

Matt says that he will quite often take a riff a student is having difficulty with, loop it and then slow it right down. He’ll get the student to start practicing that section at the slow pace and eventually with practice he’ll speed up the loop. He finds that this builds confidence in the student and they end up learning the riff quicker because they’re not so overwhelmed.

Ear training

Matt says he didn’t learn to play songs by ear until he was 17. However in his classroom, Matt sees Capo helping kids to play by ear at a much earlier age. “Capo encourages students to listen so much more, to see a correlation of instantly listening to a piece of music and see it translated to written notation.”

In Matt’s classroom, he shows students how to chart riffs with Capo on the Mac by utilizing the Spectrogram. This process of charting riffs helps students to develop their ear. “When you hear something then see it on the page, eventually you start to know what something should look like on a page when you hear it.”

The right key

Matt has used Capo to prep songs for dozens of live school musicals such as Footloose, Shrek, Pippin, Xanadu, Schoolhouse Rock Live, Little Shop of Horrors, and The Wiz.

“I use it for the school musical to figure out what key to put songs in for the students’ changing voices.” Matt finds that many times chorus teachers want to do popular songs but it’s difficult to arrange them in a key students can sing. Matt will typically start this process by using Capo to put the song into different keys. He’ll then have the students try to sing the song. He keeps doing this until he finds a key that’s safe for everyone.

Matt also finds that this helps motivate the kids to learn the song properly. He says that “the kids think that if I’m being this careful to help them find the right key then they too want to be careful about learning the song which is a bonus for everyone involved.”

In addition, Matt uses this same process for coaching the singers he works with professionally.

When “working with adult singers, I loop a section of a song in Capo and gradually move it up a ½ step at a time to find the PERFECT key for a vocalist. I’ll find the peak of the song, move it until the highest note winds up being the highest note a vocalist can ‘belt’ successfully and consistently. It helps me match the song into the perfect key for the vocalist about 3-4 times faster than before when I’d just estimate.”

Using Capo on iPads, iPhones and Macs is fundamental to Matt’s educational and learning philosophy “I literally would never be able to sleep again without Capo, it’s too ingrained in what I do every day for me to consider not using it.”

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