Featured SuperMegaUltraGroovy Capo by Tommy Zai
Disclaimer: I am a registered user of a previous version of Capo with experience using it in a classroom setting as well as songwriting and gigging.
Capo by SuperMegaUltraGroovy is a surprisingly versatile music transcription manipulation software that enables users to learn songs quickly by ear.
The purchase, download, install, and activation process is simple and straightforward. Upon launching, users will be presented with an optional launch menu. This can be used to access vids, info, support, social media stuff, etc., as well as file options (Open Recent and Open an Existing). A drag-n-drop box to open a new file is presented by clicking Command N or going to File --> New, or simply dragging a file onto Capo’s icon. Note: There is a seamless integration between Capo and iTunes. I don’t use iTunes. I prefer to keep an independent MP3 and WAV library. Other supported formats include AIFF and M4A. Audio files protected by Digital Rights Management are not compatible, but I’ve yet to encounter any such files.
Simply drop a song (or any supported audio in a supported format) in the box. The audio is quickly analyzed and a project is built. KAZAAM! The interface appears. It's attractive, inviting, and scalable. After a few more seconds the algorithms calculate the spectrogram.
The main window will display the opened song as a waveform that stretches across the screen near the top. Just above is a timeline that reads in measures and divided into quarter note increments. The top right corner allows users to toggle between Practice (waveform & notation) and Tabbing (waveform, spectrogram, & notation). Tablature notes are created by clicking and dragging across the spectrogram. Yet, guitarists can see beyond chords and notes, i.e., bends, slides, and vibrato. Some musicians will prefer tablature while others will prefer waveforms and chord boxes. Users can also draw notes inside the spectrogram. As you click and highlight each note, hear it played back as tablature is generated automatically for you — no need to keep a notepad at hand to transcribe solos. Both Practice and Tabbing mode feature chord boxes in the lower region of the interface. The song title and corresponding artwork is displayed on the left side. Beneath that lies an area that includes:
• Speed (1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1x-current tempo, 1.5x and a slider for freehand mouse/trackpad manipulation. Time stretching/compressing is an excellent tool for learning songs and for practicing at an accelerated rate. It helps determine optimal tempo for performance/recording. Results are accomplished in real-time via a slider without changing pitch and is artifact free and crisp sounding for adjustments up to and beyond one octave.
• Pitch (slider = -12 to +12. Adjust pitch to 440 or experiment or completely transpose to a new key)
Note: Time compression/expansion and pitch-shifting works well, but as expected the quality will degrade when pushed to the extreme. In my experience, anything up to 15 or 20% in either direction maintains superior fidelity.
The Transcription Playhead lines the bottom row of the interface. It’s an easy to use pseudo tape deck-ish transport system that includes most of the usual controls as well as other useful parameters.
• Volume slider
• Detect/Add Chord button
• Place Marker
• Play, Fast Forward, Rewind
• Enable/Disable Transcription Playhead
• Metronome On/Off
• Show Song Setting (opens side view with Isolation, Beats, and Notes. Discussed in more detail later)
• Zoom (in/out slider
Clicking and dragging the playhead on Capo’s timeline creates a useful scrubbing effect. It allows users to freeze a segment of a song for closer investigation.
WORKING ITS MAGIC
After loading a song and allowing Capo to work its magic, users can play the track, view its wave file, and consider the notes on the spectrogram that illustrate a full frequency range of musical data. The Spectrogram is found within the Tabbing View. It presents a series of note blobs in their corresponding pitch. By clicking on a blob, users can hear the note via a virtual guitar. The actual recording will not be played. Below the Spectrogram, chord boxes will glide by in real-time. The chord box display (default is guitar) can be re-voiced for other instruments, e.g., bass, mandolin, ukulele, etc. All chords and note entries can be exported to MIDI for DAW tracking and/or other song composition software apps.
ISOLATION: There is a special EQ and panning engine called Neptune that serves as an isolation engine which allows users to focus on specific instruments and voices. Center-channel canceling for vocal reduction and EQ for isolating instruments in particular frequency ranges Leads and Rhythms can be Vocals levels can be raised or lowered into virtual nonexistence. This is handy for singers, who yearn for a Karaoke track of their favorite song(s). The main parameters to adjust are Pan, Width, and Frequency Range, which features a 10-band graphic EQ for isolating a frequency range in a stereo recording to emphasize or de-emphasize specific freqs. Some useful presets are provided. Overall, Neptune allows users to dive deep into the audio material to zero-in and dial-in.
• Tempo (automatic tempo detection)
• Time Signature (Bar/beat(
• Metronome (enabled/disabled, accented, sound selections, and count-off. The bar/beat grid makes visualization easier. Multiple regions can be synced to the beat and looped in time with the recording.
• Type: Once the chords have been detected, user can chose from a variety of alternate instruments beyond guitar, including: banjo, mandolin, ukulele, bass, etc.), and the chords/tab will adjust to suit the voicing of the selected instrument.
• Tuning (more than 50 tunings are supported)
• Capo (from none to 18th fret)
• Chords (boxes or names)
• Tablature (on/off)
• Left-Handed (checked/unchecked)
• Attractive, streamlined interface
• User-friendly with a short learning curve
• Intuitive and Natural
• Fast song charting
• Visual via waveform display, Spectrogram, and chord boxes.
• Surprisingly Flexible
• Excellent sound quality
• Loads of alternate tunings
• Alternative instruments and their respective charting.
• Available for iOS, which provides the same features and portability
• Fantastic value
• Developer name. How can you not like a developer team that goes by the name “SuperMegaUltraGroovy”?
MY FAVORITE USES
• Learning how to play cover songs
• Songwriting assistant
• Breaking down the song form in a convenient, visual manner
• Creating a basic chart
• Teaching band-mates a new song, whether a cover or original
• Warming up vocals
• Rehearsing for performances
• Working on singing pitch
• Preparing backing tracks
• Harmonies experimentation
• Looping sections while learning new songs/Phrase Training
• Finding difficult chords and notes
• Promoting Professionalism — knowing tracking inside and out
• Identifying the chord progression, melody, and harmonies.
• Teaching guitar (and the other string selections), piano and vocals
• Identifying the original key
• Discovering a better key
• Improving ear training
• Learning songs in alternate tunings and voicings
• Teaching the dying art of playing music by ear via technology ;-)
• Musical resource
• The splash page file options include Open Recent and Open an Existing File. I’d like to see a New File option added for convenience.
• A new keystroke to jump back to the beginning has been added, and it’s helpful — “⌘/". There are in fact many keystroke options designed to help users navigate around the interface. Yet, I’d like to see a jump back to the beginning button to make it more like a tape deck.
• Song/album artwork is added through iTunes or a Meta Data editor. I’d like to be able to add artwork directly within Capo.
• Mac only, which doesn’t bother me, but I know many PC users who would love to use this app if they could.
DOES CAPO HAVE THE BEST CHORD/NOTE DETECTION IN THE WORLD?
No. It struggles a little with complex, dense audio files. Capo will not be as accurate as Melodyne and a couple other high-end software apps. However, nothing can touch Capo near its price-point — and that’s my point! This new version of Capo usually gets the key right, and its chord intelligence engine usually nails the chords; yet, when it’s off, the list of “next most likely chords” may be used, and there’s a good chance one of them is correct. When all else fails, users may edit/add the chord as they like. I like using Capo as a tool to explore chord progressions, study style and form, and I’m sure I’m not alone. In general, Capo seems to be intended as a starting point for the work of chord detection, not the end all, be all. I consider this feature a HUGE bonus — dessert to top-off a wonderful meal.
Capo is a wonderful tool for learning and developing songs — it can slow them down, pitch shift them, isolate instruments, loop regions, and maintain a convenient paper-free audio library of musical ideas. It’s a technology that inspires tactile musicianship; it doesn’t replace it! It’s extremely useful as a composition tool via the chord edit and note-draw features. This fine software is like having your own musical genius assistant. Unless you or your band-mate is Mozart, I consider this a MUST HAVE musical utility app. Capo goes way beyond a practical software solution for working out how to play songs. According to SuperMegaUltraGroovy’s president, [Capo is designed for] “anyone who wants to spend their valuable time learning their music instead of learning how to use complicated software.” I have no doubt this will help users become better musicians, producers, songwriters, etc. Without reservation, I highly recommend Capo to anyone working with notes, chords, and tempos. “Reverse Engineering Rock and Roll!!”