Much to my co-editor Nicholas Austin Ferrell’s chagrin, I have recently expanded my social media presence to include the latest craze, TikTok. Initially, I struggled to figure out what kind of content to post to the public, and for the Chinese Government (evidently), while indulging my insomnia by watching other peoples’ TikTok content. I was at an impasse when I decided firmly that I was neither willing to physically harm myself for views nor remember the complicated choreography of any of the latest trending dances. Furthermore, I came to the conclusion that posting videos wherein I am wearing a wet t-shirt or no shirt at all would not result in large numbers of views, or the types of viewers who would consume my music content, at least. Finally, I considered conscripting my cats, but they were depressingly disinterested in TikTok content creation when the camera was rolling.

My TikTok Guitar Riffs

Having discarded the novel ideas, I decided to try producing for TikTok something along the lines of what I publish here at The New Leaf Journal. I have been posting short TikTok riffs about vintage guitars and folk songs. (Nick should be happy to know that I consider this practice for eventually posting longer guitar and folk music content for The New Leaf Journal.) Ideally, TikTok is one part of my cultivating an organic following that will consume my original music content. I do not think that this is a fruitless endeavor, having seen many charismatic young performers find their footing, “blow up” on TikTok, and then carry a significant portion of their new followers to Spotify. (I must note, however, that Nick has questioned whether I qualify as “young” or “charismatic” by TikTok standards, which may or may not be the reason I have spent so long developing supplemental material to accompany my original compositions.)

A Comment from Mr. Oatmeal Salesman Begins a Series of Events

In an attempt to build my TikTok following and encourage user-engagement, I started responding to comments and questions on my TikTok content in the form of videos.

The comment that began the chain of events leading to this article was posted by a “Mr. Oatmeal Salesman.” I cannot report what kind of oatmeal he sells, if he sells oatmeal at all, or whether his avatar, a dog wearing a birthday hat, is his likeness, or even his intellectual property.

In response to one of my videos, Mr. Oatmeal Salesman asked me where I placed the capo on my guitar’s neck for my rendition of Love Henry. (You can watch my performance of Love Henry here at The New Leaf Journal.) For those of you who are not familiar, the capo is a small clamp that can be placed on a guitar’s neck to change the key of a song. For example, if I’m making an E-chord in standard guitar tuning, but then place the capo on the first fret, that chord becomes an F-chord. If I place the capo on the second fret, that chord becomes F-sharp. So on and so forth. Suffice it to say, the capo is an indispensable tool – a musician can easily adjust a song to his or her desired vocal range without losing how he or she wants to play the song.

A Capo-Centric TikTok Guitar Riff “Blows Up”

Inspired by Mr. Oatmeal Salesman’s comment, I posted a small video.

Victor V. Gurbo's TikTok guitar riff, "What fret is the capo on?"
Screenshot of Victor V. Gurbo’s capo-centric TikTok guitar riff.

The video has me reciting the following dialogue, set to a 15-second audio clip of Pete Seeger’s rendition of Love Henry:

“I capo this song on the tenth fret. I enjoy doing some of these old folk songs high on the guitar, so you can get the instrument sounding somewhere between a guitar and a mandolin. But the great thing about these old songs is they don’t have a key, you should put them anywhere that fits your voice.”

-Victor Gurbo’s TikTok guitar riff, “What fret is the capo on?”

I did not think much of the video, nor did I expect it to be especially popular compared to my other TikTok content. I went about my day, which consisted mostly of drinking several cups of coffee in rapid succession while staring out my window, musing about how instead of practicing for the biggest performance in my musical career, I am at home selling expired Avon fragrances from the 1960s on eBay.

View count for Victor's TikTok guitar rif, "What fret is the capo on?"

After returning to my phone later in the day, I found to my surprise that the video had “blown up.” Why the video was successful I know not – it was not among the most interesting, useful, or informative content.However, my confusion aside, the video continues to accrue views, with 41.1 thousand views and 2,377 likes at the time of this writing. (I know this is small in the grand scheme of TikTok fame, but it is large for lil’ ol’ me.)

Positive Video Comments

My video has received many comments in addition to views and likes, most of which have been upbeat. Mr. Oatmeal Salesman returned again to thank me for the video. He noted how interesting it is that many older songs do not have a set key per se. Mr. Oatmeal Salesman’s comment again prompted me to make video, this one diving deeper into how many old folk songs do not have a set key.

While that video has not matched the 15-second capo video, it has also received solid engagement from the TikTok community beyond Mr. Oatmeal Salesman. “The Bro Code #1331” asked me how one knows whether a song “fits your voice.” In response to The Bro Code #1331, I posted a video explaining how I practice and perfect my own songs in terms of pitch. Two gentlemen asked me about “the thing in the sound hole” of my guitar in the video, the “whole” in one instance. I explained what a magnetic sound hole pickup is. Mr. “Cuchiala 69” told me the video was “awesome,” and another gentleman stated that he was “obsessed with mandolins.” A TikTok user by the name of “Mr. Pee and More Pee” has asked me to “pee on the floor now.”

TikTok is Also a Brutal Forum

Not all comments on my capo-centric TikTok guitar riff were positive. Mr. “Ed North #0” opined that the capo in my capo video was too far back on the fret. In my zeal to produce a video worthy of Mr. Oatmeal Salesman’s incisive question, I did in fact place the capo on the guitar a bit improperly. Furthermore, my having shifted the guitar in its case knocked the capo back further. Realizing that Ed North #0 was correct, I offered him and the rest of TikTok an official apology. I can only hope that forgiveness is forthcoming. Soon, however, I would realize that lax capo placement was not my gravest transgression.

The first hint of my troubles came from a young whippersnapper named Brandon. He advised me in a comment to my capo video that “It’s pronounced capo.” Upon reading this detailed and instructive comment, I blinked twice for two reasons. First, I blinked twice because humans typically need to blink. Second, I blinked twice because the comment succeeded only in identifying an error, but not in instructing me how I had erred.

Perhaps noticing the comment and its shortcomings, Danny Devito himself, or a TikTok user who is not Danny Devito using “Danny Devito” as his TikTok name (I choose to believe was actually Danny Devito), responded to the comment: “wrong, it’s capo not capo.” On second thought, that comment not helpful either. “Big Sip P.P.” leapt into the fray, suggesting too that I had not pronounced “capo” correctly, but not providing me with any guidance on how I could remedy my error. More comments streamed in, but none helped me. I monitored the comments, hoping that someone could show me the right path.

Professor Clock Work Saves the Day

Finally, a hero in the form of “Professor Clock Work” arrived.  While I know not where he teaches or where he obtained his degrees, he was in fact quite helpful.  Professor Clock Work provided the following information:  “Why oh why do so many people call it a kay-po?  The word comes from Italian, dude it’s capo (kah-poh).”

In Professor Clock Work’s admonishment, I finally found constructive criticism. Unbeknownst to me, I had stepped into a long-simmering kay-po vs kah-poh debate. I can only assume that similarly to to-may-to vs toh-mah-toh, it has sparked many wars and at least one of the crusades. All this time, I lived in ignorance of the differing pronunciations and the passionate kah-poh adherents in our midst.

Upon further research, I found that the good professor was correct in the etymology of the word “capo.”  Capo derives from the Italian word “capodastro,” which means “head of fretboard.”  The word sounds similar to the Italian in French, German, and Spanish, being pronounced “kah” instead of “kay.”

The Capo’s Journey from Italy to America

Perhaps somewhere in the journey of capo from Italy, the word’s pronunciation changed. Little did I know that I was pronouncing the word in an Americanized way for many years. Did my pronunciation appear in 1850, when the first patented capo was designed and produced by James Ashborn in Wilcottville, Connecticut? Perhaps it just morphed over time. That would be no surprise, for guitars to which capos attach have different pronunciations. Some pronounce “guitar” “gee-tar.”

While I appreciated learning more about capos, and people such as Professor Clock Work valiantly stepping forward to rescue me from error, I will continue pronouncing “capo” as “cay-po.” I say “coffee” with a Brooklyn accent. I can’t help it, nor would I want to help it. Dialect is an important part of who people are, a memento of where we come from. While “kah-po” me be the more accurate pronunciation, I grew up with “kay-po.”

The guitarists who I have worked with say “kay-po.” I would prefer to communicate quickly with those I work with than find myself lost in an existential pronunciation debate. For example, if I say “pass the capo” while I am on stage, I want to have the capo passed to be expeditiously. Being that the audience is there to hear me or me and my band perform, this is what the audience wants as well. Receiving the capo quickly is more valuable than my asking for the “kahhhh-pohhhh” and being greeted by confusion. In that case, instead of performing the next song, the audience could be treated to an extensive discussion about how to properly pronounce “capo.” As interesting as that might be, I ultimately think that getting to the next song is best for my band and the audience – but what do I know?

Invitation for Feedback on my TikTok Guitar Riff

If you are a musician or otherwise have a strong view on the capo debate, please let me know how you say “capo.”  You can offer your thoughts in our New Leaf Journal Guestbook.

Additionally, if you have any idea why my iPhone gets absurdly hot when I use TikTok, I would greatly value your feedback on that as well.