Should Worship Leaders Use Capos?

There was a time I used to be obsessed with capos. I remember playing whole worship sets with at least two capos in use on my guitar. Cut capo, regular capo, and a spare just in case. My band used to make fun of me to no end. They told me real musicians learned how to play real chords.

Of course, I made the case that I liked the texture of the chords I could play with capos. That was partially true. But I also enjoyed the liberty of not having to think that much while I led worship. And that’s the case I make for using capos in worship (or using the ‘transpose’ button if you lead from keyboard).

Why I Use a Capo in Worship Leading

You see; I’m not a guitar player when I stand in front of a congregation. I’m not even really a singer. I’m a worship leader. Now, I use guitar and singing as a tool. But those tools shouldn’t take all my attention where I can’t focus on leading the congregation.

When it came to playing a song in Bb, I could either (1) focus on playing bar chords or (2) detune or use a capo. The first option made me focus on my guitar playing. The second option made playing my guitar easy, so I could focus on leading.

Great musicians often play below their skill level in concerts, because it allows them to focus on the crowd. It makes the song sound effortless. Capos allow me to play below my skill level.

Should You Use a Capo?

Not necessarily. You should use whatever tools you have that make your worship sets sound effortless. You should use anything you can that helps you focus on leading the congregation. If you’re trying to impress your congregation with your guitar skills, you probably aren’t focusing on leading them.

I encourage you to make your musicianship effortless, so you can devote your energy to leading.

You’re a worship leader first. Musician second.


What do you think? Do you use capos or transpose features? What’s your rationale?

7 responses to Should Worship Leaders Use Capos?

  1. I’ve been playing guitar and leading worship for years, and I’ve always used a capo. Your thoughts are spot on. Musically I use one because I prefer for the acoustic guitar to have an open sound to it. Bar chords simply don’t sound right on an acoustic.

    Like you, a capo gives me freedom to play where I need to in order to focus more on the people in the room. Like everything in else in life, make some things easier in order to focus on more important things!

  2. I don’t lead worship but will often play acoustic guitar in a worship team. Since we run a full compliment of instruments (acoustic, lead elec, rhythm elec, bass, keys, drums, etc) the worship leader, who also plays acoustic, will capo 90% of the time.
    I would argue that in this case it can be harder. He will capo and play alternate chords so that there is a harmonic variation and the sound is better. Even two acoustics made by the same manufacturer, using the same strings, tuned by the same tuner will have a slight harmonic imbalance after running through a large house system.
    Since my worship leader is playing different chords (using his capo) he must remember to play his chords while telling them band different chords to play at times through a talk back mic. Not everyone is up to speed on the number system so I can’t imagine the difficulty it can be to use a capo and direct others that are not while also keeping the flow of worship going. Not something I envy!

  3. Greg Buchanan July 19, 2014 at 9:04 am

    I agree with this. I use both the capo and cut-capo (especially when playing in A or E) for the ease of playing. As far as transitions, I will try to plan music that stays in the same key or moves one above or below on the circle of 5ths to minimize capo movement. When modulating within a song or modulating and transitioning to a new song, I plan for capo placement/removal at a specific measure or try to use the piano/keys as cover or foundation to the next song.

    I also love capos for multiple guitar playing so there are different tones: an open G chord along with a D-shape chord with a capo on the 5th fret.

  4. James Gundersen August 6, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Phil Keaggy was asked if he thought the techniques he used (capos,looping,etc.) were gimmicks. He said that they were merely tools to used in specific projects, or different colors on his palette from which he paints as an artist. Yes they can be gimmicks but then so would guitar picks and even strings…
    Let us use whatever tools the Lord has given us for His glory.

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