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Eight Ways to Avoid the Capo Prayer



Author: Jon Nicol
Leadership Category:

Posted April 5, 2016 by

The Capo Prayer

Lord, you’re so awesome.
(Worship leader reaches up to his headstock)

We stand amazed by you, God.
(Feels around for the capo clamped there)

We’re just so humbled to be in your presence, God.
(Unclamps it)

We ask you to move in our hearts, Lord.
(Sneaks a peek to locate the fret)

And we pray, God, that you…
(Clamps capo down, but realizes it’s too far behind the fret)

…that you…um…
(Readjusts capo…)

…be here with us, Lord, as we continue to worship you, God. Amen.
(Starts strumming)

This is the Capo Prayer, now a standard liturgy known and recited by millions of acoustic guitar-playing worship leaders every Sunday. 

It usually comes in the form of, “Oh no, I forgot that I need to change my capo for this next song and I don’t want to ruin the moment.”

I’ve always wondered what God thinks of our capo prayers:

Oh, wait, you’re talking to me? Because you seem much more focused on the fourth fret down there.

Is God offended by my cheap prayer? Or does he just chuckle at me like I do when my 3-year-old insists on making his own frozen waffles.

I’m really not sure. (Although, personally I’d err on the side of the waffles.) 

Regardless, it is a cheap trick to make a transition. We have to find better ways to create smooth segues rather than half-focused conversations with God.

One Big Rule
So there’s one big rule to follow when it comes to replacing the Capo Prayer with something more meaningful: Plan ALL your transitions.

Most worship sets don’t fall apart in the middle of a song. It’s during the in-between times where awkward pauses, jumbled endings or rough starts happen. So whenever you move from one element to the next, plan out what needs to happen to move smoothly between them, including the capo switch.

Here’s one of two objections I get to this rule:

Are you just trying to put on some slick performance?
No. In our culture, “dead air” is distracting. And a fumbled hand-off is even more distracting (probably in any culture). A klutzy transition takes the focus off the worship and puts the attention on us and what we’re doing.

But a good transition will move people along a journey from one worship element to the next. It helps them keep the focus on worshiping God, not gawking at a failed segue.

Another objection is the rule is this:

Aren’t you pushing out the Holy Spirit with all that planning?
The Holy Spirit can work through my planning three weeks prior to a service as much as he can in the moment. And having a transition planned doesn’t mean we can’t make a Spirit-guided left turn if He calls for it.

The bottom line is this: Good segues = good stewardship.

I want to make the most of the time I’m given to lead worship. Why waste it with a lousy transition?

So with those objections behind us, here are eight ways to avoid the capo prayer.

8 Ways To Avoid The Capo Prayer

1. Remove It Before The Song Ends
Take your capo off towards the end of the song during a section where you can afford to stop playing for a couple beats. Then finish the song using original key chords. You may need to use barre chords, but a hand-cramp is worth a smooth transition.

2. Add It Before the Song Ends
If you need to add or move your capo for the next song—but you want to play a musical transition into it—look for a place at the end of the previous song to make the capo change. Then play barre chords above the capo to finish it out.

3. Quick Access
Put your capo on the nut of the guitar so you can more quickly move it into play. Just make sure it doesn’t push on the strings on either side of the nut, making them go sharp or muting them.

4. Have Another Instrument Start the Next Song
Even a simple four-count from the drummer is enough time to switch the old Keyser.

5. Scripture
Put in a short, related scripture that leads to the next song. Consider having another vocalist read it.

6. Pad
Have keys fade in a synth pad, or the electric guitarist swell in some ambient pads, or even fade in a recorded pad from padloops.com.

7. Talking
Do a very brief verbal transition into the next song. Script out what you’re going to say and PRACTICE IT.

8. Planned Prayer
If you do decide a prayer is a fitting transition, plan that out, too. Ask yourself, “What will be meaningful to pray at that moment?” When we “wing it” while reaching for the capo, we tend to just regurgitate generic praises and phrases. So don’t be afraid to plan your prayer.

There are definitely more ideas we could dig into, but the key is this: be intentional and keep it simple.

Remember, it’s about leading people along a journey of worship—not inviting them to watch us change our capo.

Question: What are some ways you make great segues?

Jon Nicol is a worship pastor in Lexington, Ohio. He trains and coaches worship leaders and teams through WorshipTeamCoach.com. For more on making intentional transitions in worship, check out his newest resource, Worship Flow: 28 Ways to Create Great Segues.



    Jon – great solutions! I totally agree with it all.

    For my own capo movements during a set, I usually lean on another band member – asking them to turn to the next song during the last few bars of the previous song, and start playing as soon as the music has faded just enough for there not to be dissonance when they start playing.

    I lead from acoustic with a pedalboard – my main weapon on the board is my strymon timeline – it has a feature where you can hold down a switch to create infinite repeats, so i can have the previous chord ring out long after i stop playing, allowing me to move my capo.


    Honestly, I totally get this article and it applies to a majority of people. On the other hand, I honestly think that just like planning out prayers, musical transitions, and scripture; you can work on being a confident, articulate, and relevant off the cuff pray-er.

    I mean just think about some of the prayer circles you’ve had before services or the like. How many time have you had the guy or girl who says, “God I just…” or “I pray that” to begin each thought during their prayer? They are nervous, they are thinking too much about it, they haven’t took time to sit down and just talk normal with God and become comfortable with doing that around others.

    Once you’ve worked on getting comfortable with that kind of stuff you can then have much more successful prayers post song that are Spirit led, relevant to the moment and atmosphere, and don’t feel awkward.
    That doesn’t mean that you should do it every time. Sometimes I just say “Thank You God” and turn to my team to start the next song or go into myself if I start it. Other times I just deliberately tell the piano that when i’ve backed off the end of the song to jump into the intro of the next. Sometimes I just play a few chords and take a moment to gauge the atmosphere in the room, where God is leading people, so that I can figure out whether to go back into a part, pray something specific, or move on.

    Don’t sell yourself short. If you are a worship leader you should be able to pray and lead with confidence if you work at it a bit.


    There is an obvious solution everyone’s avoiding, and the first time I really NOTICED it was at a Michael Card concert: just have six or seven guitars, all tuned differently. Then when you need a guitar for a song in E-flat, you just… you know… unstrap the guitar you have, put it in it’s cradle, then pick the guitar you need–no, wait, not that one, the other one… let me see… yeah, that’s the one. Oops, I got the wrong one… now I have to play all my chords differently–I grabbed the key of B guitar!

    I’m not saying this at all to disparage Michael Card; all this happened in the context of a concert (which has, actually, a slightly less prescribed atmosphere than a typical worship service)–slightly more downtime is forgiven, so he has more latitude with pondering his weapon of choice. Plus, he’s so boss on his guitars, he’s also using instruments of various tunings schemes, AND he plays them left-handed (but strings his instruments for a righty! Freakish and awesome!). So he’s up there, playing at least one of his songs (complete with unique voicing and lead elements) in a key and tuning he hasn’t actually practiced before, and the only people who notice are the ones who know how the song goes AND recognize that tweak of frustration in his mouth when he starts playing and realizes, one chord in, that he’s grabbed the wrong instrument–truly awesome.

    Okay, Michael Card raving over.

    Also, I’m kidding about having a half-dozen guitars at the ready. Without doubt, having to change INSTRUMENTS is even less a practical solution than just moving a capo (for the expense of it if for no other reason). But if people who do, in fact, take playing seriously make use of capos, it’s certainly a redeemable practice.

    I read an article by a guitar manufacturer who recommends against using capos because it tampers with the logarithmic character of the placement of frets. So, while you can perhaps play LEAD high up the neck in a standard tuning without much issue, you can’t easily pull off rhythm that high in ANY way, barred or capoed, without there being some noticeable (at least to some) tuning flaws.


      Just wanted to say that your capo comment related to tuning flaws is actually a very misunderstood issue for guitarists.
      Firstly, you are totally correctly that most guitars set up standardly will inevitably go out of tune when capo’d. Most people don’t realize this even if they have a nice guitar because often all the strings will go the same amount of out of tune thus not being obvious.
      Secondly, this actually doesn’t have to be problem you can never deal with. If you go to any reputable guitar shop (that means NOT most Guitar Centers or the local place run by Grateful Dead fans) they can ask you what your playing style is, how much you use capo, and how much bend you want your strings to have. Then they set up the guitar to work well with that playing style.
      So third (because you always have to have 3), you can easily play rhythm with capo on 7th fret if you have the right know how and a great person to set up your guitar.


    Grab a barre chord above the needed capo position to sustain (similar to pad strategy)
    Or just be a musician about. Place your capo like a boss and start the tune with confidence. The the silence be a Sela and a knod to professionalism.


    Forget the using capo is lazy comment and lets get back to the intent of the article and the question asked by the author, “What are some ways you make great segues?”.


    Whats a capo?……..

    Just kidding…capo prayer thats funny. Gotta admit i use em. Lazy? OK, if you say so, but that is not going to stop me from showing up to rehearsals first because I cant wait to hang out with my brothers and sisters and praise my KING.I guess it comes down to perspective. Shalom


    Being the only musician (acoustic guitar) means I have to be as creative as possible avoid those ‘dead’ times. The biggest thing I try to do each week when planning my worship setlist is to arrange the songs according to key. More often than not I will have at least a couple of songs that are both in G or A, etc. Our church does two worship songs, scripture reading, then two more worship songs before the message. I can normally arrange the songs in such a way as to not have to change keys to break the flow of worship.


    I feel the same way about flipping music sheets. Unfortunately – I have never had the gift of memorization, and must rely on sheet music. As a piano playing worship leader – there is no magic capo – and I play in every key out there. I hate to see team members loudly flipping through sheet music during transitions, and try to find a place in the end of the song where I can inconspicuously slide over a sheet and transition into the next piece without distraction.

      Mike Cable

      never had the gift? you teach your self that man, its a learned skill


        Hear hear! I won’t cast aspersions on character or insist it’s always (or necessarily) a product of laziness, but if the statement “where there’s a will, there’s a way” is true anywhere, it’s here.


      I’m over a year late responding to this… but if you have an iPad, you should look into “Scorecerer”. It’s an app that allows you to scan in sheet music to your iPad. Using the app, you just have to touch the corner of your iPad screen to turn the page. Completely silent. Saves trees. Easier. It’s just all around better!

    Denver Chetty

    I would suggest actually learning the song in the correct key and not using a capo. To me playing with a capo is lazy and shows that you you are not working on your skill. David and his musicians in the temple were skillful and anointed. That doesn’t mean that all guitarists who use capos are lazy or unskilled, but it does show how committed you are in getting better at your craft.

    As worship leaders who lead with a guitar it is important that you spend time with your instrument and getting to know the the different chord shapes and keys that the songs are in.

    Being a worship leader is not just about learning songs in one key and then transposing them using a capo, but it’s about spending time with your instrument, worshiping God, getting so skillful that playing an instrument doesn’t hinder the true purpose we are there, to glorify God.

      Wally Jordan

      I certainly don’t dispute the need to spend time with your instrument to become skillful but I respectfully disagree with the premise that playing with a capo is lazy. Phil Keaggy is an incredible musician and uses capos in many of his songs. The capo allows “open” strings to ring and drone notes to fill space that can never be achieved with barre chords. Using a capo may be seen by some as “cheating”, the only aim (in my opinion) is to make nice music, and capos make that a lot easier to do in many instances. Some keys, that may be suited to other instruments, are just awful for guitars. Saxophonists, for example, love Eb, which is horrible on a guitar. So, I say don’t ever feel bad about using a capo, they were invented for a very good reason: to facilitate the making of beautiful music.


      Using a capo is not lazy. Sometimes it’s required with so many of the songs we do these days that rely on open strings.

      Loads of pros use ’em to great effect, and have for decades.

      And some keys, like Bb, just sound bad without capoing, at least on acoustic guitar, and if you have open strings as I mentioned, now you’re sunk without a capo. Sometimes you want the songs to progress in terms of key, and the capo makes that possible.

      Again, it’s not laziness.

      Good article.

      I’ve gotten to the point where I can plan ahead, play the final chord of a song with a barre while I put my capo in place or move it.

      But the first point in this article needs to be stated and re-stated. PLAN (and PRACTICE) your transitions. By yourself if need be and with the team.

      Bryan Gauntt

      Denver –

      I actually take issue with the “playing with a capo is lazy and shows that you you are not working on your skill” comment. I find that to be mean-spirited and unnecessary. The whole attitude by which you present your comments makes me wonder if you’re contributing or just relishing in the level of playing you’ve acquired.

      Not all of us can fly around the neck in the key of Eb while leading a song. The focus of a worship leader should be on leading worship and if a capo aids in playing a song better then why not? I’ve seen video of Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Brian Doerksen, Paul Baloche, etc. all using a capo while leading a song on acoustic. I bristle to think you would refer to those guys as being lazy or unskilled and uncommitted to their craft.

      Andy Harvey

      I think it is pretty narrow minded to call anyone who plays with a capo lazy (you say that you didn’t, but you did). The guitar is not a piano, and a barred chord does not sound great in many situations. Using a capo allows a player to use more open chord formations that sound better than using a barre chord. Here is a list of a few famous songs (featuring some pretty great guitarists) that all use capos: http://www.guitarworld.com/top-10-guitar-songs-played-capo


      There are quite a few reasons for playing with a capo, and the reason I use a capo is not for “laziness”. A capo, for me, allows me to transpose the song into a key within my vocal range, without changing the voicing. It also works when you have two guitarist playing together: one plays in one voice, the other plays with the capo on a different fret and different chords but still in the same key. Unless, you know the heart of all the guitarist out there using capos, you have no right to say that means we, the capo-using guitarists, are not trying to advance our skill and therefore, are lazy.


      Wow! I think there is another article somewhere about musical snobbery in the worship team. One of my favorites, Matt Redman, makes extensive use of a capo and his worship songs are some of the most meaningful songs out there. It is not about your musical skill, it is about leading a congregation into God’s presence

      Kevin Butler

      Since everyone seems to be offended and insulted by his comment, I’m going to take Denver’s side a little bit. First of all, some question Denver’s nature as being mean-spirited or unnecessary, but I don’t find it mean to call someone out for using a tool to make their life easier when they could put in some time and learn to play the chords without needing a capo. As a keyboardist, I avoid songs that travel down the circle of fifths past Eb and up the circle of fifths past E. But if I need to play in Db or F#, I don’t hit the transpose key, I practice it in those keys as needed. In the same way that Jon calls us to plan transitions better, we should continue to challenge ourselves to improve on our instruments. Calling it lazy may be an overgeneralization, but in many cases, it’s true. Which brings me to my next point…
      Secondly, it is true that in some cases, the guitarist has thought through the sound and the way the open strings vibrate and attempt to achieve a better sound by using the capo than they could get when playing the chord without it. But in my experience, that is a very small exception. Most guitarists I have seen simply use the capo so they can play everything in G or C or E. And you know what? Yeah, that’s pretty lazy.
      Thirdly, look at the article again. I see a respectfulness in his article. He doesn’t flat-out say “you are lazy!”. Instead, he says “To me playing with a capo is lazy”, which means he is stating his own personal opinion. He also says “That doesn’t mean that all guitarists who use capos are lazy or unskilled, but it does show how committed you are in getting better at your craft.” This doesn’t look mean or hateful to me.
      Fourthly, just as some of you question Denver’s motives because he used the word “lazy”, I would question your hearts if you immediately get all bent out of shape because he said the word “lazy”. If it makes you so mad, then maybe there’s a part of you that realizes he is right or there is something in you that is not playing with humility. Instead of thinking, “Hmm, maybe I could work on my guitar skills a little more and try to play songs without a capo,” you jump to “well, I can’t believe he called me lazy! I mean, [insert so-and-so great guitarist and musician] uses a capo and that person isn’t lazy! Who does he think he is?” Think about it. Instead of defending yourselves and justifying your own (or others’) reasons for using a capo, take his suggestion for what it is and try not to get so upset that he used the word “lazy”.
      Capos are great tools that can be used to great effect, especially for new guitarists who have not been able to learn many chords yet or for people who genuinely use them to enhance the sound. But teaching a new student to learn new chords so they don’t have to rely on a capo is much better than teaching them 4 or 5 chords and handing them a capo.


        So I have played acoustic guitar for over 30 years now and have switched instruments due to a need of that particular instrument and have had to learn on the fly so to speak at times. I had to practice a lot really fast in order to fill the gaping hole that no bass guitar left. I converted to playing the bass and now have been playing that for about 23 years. At first I stunk at it and took a few lessons that helped improve my skill to a usable level by my Lord and Savior. Over the years I improved dramatically and now the worship team I belong to has found another member that is a decent bass player. I have also dabbled on keyboard over the years but have not spent enough hours to be able to play in ALL keys. I just want to add pad layers to our songs and the TRANSPOSE key will allow that. I see nothing wrong with using it and if I can add that to our sound it can really be an amazing compliment to our ministry. Remember that yes God wants us as prepared as possible but He can make the rocks cry out and worship Him if He so desires. I will continue to practice the keyboard/piano along with playing bass, acoustic guitar, operating a small business, and being a husband, and good father to my child. Worship is so much more than how skilled you are and beautiful worship is always how it falls on the ears. Simple is never wrong.


        I appreciate what you are saying, but (you) as a keyboardist, are making some assumptions about what you know as being a “very small exception.” I have to disagree. It is not necessarily a skill-level decision, though it can be, but a tonal decision. Those open strings give a much different feel/style than barre chords do, and that doesn’t matter how long you’ve been playing guitar. There was a whole capo/partial capo movement in CCM a few years ago, which I believe was about sound, not skill.

        As a fingerstylist, I sometimes use a capo so that I can put the melody in the soprano range while being able to use open voicings to get a fullness of sound. This means I am fingering chord shapes in one key while playing melody notes in another. I hardly think that is “lazy.” Fingers can only stretch over so many frets. Setting the guitar in alternate tunings doesn’t work if you have to retune between every song.

        I agree with others, too, who have pointed out that the capo allows chords to be transposed to a comfortable vocal range. The capo also allows multiple guitars to create a bigger sound by playing open first position chords on one and capoed chords on another. This keeps them from sounding “muddy.” The action on some acoustic guitars also may make it difficult to play barre chords for a long time, causing hand fatigue.

        The poster who used the term “lazy” should have thought more about his word choice. To me, it’s calling names and I am not surprised by the reactions of many people. It seems like the poster considers his technique as superior to anyone who would use a capo.

      Chris McGahey

      If guitarists using a capo is a sign of laziness, then so is pianists using the sustain pedal. Almost every instrument out there has a bias toward certain keys. Guitars in standard tuning are biased toward keys that contain 1 or more open strings. Many pianists (especially gospel and R&B) prefer keys that use all the black keys, such as Gb major/Eb minor.

      That being said, the guitarist should certainly not view the capo as a substitute for learning the entire fretboard.

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