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Why some people say you shouldn’t use capos, and why I think they are wrong

If you play guitar long enough (and if you use a capo), you will inevitably run into people who tell you that you shouldn’t use a capo ever. Or they’ll scratch their heads and ask why you’d ever use one in the first place. The most common things I’ve heard are this:

Why not just play the open chords of the song?

Capos are just a crutch for people who don’t know how to play well

No real guitar players use capos

Let me tell you why I think these people are (almost) always wrong.

Reasons You Should Use A Capo

  1. You can use chord voicings that you like. Let’s say you are playing a song in the key of A, but you really like the way you can hammer on/off and the way the chords sound in the key of G. You can use a capo on the 2nd fret and play in G. How about a song in D – you can use a capo on the 2nd fret and play in C (one of my favorite keys to play in). The capo is not a crutch – it is a tool to get a desired result.
  2. You don’t have to think about playing your guitar. This point is exclusive to worship leaders. Worship leading is a strange deal, and in my opinion, of all the things you are doing when you lead worship, what you’re playing on guitar is one of the least important, especially if you’re backed by a good band. What is more important is actually leading – reading the room, being sensitive to the holy spirit, singing, encouraging people to join alongside you in worship, etc. These things take an incredible amount of mental and emotional energy, and if using a capo can free up some of that energy, it’s a good thing.

The Main Reason You Shouldn’t Use A Capo

I did say that I almost always disagree, so here is my main reason for not using a capo: If you rely on a capo instead of learning new chords, you should ditch it for a while, but do it during your practice times. Don’t let it become the ‘crutch’ that some people say it is – don’t stop improving your craft.

The Bottom Line

Watch video footage on YouTube of worship by the likes of Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Hillsong, etc, and you’ll see capos used all the time. Real (and extremely talented) musicians use them a lot. I believe that instruments, gear, and technology should be used by the artist to create a desired result. So, if you use a capo to get a desired result, then you are using it appropriately. If, on the other hand, you are using it because you feel limited by your knowledge of the instrument, you just need to practice a little more (but in the meantime, feel free to capo it up).

Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments below.

13 Responses to Why some people say you shouldn’t use capos, and why I think they are wrong

  1. john Mar 20, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    Thanks Brian, totally agree. Leading worship should never be about how talented we are but always about leading others into the presence of God. In order to do this we need to keep it simple and to the point, using a capo helps achieve this.
    Thanks for the excellent tutorials.Keep up the good work!

  2. Matt Knapp Mar 26, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    There’s always someone to tell you how to do (or not do) something. It’s your guitar and your method. If you like a capo, use it. As you say, leading worship is not about virtuosity, it’s about connecting with God. Keeping your playing simple opens you up to connect the audience to the worship.

    Plus, I love the sound of a guitar with a capo at the third fret. I just like that voicing and I play a lot of songs there.

    • zakhar Jul 7, 2016 at 6:19 pm #

      I agree.

  3. Trevor Dailey Apr 17, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

    There are sounds that a capoed guitar can unlock that were never intended to make. Best example would be G Chord structure on Capo 7 gives us a mandolin quality whereas D shape open has a fuller, robust sound.

  4. Dennis Apr 6, 2015 at 11:14 pm #

    I agree with your comments. As a Beginner I use a CAPO from time to time because my friend changes keys often on me and the CAPO helps me match his key challenges but also helps me match his playing level which is more advanced than mine. I do try to know more chords and I am not able to transpose chords on the fly yet, the CAPO helps me not drag around multiply notebooks of music in different keys. The CAPO is a tool but as you say Brian players should try and learn many chords to0 meet the challenges of playing with others.

    • Brian Apr 20, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

      Good point, Dennis. Learning bar chords and bar chord shapes will help open up the fretboard a bit more.

  5. Paul Fox Dec 8, 2015 at 10:34 pm #

    I’ve always looked down on Capos as I was, I guess, one of those people. Felt like I should be able to play the chords I needed to play in the key required as a musician without needed to change the rules.

    However, now that I’ve grown up a bit (51 is grown up right?), I’m softening my stance. If that’s what you want to do, use that Capo. Tommy Emmanuel uses them and no way am I gonna dispute that that cat is a serious player. I have capos and will use them when I need to but I will always try NOT to…but not gonna be judgmental about those who do any longer.

    Brian…this is one great site man. Absolutely my number one Go To Resource now.

    • Brian Jan 18, 2016 at 1:58 pm #

      Thanks so much, Paul! I think the key with capos is to use them as a tool to create the kind of sound you want rather than a crutch because you don’t want to learn new chords/shapes.

  6. Zachary "Red" Fulton Apr 28, 2016 at 12:39 am #

    I actually have to disagree with you on this one! I honestly don’t quite understand why any guitarist – no matter if their skills are exceptionally good, downright crappy or otherwise – would EVER wanna use a capo, and I really don’t see the point in it! That’s why we have moveable chord shapes — and I’m not talking about just your typical standard barre chord shapes, but also thumb chords as well, where you take your thumb and fret the low E string and/or A string leaving your hand’s other four digits to do more things that you couldn’t do on a standard full forefinger barre shape – Jimi Hendrix and Merle Travis are both known for the thumb fretting technique. I’ve even seen videos on YouTube where some guitar instructors demonstrated specific chord shapes that Hendrix and Travis used and the tricks you can do to these shapes (such as hammer-ons and pull-offs and what-have-you). And while they don’t explicitly say so, you can actually apply these practices (upon close examination) in any and all 12 keys, anywhere on the fretboard, all without the need for a capo!

    And while I understand your idea of worship leaders not having to think about what they’re playing while they’re leading a congregation, at the same time, I always recommend that every guitarist should really study their fretboard until they know it like the back of their hand and they can navigate it literally with their eyes closed. As you can tell, I’m the kind of guy who raises the bar very high when it comes to musicianship, and the guitar craft is no exception.

    • Brent Nov 11, 2017 at 3:50 pm #

      Depends on what you’re trying to do I suppose, but a capo is part of most guitarists tool kit. ESPECIALLY if you’re covering songs in a bar band, or something like that. Some people don’t like using pedals either. I’m not a huge proponent of them, but on some songs, they’re needed.
      Try to play Here Comes The Sun and get the same ringing quality that George does without a capo. Or Midnight Rambler by The Stones. THose are just 2 exanples. There are many, many more.
      You can change chord voicing as much as you want, but you simply can’t get certain guitar tones, or droning string sounds without a capo.

  7. Mike Latham Sep 19, 2016 at 11:41 pm #

    I’ve only been playing for around 3 years, never had a lesson 1 except to be shown the chords G, C, D, E and A / Am. I have always done my best to learn more chords and more about the guitar.

    Just a few weeks ago, I was asked to lead worship music for a small group where music is a requirement. I still consider myself a novice, and to that end, am very nervous when i play. Using a capo ensures that I can play what I know instead of having to worry about the chord shapes that I don’t know. The result I am aiming for is for people to come closer to God instead of concentrating on my inability to fret a B chord. In that, I guess you could say that I am using the capo as a crutch.

    Big however though; Just because I am using a capo doesn’t mean I am not still trying to learn to play different chords and get better at chord progressions. I simply don’t feel that leading worship is the best time to try to learn to play the dreaded B chord (even though i know it, getting to it in time is the bugger)

    • Brian Nov 21, 2016 at 6:39 pm #

      I agree, Mike. Thanks!

  8. Robert Cress Jun 8, 2017 at 10:37 am #

    Totally agree, it is a tool when used properly and a “crutch” when it replaces knowledge.

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