Use Your Capo Wisely

Featured image: Capo on 4 by Alan Levine licensed by Creative Commons.

When I was first learning to play guitar, a friend of mine showed me how to play Sweet Home Alabama — one of the classic first songs to learn on the guitar! At that point I was still struggling to press the strings down, so my fingers were pretty sore. My friend told me I could put this clamp-y tool thing on the strings and it would “make the strings easier to press down.” He didn’t know what is was called, and I definitely didn’t know. I would later find out that this device was a capo.

Looking back, I don’t think it actually made the strings any easier to press down, but at least I now know that I was playing Sweet Home Alabama in the wrong key! Hindsight is always 20/20 I guess.

So let’s take a look at the capo, its correct use, and how we can leverage it for worship acoustic guitar.

What Is a Capo?

So what is a capo and where did the name come from? I found this awesome website that tells you everything you could ever want to know about capos:

http://www.theguitarcapo.com

(Who knew a website devoted to capos existed?!)

To paraphrase from TheGuitarCapo.com, a capo is a tool you use on stringed instruments to shorten the length of the playable strings in order to easily change the key of what you’re playing.

Where Did the Name Capo Come From?

According to the same site, the capo gets its name from the Italian words “capo tasto”, which mean head fret. At first the phrase was used for the nut of the guitar, and then it became the name of the tool we still use today. (Read more about the history of the capo here.)

How Do You Pronounce the Word “Capo“?

According to theguitarcapo.com and every time I’ve ever heard the word spoken, it’s pronounced “KAY-po”. When I was still a beginner guitar player, I thought it was “CAP-oh”.

What To Do With a Capo

Now that we have the facts and formalities out of the way, let’s talk about what you can actually do with a capo. Playing acoustic guitar in a worship band, you will need use a capo at some point. Here are the best ways to use a capo in worship songs.

Partial Capo

Some styles of capos will allow you to turn it around backwards and use it on three of the strings instead of all six strings. A good example is the Kyser Quick Change Capo. As I discussed in a previous post, this actually makes a chord, and it gives you the sound of an open tuning without having to re-tune your guitar. Kyser also makes a Partial Capo, but in my opinion since you can get the same result with a regular capo there’s no need to buy the specialized one.

If you’re interested in a high-end capo with beautiful custom inlays, check out Thalia capos. It’s a whole new level of capo.

2 Capos At Once

Using two capos allows you to play the open sounding chords with a partial capo but in whatever key your singer needs. A full capo on the second fret plus a partial capo on the fourth fret would be a good example.

I supposed with a little experimentation you could probably pull off 2 partial capos and make it sound good. Let me know in the comments if you find anything interesting there. I’ll update here if I find anything useful like that.

High on the Fretboard

I usually try not to put a capo much past the fourth or fifth fret. Going any higher can make the guitar sound thin and weak. It almost sounds like a toy with the capo beyond the fifth fret. However, if you aren’t the only acoustic guitar player, then higher chords can work. You just have to give it a try and see how it sounds.

Change the Key of a Song

This is the most common use of a capo — it’s what the tool was created for. You can not only play a song in the key you know the chords for but also in the key your singer needs to sing in. This reduces the amount of time you need to spend re-learning a song in a different key.

Let’s say you learn a song in the key of E but your singer needs it in G. Unless you have time to learn the chords in G, you can simply play the chords you know (from the key of E) with the capo on the third fret.

Email me if you’re interested in my free Capo & Transposing Guide. I go into more detail with charts for capo placement and transposing songs.

Play Better Chords

Along the same lines as the previous example, sometimes you are more comfortable with chords from a certain key. If you know a lot of filler riffs or chord variations on the chords in the key of C, you can take these tricks with you to another key with a capo. For a song in D, you can put the capo on the 2nd fret and a C chord shape relative to the capo is now a D chord.

Get the FREE Acoustic Worshiper Chord Cheat Sheet

Capo Conclusion

There’s a lot you can do with a capo, but don’t let it become a crutch. Your decision to use a cap should be driven by the music/band/singer needs, not your lack of chord knowledge. ( And of course don’t use a capo to make the strings easier to press down 😋 … That NEVER works! )

A capo is a tool that should be used to enhance a song. It can help you transpose a song quickly into a key with simpler or more familiar chords. It can also allow you to completely change the sound of the guitar to blend in with another guitar or the rest of your band.

Once you understand the patterns of using a capo and transposing songs, the capo becomes an indispensable part of your worship acoustic toolbox.

Email me here in you’re interested in getting the Acoustic Worshiper Capo & Transposing Guide when it becomes available for free download.

 

Leave a comment and let me know how you use a capo, or let me know if you learned something new here.

You Really Should Memorize the Worship Music Before Each Service

I’ve only recently started memorizing all the songs before I play on Sunday mornings. I’m blessed that memorizing songs has come naturally to me over the years. For me it is liberating to play a song without having to look down at a chord chart, and I don’t feel like I’m hiding behind a music stand. Plus, memorizing songs is really not that difficult once you identify the patterns that exist in music — that’s another post for another day. Here are some reasons why you really should memorize the worship music before each service.

Better Stage Presence

When you play from memory your stage presence will be livelier. Stage presence is not something reserved for performances on stage, but also in a worship setting. Your job as an acoustic player (and thus a member of the worship band) is to lead the congregation, and this is one of those times when appearance actually matters.
Now, it’s not your job to entertain an audience in a worship service. Your heart still needs to be right, but you have to at least look like you’re excited to be in God’s House. Having some enthusiasm and looking comfortable will help everyone else in the room feel the same way. When you depend on your chord chart, it distracts you and closes you off the the congregation.

More Engagement In the Worship Experience

Another good reason to memorize your music is so you can focus more on your own worship to God during the service. Leaders have to be out in front, no matter what context that leadership is in — worship, business, family, etc… Leaders also have to be aware of their surroundings. If you’re staring down at a chord chart the whole time, you won’t be able to tell how the congregation is participating during a song.
As an acoustic player this may not seem like a big deal to you, but knowing what’s going on around you helps you know what dynamics to play with. You’ll also be more available to watch and follow the worship leader — or if you are the leader, you really shouldn’t be staring at a chord sheet anyway.

Flowing Into Different Parts of the Song

Sometimes things happen, and you just have to roll with it. If your leader deviates from the original structure of the song (for whatever reason), you’ll be able to keep up if you have memorized the different parts of the song.  Some of you play in bands that do this regularly, and some not as often. Either way, transitioning to random parts of the song is only possible if you have memorized all the parts. A chord sheet will do more harm than good in this situation.
Also, at the end of the worship set when the speaker is coming up on stage, it is good to usually have some type of background music still playing. Depending on your band structure, that job may fall on the keyboard player, but a solid acoustic guitar player should be able to fill this need, too. Part of being a “solid” acoustic player is being ready.

Final Thoughts

There really is no downside to memorizing the songs before the worship service. It can only benefit you. As with anything you do in life, you have to step back and ask yourself why you’re doing it. The purpose of playing acoustic guitar in a worship service is to contribute not only to the music, but also to the worship experience. Memorizing your music and being ready to play it is just another notch in the belt of becoming the best acoustic player you can be. God deserves our best in every area of our Lives, so why should playing in the worship band be any different?
Do you memorize the worship songs before you play each service? Do you find it easy or difficult? Leave a comment or share a story below, and join the conversation!

The Acoustic Worshiper’s Guide to Alternate Tunings

Back in my early worship band days (high school and college), there was one song that was played with an open tuning, and it was a fun one to play. It had a good mix of strumming & picking, plus the odd tuning sounded really cool! However, the down side to that whole setup was that I had to have a spare acoustic with me on stage. Before service I would tune that second guitar to its open tuning and leave it sitting ready for that one song. Maybe it was a lot of extra work for little gain, but it sure was fun to play!

So there are many ways you can use alternate tunings to add variety to your worship set. Here are some of the ones I’ve found are most useful:

Tuning Down

One simple way to play with an alternate tuning and still play a variety of sounds and styles is to tune your guitar a half or whole step lower – keeping it in standard tuning intervals. For example, to tune down one whole step, you would go from EADGBE to DGCFAD. I’ve used this technique before, and it almost gives you a baritone guitar sound.

The main advantage is that it fills up the lower register of the song in a way you couldn’t do in standard tuning. This is highly effective when your acoustic guitar is the only instrument.

The downside would be that you have to transpose the chords into a different key since you are now a whole step lower. In the example above, an E chord shape now becomes a D sound. This is most useful if you actually need to transpose the song into a lower key.

Drop D Tuning (Old Faithful)

Drop D is probably the most common alternate tuning out there. It involves tuning your low E string to a D note. This really helps you get better low-end out of your guitar as in the first method mentioned, but it drastically changes the chord shapes. The G chord is still doable but it just takes some practice. I found that sometimes the best case to use Drop D is when the song is actually in the key of D.

There are also a lot of cool riffs you can do over a D chord using the open D, A, and D strings. I’ll be posting a video of some examples of how to use Drop D effectively.

Other Partial Tuning

Sometimes you can just lower the B and maybe the high E strings. This changes your sound and gives you some different chord options. I’ve tuned the high E string down to D for a song that was in the key of D. Then when you play xx0230, the smallest string gives the chord a different sound. You can also mix this with drop D and play 000230 for a really big open sounding D chord. Again, you just have to sort out what that does to the rest of the chords you’re playing in the song.

I’m working on an alternate tuning guide. Send me an email here if you’re interested in it. Let me know what you want to see in it.

Partial Capo

This is one of my favorite ways to efficiently add variety when playing acoustic. You just take a capo, turn it around backwards, and place it over the A, D, and G strings on the 2nd fret. By doing this you form an Esus4 chord (if you’re in standard tuning). You can also experiment with putting the capo on the 4th fret (and probably others).

I prefer this alternate tuning, because it doesn’t require you to stop and use the tuning knobs on stage. It’s quick, so it’s perfect for that one song that requires a different tuning — but you don’t have to have that spare guitar with you on stage like I did back in the day! You put the capo on for that one song, then remove it to go instantly back to standard tuning, ready for the next song.

Kyser actually makes some partial capos, but their acoustic capos are the ones you can still just turn around backwards.

In Conclusion…

Alternate tunings can be a great way to spice up a song here and there, but they should be used wisely. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Look for opportunities to incorporate alternate tunings that not only sound good, but also add functionality to your worship set. Trust your ear, and get creative!

What are your experiences with alternate tunings? Do you have any favorites and or bad experiences using them? Leave a comment below and join the conversation.

Spice Up Worship Songs With Alternate Chords

More than a few times in my acoustic career, fellow guitar players have asked me about the chords I was playing during a practice or a worship service. I don’t think it’s because I’m inventing new special chords or anything. I just use the chords I’ve learned over the years. The comments and questions are usually along the lines of, “hey, what chord was that?”. Nonstandard chords can have a positive impact on a song if used correctly. Here are the things you need to know in order to effectively substitute chords in a worship song.

Get the FREE Acoustic Worshiper Chord Cheat Sheet

Pick and Choose

Not all chords are the same. OK, I know — that’s obvious. But you have to be careful on which chords you substitute. Some chords have a more “worship-y” sound (yes, I made that word up). For example, 320003 doesn’t fit as many modern worship songs as 3×0033 does, so in most cases you can play 3×0033 anywhere you see G on a chord sheet. Almost all chords can be substituted and sound great, though. These substitutions are called inversions when you’re still technically playing the same chord but in a different position (Example – Am: x02210 & 577555). Then some of the chords we’ll go over are more of a replacement since they are technically a different chord altogether (Example – A: x02220 & Asus2: x02200).

Follow Your Ear

In all cases, you must use your ear to see if the chord fits. Chords can be an accent, or they can be the foundation of a song. You have to be careful to not “step on the toes” of the melody or any other instruments (especially when you’re in a full band). Also, you don’t want to play the exact same chords as another guitar (if you have two or more guitarists). Two guitars playing the exact same chords just muddies up the sound, and you miss a great opportunity to fill out the sound with a better chord voicing.

Smooth Transitions

Sometimes it’s simply that a different chord is easier to play or transition to than other chords. If you are playing a fast song that needs quick changes or a soft song that needs smooth chord transitions, the most effective solution could be to use a different chord. For example: 2x02xx, 3x04xx, 5x06xx, 7x07xx is a set of smooth transitions compared to this: 244222, 3×0033, x02220, x24432. Both of those examples are the same chord progressions, but they are two completely different sounds and levels of dynamics.

Get Your Head in the Game

You can keep your mind engaged in worship by changing things up with the chords. This is a good way to make old familiar songs interesting to play again. Worship music is not supposed to be complicated, but worship is still something that should be approached with excellence. Simple music is easier to play, but adding in some nonstandard chords is great way to keep you more engaged with what you’re doing. The last thing you want is to feel bored in a worship service. Playing music for the Lord should be exciting and fun!

Recap

The moral of the story is to change things up every once in awhile! No matter what you do, it has to sound good. So be wise with the chord variations you choose. Make sure you don’t stand out or step on the sonic toes of another voice or instrument in the band. Look for opportunities to simplify your playing and engage with the song more deeply by choosing better/simpler chords.

Get the FREE Acoustic Worshiper Chord Cheat Sheet

Do you sometimes use alternate chord shapes? What’s your favorite chord? Leave a comment below, and join the conversation!

Devoted to Prayer – Colossians 4:2

Verse:

​Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

Colossians 4:2 NLT

Takeaway:

Prayer is one of the coolest parts about being a Christian. We have a straight-shot connection to God the Father through Jesus. This verse says we should devote ourselves to prayer, but not just any kind of praying. We are to have an alert mind and a thankful heart. When we engage our minds with the things of God, it transforms our entire lives from the inside out. Then the next part, when we have a thankful heart, that guards us against so many things (i.e. bitterness, jealousy, offense, etc…).

Action:

Think about your prayer life. Are you always “alert” when you are talking to God, or do you just pray before meals and as you’re drifting off to sleep? How thankful are you for what God has put in front of you?

Be intentional about your prayer. Engage your mind and be alert when you pray. And when you pray, thank God for the things He has blessed you with instead of asking Him to give you more or to fix the things you are uncomfortable with.

Leave a comment below and share how this verse is going to impact your prayer life.

A Sound Mind

Verse:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
II Timothy 1:7 NKJV

http://bible.com/114/2ti.1.7.NKJV

Takeaway:

God will never motivate is by fear. That spirit is the exact opposite of what God gives us. Have you ever heard of the phrase “peace of mind”? The Bible also says that God gives us a peace that passes all understanding. We follow His peace.

I believe God put this verse in the Bible to open our eyes to the lies told to us by the enemy. Knowing that fear is not God’s way frees is from being led down the wrong path. It’s a simple way for us to know if something is from God or not.

Action:

Do you have a sound mind? Are you making decisions based on fear, or are you being led by God’s peace? Ask God to open your eyes to see if you’ve been making decisions out of fear. If you have, it’s not too late to get that sound mind that God freely gives. Ask Him to help you.

The Golden Rule – Common Sense

bible and coffee cup

Verse:

Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.

LUKE 6:31 AMP

Takeaway:

I’m not sure what I could say here that could possibly make this verse hit home any more than it already does (or should). If you consider your actions and always put yourself in others’ shoes, it will help you make better decisions. This can also help you decide to do nice things for others as well. It’s not just about not being mean or rude to folks. What if you were hungry and homeless on the side of the road holding a cardboard sign?

Action:

Everything you do to others, try to think about how it would make you feel if someone did that to you, whether good or bad. Ask God to help you see people through His eyes today.

God Desires

Delight yourself also in the Lord , And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Psalms 37:4 NKJV

http://bible.com/114/psa.37.4.NKJV

Not only does God want to give you the desires of your heart, but He also wants to be the One who puts those desires there in the first place. Who better to give you what you need than the One who created you? He knows what you’re good at and what you will enjoy the most.

So all we have to do is delight ourselves in the Lord. Turns out that’s actually an enjoyable thing to do! God is for us, and He wants us to have an abundant life.

What desires are in your heart now? How did they get there? Ask God what His desires are for your life. You won’t be disappointed.

6 Ways to Improve Your Sound When Playing Solo

Over the years I’ve gotten a lot better at playing worship acoustic guitar by myself. I’ve learned there’s a lot more skill required when you’re the only guitar, and it often involves doing less. For a while I played acoustic guitar for the Wednesday night youth services at our church. Usually it was just me playing acoustic and our worship leader singing. With the acoustic guitar being the sole music provider, it pushed me to find creative ways to make songs sound fuller. With that experience plus all my other years, I have distilled my ideas and experiences down into this very special post for you. So here are the 6 things the smartest worship acoustic players do solo.

1. String Accents

Make use of the lower register of the guitar during softer parts and verses, and then strum all the strings during choruses and other driving parts of the song. If you listen to full band versions you’ll notice during some verses all you hear is bass and drums. Then when the full band kicks in you hear other instruments. You can replicate this on the acoustic by focusing on the bass strings during verses, and then play all strings during the chorus and bridge.

2. Different Chord Voicings

Using different voicings (inversions) of chords during different parts of the song can really help you out, too. A “G” chord, for example, could be played as 3x04xx instead of 3×0033 or 320003. Using different versions of the chord will easily add to the dynamics of the song. Another example that is popular in worship music is to play an E as 079900 instead of 022100. Another one of my favorite chords is x54030 in place of a D chord, which is usually played xx0232. Be careful with these, though. All chord voicings are not interchangeable directly. Depending on the melody, you’ll have to see if that version of the chord fits.

Get the FREE Acoustic Worshiper Chord Cheat Sheet

3. Finger-picking

You need to be able to go back and forth between regular strumming, picking with a pick, and finger-picking without a pick. It’s a little tough to do at first, but you can move the pick between your index finger & your thumb (regular position) and then two of your other fingers. I use my index finger and middle finger knuckles. It takes some practice for sure, but the rewards are worth it. You get the most benefit from this technique when you’re playing by yourself, but it’s still useful in a full band setting, too.

4. Alternating Picking and Strumming

This is one of my favorites. During version parts of a song it is possible to strum the chords and still throw in some accent picking. This almost sounds like two guitars if you can do it right. One song that comes to mind is Break Every Chain. In the intro to this song I like to strum the chords softly and then on the last chord of the progression I pick the E, B, and G strings for a little accent riff. This is extremely handy in intros and breakdowns in songs.

5. Percussive Playing

I’m cases where you don’t have a drummer, you’ll need to add percussiveness to your playing style – especially when playing by yourself. This can be done by strumming and hitting all the strings muted, or you can do this just by strumming with different levels of attack between strums. Songs are driven by rhythm and melody, so without drums you have to fill that void. If you don’t have drums, people tend to start clapping with the beat. If you can give them a little more guidance and help them feel the rhythm, you’ll be much better off.

6. Alternate Tunings

I saved this one for last, because it’s my least favorite. Mainly because if you’re playing more than one song in a set, you’ll have to adjust every song for that alternate tuning. Most of the time if you do this, all of your songs will end up sounding the same no matter how you play them. Alternate tunings, also sometimes known as open tunings, do sound great, but they don’t allow for much variation. Johnny Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls used this a lot in the nineties. It gave them a distinct sound, but all of his playing sounded the same, too. Nothing wrong with it, but as an acoustic player it can put you in a box. Alternate tunings are worth playing around with, just be careful to not over use them. They can become a crutch and prevent you from progressing with your skills and learning more.

Here’s the list in review:

  • string accents
  • different chord voicings
  • finger-picking
  • alternating picking & strumming
  • percussive playing
  • alternate tunings

There’s no replacement for practice and experience, but if you focus on these areas, you will be able to maximize your efforts.

Get the FREE Acoustic Worshiper Chord Cheat Sheet

Let me know what you think in the comments below – if you agree or disagree with any of these. I would love to get your thoughts!

How To Overcome a Tanking Worship Song

standing on edge of a cliff over water

One Sunday morning we had some technical difficulties with our in-ear monitor mix, and the lead singer couldn’t hear the stem track cues for when to start singing. This was not his fault, and in that moment there was no turning back. We were starting the opening worship song one whole verse behind the track! In this moment the song was tanking. What were we to do?!

What would you do if this happened to you in a worship service?  A song can go wrong at any time, so you have to be prepared. Here are a few ways to help you get through any worship service.

Know Thy Worship Song

You have to know the song. (Check out this previous post on how to make the most of your worship practice time.) In a moment’s notice you could have to repeat a chorus or extend the bridge so you can follow your leader and how they feel the Spirit moving in the service. Even if your band usually follows the chart closely, the leader could make a mistake and repeat a chorus where you haven’t rehearsed it before. These unforeseen problems require preparation from solid practice time. Playing acoustic is an important job. When you’re playing on stage you’re not up there for performance or any other reason but to serve God. You have to do that with excellence.

Follow the Leader

The lead singer is the leader of the worship song. The music is just the setting for the lyrics, and the lyrics are what people connect with God on the most. Despite the structure of a particular version of the song you may have learned, you have be ready to adapt. Acoustic players have to be some of the most flexible players on the platform. Drums can keep the same beat going. Keyboard players can stay on a pad playing the root note of the song. Other musicians can usually drop out in the transitional parts, but many times, acoustic guitar players have to be ready on the right chord at the right time.

In the example I gave where our singer missed his cue from the track, none of us knew which way he was going to go. We stayed in a holding pattern on the intro until we could figure out where he was going next. Once he sang the first lyric, we all caught on and following his direction. You can think of your role as the acoustic guitar player like soldier awaiting your next order. In your band, you are a part that makes up a stronger whole, but a band is only as strong as its weakest link. Everyone has to be moving in the same direction.

Keep It Together

Whatever you do, don’t wear it on your face! It’s easy, if not natural, to make a face when a worship song tanks. Bad notes, wrong chords, forgotten words – all common examples of mishaps in worship. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that your mistakes on stage are not nearly as evident to the congregation as you think. As long as you keep going and act like nothing is wrong, most people will never know something happened. You just have to make sure you don’t tell them with your body language and facial expressions.

What happens when you’re under fire will reveal the quality of your preparation time. Your habits become public. If you’re prepared, you follow your leader, and you keep calm when something goes wrong, you will play acoustic in worship with excellence.

In the example I gave earlier, it ended up being a good thing that we stuck the song out and played through the adversity. At the end of the song, we were free to end it however we wanted to instead of playing exactly with the stem track.

The role of the worship band is to lead the people into the presence of God through song. The music part of the service is only one piece of the whole experience, but you still want it to be powerful. When you play your acoustic, play it like God is right there next to you. Like you’re in His direct presence in the room – because you are!

Have you ever experienced a tanking song like this before? How did you handle it? Leave a comment below and join the conversation.

Featured Image: “On the Edge of a Tafoni Cliff” by Orin Zebest is licensed under CC BY 2.0