What is The CAGED System? (The Keys to The Fretboard)

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Whenever you try to deepen your guitar knowledge and you buy a guitar music theory book or look up something on the internet you keep bumping into the CAGED system.

There comes a point when it’s unavoidable, that means it’s time and probably something worth knowing about.

Let me rephrase that “definitely something worth knowing about”.

So then, what’s all the fuzz about the CAGED system?

Well, if you want to be serious about guitar playing and you want to understand how the guitar in relation to the fretboard works, the CAGED system is an absolute valuable tool. Let’s take a good look and see what this is all about.

The CAGED system gives you a logic overview of the fretboard. It makes it much easier to find your way around the neck and understand how chords, chord shapes and scales are related to each other as well as a lot of other things on the guitar. (arpeggios, triads, licks, etc.)

The CAGED system is derived from the five open major chord shapes: C, A, G, E and D. Each chord shape can be moved up on the fretboard. To do so we first have to take the 5 open chord shapes and turn them into closed chord shapes. That means there are no open strings in the chord. By barring the fret and then playing the shape next to it you can easily move the chord up and down the neck and play each shape in all 12 keys.

See the three diagrams below how you can move the C major chord up the fretboard. In the first diagram you play a “C” chord. In the second diagram you bar the strings on the first fret with your index finger so there are no open strings left (you don’t have to bar all the strings, only the strings that are left open) and then play the C chord next to the bar with your middle, ring finger and pinky.

You’ve just raised your chord a half step (1 fret) that means you are now playing a “C#” chord (played as C shape). In the third diagram you move up the entire shape another half step and it becomes a “D” chord (C shape). Repeat this and move the shape all the way up the neck. Each time you move up a half step the chord name changes but the shape name remains, because it’s still the same shape.

Here below is another example with the E major chord. In the first diagram you start with an open “E” (shape) chord. In the second diagram you move up the entire chord a half step (1 fret), play the chord with your middle, ring finger and pinky and bar the first fret with your index finger so you don’t leave any open strings. (Think of the bar as the nut of the guitar, the bar has replaced the nut)

Your chord has now become an “F” chord (played as E shape) Now in the third diagram move the entire shape up another half step. You’re now playing an “F#” chord. Again each time you move up a half step the chord name changes but it’s still the same shape. You can apply this to all 5 chord shapes.

THE CAGED SEQUENCE
All 5 chord shapes are organized in the CAGED sequence spread across the entire fretboard. The order of the chords in the sequence always remains the same. If you start on C the order is C A G E D. If you start on E you get E D C A G. If you start on G you get G E D C A and so on.


On the left you can see the fretboard with all 5 chord shapes on the neck starting with the C shape on the first fret. Then the A shape starting on the 3rd fret. The G shape on the 5th fret, the E shape on the 8th fret and the D shape starting on the 10th fret. They are all C chords played in 5 different shapes.

Check the 5 chord shapes below and see how they are actually played and structured on the fretboard.

If you now look over to the fretboard you can see that the 5 shapes overlap each other. Where one shape ends the next shape starts. Except for the neighbor shapes D and C. Where the D shape ends you go back 1 fret and there you start on the C shape.

CHORD TONES
The CAGED system also makes it easy to visualize all the chord tones of each shape across the fretboard. Every major chord consists of the 1st, 3rd and 5th note of the major scale. The red notes indicate the Root notes (1) and the black notes are the 3 and 5 of the chord.

In this example we use a C major chord which consists of the notes C, E and G. That means all the root notes are “C” notes, 3 is “E” and 5 is “G”.

Knowing where the root notes are of each shape makes it easy to identify the shape and the shape names. When you’re dealing with scale shapes the root notes will be in the same place.

If you know your notes on the fretboard (at least on the 6th and 5th string) you will be able to move the shapes up and down the neck, find chords, scales, arpeggios easily and see how a lot of things apply to the CAGED system.

 

Let’s take another example. On the left you can see the fretboard with all 5 chord shapes on the neck but now starting with the E shape (F chord) on the first fret. That means the D shape will start on the 3rd fret, the C shape on the 5th fret, the A shape on 8th fret and the G shape will start on the 10th fret. They are all F chords played in 5 different shapes.

Check the 5 chord shapes below and see how they are played on the fretboard.

Again all the red notes indicate the Root notes (1) and the black notes are the 3 and the 5 of the chord.

The F major chord consists of the notes F, A and C. Therefor all the root notes are “F” notes, 3 is “A” and 5 is “C”.

Notice and memorize neighboring chord shapes. So you become aware of how to connect the shapes together. Remember where one shape ends the next shape starts. Except for the neighbor shapes D and C. Where the D shape ends you go back 1 fret and there you start on the C shape.

You can build this CAGED sequence with all 5 chord shapes.

Let’s take one more example. When you’re building the sequence with an A shape chord you start with the Bb chord (A shape). The next shape in the CAGED system will be the G shape starting on the 3rd fret, then the E shape starting on the 6th fret, the D shape on the 8th fret, the C shape on the 10th fret and then finally back to the A shape on the 13th fret.

Now you can build the CAGED sequence with the D shape and G shape.

 

Summarize:
- Learn the 5 chord shapes C, A, G, E and D.
- Move all 5 chord shapes up the neck.
- Learn where the root notes are positioned in each chord shape.
- Memorize the neighboring chord shapes of each shape.
- Practice all 5 chord shapes in the CAGED sequence across the fretboard (like the examples above)

Follow these tips to fully comprehend the CAGED system and apply it to chords, scales, licks, arpeggios and everything else. The possibilities will reveal itself along the way once you get your hands dirty. You will see more and more how it all fits together.

Unlock the fretboard and it will benefit your playing in many ways!

 

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    9 Responses to “What is The CAGED System? (The Keys to The Fretboard)

    • Prasana:

      Hi Klaus sir,
      This is a new topic to explore.the CAGED system exercises are easy to carry out.After reading your articles and applying it my guitar playing came to a new level.this article is good. your ideas are awesome.

    • Hi Prasana,

      The CAGED system is the bridge to the next level.

      Best regards,
      Klaus Crow

    • Vi Tat:

      Hi Klaus.
      Many thanks 4 your new topic.

      Anyway, may i ask you about my trouble. I like CAGED system.

      But before, i see many topic/image:

      Ex: http://www.neckdiagrams.com/sites/default/files/upload/dorian-a-pos-1-highlighting-non-pent-notes.jpg

      I want ask you, why that position is called “E Shape”?. Have associated with CAGED System?

      Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Vi Tat,

      You can look where the root notes are located in the shape. The root notes of the E chord shape are in the same place as those of the E scale shape.

      Best regards,
      Klaus Crow

    • Dennis:

      Now, if one would have rather smallish hands (like me). How on earth could he play that barred G chord? It’s an enormous stretch for people like me. The barred C is a pesky one as well, but can be done with some practice (i think). I dismissed my study on CAGED earlier because of these (G & C) shapes. I didn’t see the point of learning of half the thing. Now i’am back at it again. Any advice for people with small hands?

    • Dan:

      Dennis, I have short fingers and found that a slightly shorter scale guitar helps. For example, I have the Durango Guitar Works guitar and its 24″ scale is significantly easier to play compared with the 25.5″ scale of my Fender Strat. With practice, you can adapt to longer scales.

      PRS has some 24.5″ scale guitars, like the PRS SE Santana.

    • Guyt:

      I personally found this explanation very confusing. Chords and shapes were not well distinguish and the diagrams helped very little.

    • Freddy:

      Hi Klaus,

      What a great site you’ve developed: really appreciated and I think the CAGED system will really help deepen my understanding the fretboard. Thanks for introducing me to it, even if my hand aches like never before with the G shape! Just a quick bit of feedback on something that confused me for a while, I’m fairly sure that the ‘stand alone’ C shape images should show 3rd on the D string, not a 5th. Hope you are OK with me posting this.

      Thanks again for the breath of info and great video tutorials,

      Freddy

    • Ray:

      Dennis.. try the G shape without the Root on the 1st string (mute it or miss it) this makes it far easier to play with small hands & it still sounds OK. Just don’t forget the 1st string Root when thinking about the G shape in the CAGED context!

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