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The CAGED System for Guitar Mastery!

Updated: Jul 7

The CAGED system is a method for understanding and navigating the guitar fretboard by using five basic open chord shapes: C, A, G, E, and D. These shapes can be moved up and down the neck to form chords in different keys and are closely linked with scale shapes, providing a comprehensive framework for soloing and improvisation.

Here's a detailed explanation of the CAGED system and how to implement it in a practice routine:

How the CAGED System for Guitar Works

1 Chord Shapes and Keys:

  • C Shape: The open C chord shape.

  • A Shape: The open A chord shape.

  • G Shape: The open G chord shape.

  • E Shape: The open E chord shape.

  • D Shape: The open D chord shape.

2 Linking Chord Shapes and Scale Shapes:

  • Each open chord shape corresponds to a specific scale shape. When these chord shapes are moved up the neck, they change keys but retain their relative scale shapes.

  • For instance, the open C shape chord can be moved up to become a D chord, an E chord, etc., with the corresponding C major scale pattern adjusting accordingly.

3 Moving Shapes on the Fretboard:

  • The shapes are transposable. For example, moving the C shape up two frets changes it from C major to D major.

  • The C shape moved up two frets would look like a barred version of the C chord starting at the third fret.

Implementing the CAGED System in a Practice Routine

1 Learn the Five Open Chord Shapes:

  • Master the basic open chord shapes (C, A, G, E, D) and ensure you can play them cleanly.

2 Move Each Shape Up the Neck:

  • Practice moving each chord shape up the neck. For example, move the C shape to form D, E, and F chords, using a barre if necessary - it often is:)

3 Connect Chord Shapes:

  • Play a C major chord using the C shape, then find the same chord using the A, G, E, and D shapes up the neck. This helps visualize the fretboard horizontally.

4 Link Chord Shapes with Scale Shapes:

  • Practice the major scale shape that corresponds with each chord shape. For instance, play the E shape chord and then the E major scale pattern that fits around that shape.

5 Practice Arpeggios:

  • Play arpeggios (playing the notes of the chord one by one) for each of the CAGED shapes. This helps in understanding the chord tones within the scale shapes.

6 Chord Progressions Using CAGED Shapes:

  • Use the CAGED shapes to play common chord progressions (like I-IV-V) in different keys. For example, play a C-F-G progression using different shapes up the neck.

7 Switch Between Shapes Smoothly:

  • Practice transitioning between different CAGED shapes smoothly and quickly. Start with one shape, then switch to the next shape up the neck.

8 Scale Practice in All Positions:

  • Play major scales starting from each of the five CAGED shapes. For example, start with the C shape scale at the open position, then move to the A shape scale at the 3rd fret, and so on.

9 Soloing Practice:

  • Improvise solos using the scale shapes linked to the CAGED chord shapes. This reinforces the connection between chords and scales and helps with melodic playing.

10 Visualize the Fretboard:

  • Work on visualizing the entire fretboard by seeing how the CAGED shapes link together. Practice identifying the root notes of each chord shape to see how they overlap.

Important Concepts

  • Root Notes: Understand where the root notes of each chord shape are located. This helps in transposing the shapes to different keys.

  • Connecting Shapes: The transition between shapes is key. Notice how the end of one shape often leads into the beginning of the next.

  • Fretboard Mastery: Over time, the goal is to be able to navigate the entire neck effortlessly using these shapes as landmarks.

By incorporating these practices into your routine, you will develop a deep understanding of the fretboard, improve your ability to play in any key, and enhance your overall guitar playing skills.

Here are some diagrams to help:

Here you can see the C chord played all up the neck in its five positions, using the CAGED shapes.

  • The first C chord is the standard open C chord shape

  • The second C chord is the barred A shape

  • The third is the G shape

  • The fourth is the barred E shape

  • The fifth is the D shape.

This is obviously where the acronynm CAGED comes from.

the caged system chords

Next, here is the C shape and set in it's corresponding scale shape. This is hugely important and should be memorised.

caged system scale

Full Lesson Up Here: Linking All the chord shapes to the scale shapes all over the neck, with exercsies and more:

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