Sunday, November 29, 2009

CAGED System part II: Map to Everywhere from Anywhere (level:beginner - intermediate)

    In the previous post I implied that upon grasping this concept you will know where the major and natural minor scales are on the neck in every key.  Well that is just the tip of the iceberg.  Upon further study, you will find that the CAGED system provides you with a map to the entire fretboard from wherever you are on the neck.  In so doing, it also provides a logical system for translating "music theory" to the neck of the guitar, something that most guitar players seem to have trouble with.  I believe this is because music is almost always described as in relation to the piano, which is nice if you're a piano player, but a "piano-centric" study of music is not very helpful in learning the guitar.  The CAGED system provides us with a very practical and easy way to apply knowledge of music theory to the guitar from a "guitar-centric" viewpoint.
    Before I go on I want to remind you to ask any questions you have about this or related topics in the comments below.  That being said, let's dig in, shall we?

    If you haven't figured it out yet, this system is called CAGED for a reason: those are the chord forms that are used to map out the fretboard (open forms).  What you may not have discovered yet, though, is that the order of the chord forms are important as well.  See, CAGED isn't just a word someone put together from the letter names of the chord forms, but the order in which the chord forms appear as well.

    When the chords are arranged in order along the neck the CAGED sequence is produced and repeats itself to infinity, or at least until you run out of neck.  Where one form ends, the next one begins.

    Do you see it?  Maybe this will help:

    What is being represented here?  Each one of these forms, when laid out like this, is a different occurrence of the same chord.  No matter where you are on the neck this pattern repeats itself in both directions until you run out of neck.  It's like having a map that tells you how to get to wherever you want to go from wherever you happen to be.

    At this point, it is important for us to distinguish the difference between the terms "form" and "chord."  From here on out, the word "form" will be used to refer to the shape of a chord.  For example, "A form" simply refers to the shape of the open A Major "chord."  In the diagram above, the chord under "G" is referred to as a "G form C Major chord," because the shape is the same as the open G Major chord, but the notes form a C Major chord.

    So how do you figure out what chord you are playing?  This is where the chromatic scale comes into play.  Let's say, for example, you wanted to play a Bb Major chord.

    First, choose a form you want to use for the chord.  Let's use the E form.  For the E form, the name of the chord is determined by the note on the 6th, or thickest, string.  In the open position, the E form is an E Major chord because the note on the 6th string is an E.

      Let's move it up to the first fret, which requires you to use a barre.  The chord is now an F Major chord, because F is the note that comes after E in the chromatic scale (each fret is equal to a half-step, or 1 chromatic scale step).

      Continue doing this until you get to Bb, in which case you should have ended up on the 6th fret.

    If you ended up on a fret other than the 6th, go back and try again, and maybe look at the chromatic scale again if you are having trouble remembering the order of the notes (remember that there is no sharp or flat note between E and F or B and C).  This method for figuring out chords holds true for all five forms.  The only thing that changes between them are the location of the notes in the form that determine the letter name of the chord.

  • G and E forms: chord name is determined by the note on the 6th string
  • C and A forms: chord name is determined by the note on the 5th string
  • D form: chord is determined by the note on the 4th string

    Practice naming chords this way using all five forms, and eventually you wont have to count up the frets to name them, because you will just know where the notes are.  The next post will deal with scales in relation to the CAGED sequence.


  1. You mentioned that the chord name may be determined by the note on the 6th string for E and 5th string for A respectively. I was curious if it matters if it is a major or minor chord position. For example, if you were to play a chord using the E minor form, would the name of the chord still be the note on the 6th string, only minor?

  2. Yes, for all the CAGED forms, the root of the chord falls on the string that contains the lowest note of the chord form.

  3. Nice!



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