CAGED system for guitar: play chords across the entire fretboard.

The CAGED system is an easy method of learning to play the entire guitar fretboard with chords and arpeggios, ideal for beginning guitarists.

What is the CAGED system for guitar?

The CAGED system is an easy and practical way to learn to play chords in five formats, across the entire length of the guitar’s fretboard. By using the common open chord forms of C, D, E, G, and A, which are found in the sequence of C, A, G, E, D on the fretboard, hence the name of the system.

What is an open chord on guitar?

Remember that an open chord is one in which you play one or more open notes, that is, you should not finger the string and it sounds open. An example of an open chord is G, which has up to three open notes. On the contrary, a closed chord is one that you don’t have to finger all the strings you play, for example an F.

How does the CAGED system work?

The CAGED system uses common major open chord shapes to trace the guitar’s fretboard into five different sections. Thus, it helps to simplify the vision of the tuning fork, which can overwhelm a beginner at the beginning. By revealing the relationship between common open chord forms and the arrangement of notes and their intervals on the guitar; You can quickly learn to play five types of chords across the entire fingerboard. This will strain your musical vocabulary. Later, you can also break up those chords and further expand the shapes you can use.

Benefits of the CAGED System1. Expand your chord vocabulary.
1. Expand your chord vocabulary.
2. Identify and play chords across the entire fingerboard.
3. Transport songs from one key to another.

Benefits of the CAGED System

Who is the CAGED system for?

The CAGED system is ideal for beginners who do not yet have a background in music theory and see the fretboard as a bunch of notes, which is difficult and complex to navigate. 

Why is the system called CAGED?

The system is based on the structures or shapes of five major chords: C, A, G, E, D. The order is not a manipulation to form the word CAGED, but they actually appear in that order on the neck, to the extent you go up on the fretboard. Then you can see it in the images.

CAGED system chords

The CAGED system is based on five basic forms of major open chords:

  • C mayor
  • A major
  • G major
  • E major
  • D major

How to learn the CAGED system?

To learn the CAGED system for guitar, you should already safely handle the open chords of C, A, G, E and D. But also, it is important that you handle the barre and the F and B chords well.

In conjunction with the CAGED system, you can learn the location of notes along the entire fingerboard. However, it is recommended that you already know it from the beginning of the lesson. So you can make the most of not only this tutorial, but all of your guitar; in addition to understanding faster.

Finally, it is worth clarifying that this system only works with standard tuning.

Goals of the CAGED system for guitar

  • Learn to convert all open position chords into movable forms throughout the entire guitar.
  • Identify the location of the root in each chord form.
  • Connect the five CAGED chord shapes to trace the entire fretboard at any key, starting at any of the five shapes.

Why is the CAGED system good for guitar?

The system is excellent because it works very well for beginning guitarists with little knowledge. Helps to use the entire fretboard of the guitar and learn new chord positions. All without needing to know too much music theory.

Although there are many critics of the system for its simplicity, that is precisely the reason for its great practicality and use.

Learn the CAGED system quickly and easily

Instead of approaching the CAGED system as a theoretical class, we will see it as a totally practical class. Thus, their learning is more fun, dynamic and applied. Step by step, we will go through the basic concepts of this system while we see practical exercises, to apply the knowledge and learn it faster. So, let’s start this practical tutorial on the CAGED system.

CAGED system practical lesson on guitar

Master the CAGED chords

As we saw, the name of the CAGED system derives from five basic forms of open major chords: C, A, G, E and D. For this reason, at this point in your learning you should already know and handle them very well. That is, handle your changes quickly and have the chords sound clear without fretting. If you still can’t, you’d better keep practicing before continuing with this hands-on tutorial.

CAGED system for guitar formed by the major chords of C, A, G, E and D.
The name of the CAGED system comes from the CAGED chords

Learn and identify the tonic of each CAGED chord

The second step in mastering the CAGED system is to identify the tonic for each of the five chord shapes. The tonic is the base of the chord, the note that gives it its name. Thus, the tonic of the C chord, be it major or minor, is C.

Chords are built by adding to the root or fundamental note, the third and fifth of their respective major scales. In this way, if we take the notes of the C major scale: C – D – E – F – G – A – B, the C chord would be CEG. Below, you can see how the C major chord and the rest of the CAGED system chords are made up.

Each line is the major scale of the note that appears in column I, and the rounds mark the tonic in orange, the third and fifth in blue.

Armed with the chords with its tonic, its third and fifth notes: Grade I + III + V.
Armed with the chords with its tonic, its third and fifth notes: Grade I + III + V.

In simple chords, the root note is the bass note of the form. When we talk about simple chords we mean that they do not have inversions or bass change. In addition to the bass of the chord, one or two octaves of the fundamental of the chord are also usually played, which are the same tonic played in higher octaves.

Knowing this, it is easy to memorize the location of the root note in each chord shape. Also, you can go further and memorize the third and fifth notes of the chord. Below we show you the shapes of the CAGED chords, highlighting the tonic note in red. You will see that in the form of C, A and D you play two tonic; while in G and E you play three.

CAGED system for guitar: identifies the tonic of each of the major chords of C, A, G, E and D.

Master chord shapes anywhere on the fretboard

Knowing the basic shapes of the chords and the location of the tonic of each shape. The next thing you need to do is transpose each open position shape on the fretboard, turning it into a closed position shape. Thus, the chords will not have open strings. To do this, we must create barre chords from each of the CAGED shapes. In the following image, there are the CAGED chords as barre chords, except for the D which does not require it.

CAGED system: the major chord shapes of C, A, G, E and D, with a nut bar.

You will see that the shape of the E is the same as that of F, and that the nut is like a barre. The same happens with A and B, it is the same shape, only its location changes. Therefore, if you already know the F and B well, you already master two of the five chords. You will only have to learn the shapes of C, G and D.

In G and D you are likely to make mistakes when it comes to the location of the barre. Thus, the spacing error is very common in those chord shapes. One way to avoid getting G and D wrong is to remember to keep an empty fret between your index finger and the remaining fingers.

Transposed forms of Sol and Re.
Always remember that in G and D you must leave an empty fret between the barre and the rest of the beats.

Technique for stretching the hand

The C, G, and D chord shapes require a greater stretch of the hand. Therefore, it may be difficult for you to master them. Classical guitarists, who are used to stretching, place their left hand – if you are right handed – in a different way.

To minimize tension when performing these chords, place your thumb well behind the neck of the guitar. The position of the finger must be perpendicular to the direction of the strings and supported in the middle of the neck. Avoid wrapping the neck with your thumb up, making it stick out the side of the sixth string. This last technique gives more force for vibratos and bendings, but on the other hand it reduces the stretching capacity.

Although it sounds logical, it is important to note that you type only the necessary notes. Place the barre only on the strings that are necessary. So, in the G shape you only need the barre on the second, third and fourth strings. Do not place the barre on the six strings, that would require a greater stretch.

Transpose Chord Shapes

As we saw, any chord shape can be used for any major chord. Simply transport or move the chord up or down the guitar fretboard and position the root in any way on the note you want. Thus, you can convert the shape from C to C # just by moving up one fret; then move it up one fret, and you have a D chord. So on with D #, E, F, and so on.

CAGED system: Transpose the C chord shape on the fretboard to make it a C # and D chord.

Knowing the names of the notes on the fretboard

As we already explained, it is essential that you know all the names of the notes on the guitar fretboard. If you are still not sure, there are very practical techniques that will help you memorize the notes of the guitar. We recommend the following article to learn the guitar notes and their location the fretboard.

Also, we leave you an image with all the notes on the fretboard from the open notes to the 12th fret. Remember that from the 12th fret all the notes are repeated again. Thus, on the 12th fret you will have the same notes that it has when you play the open strings. At fret 13 you will have the notes from fret 1 and so on.

Name of all the notes on the fretboard, essential to get the most out of the CAGED system.

Practice transposing shapes and forming new chords

You already know the CAGED chord shapes, their tonic, and the notes on the fretboard. You are now able to put together the major chord of any note with the five CAGED shapes along the fretboard.

Start practicing moving each shape up and down one semitone, that is, one fret at a time. Focus on keeping the shape together and solid. It is advisable to start with form E, the same as F, and form A, the same as B. These two forms are the easiest. Then continue with the D shape, the C shape and finally the G shape.

In addition, by being able to play in different ways of any major chord, you will also be able to recognize what each chord is called. For example, if you see someone playing the E shape on fret 5, you will know that on string 6 and fret 5 there is an A, so you will know that it is a major chord of A. This way, you will be able to identify the correct name of any chord along the neck.

We insist that while you are reading this lesson, you practice each of the points with your guitar.

Practice CAGED chord shapes along the fretboard
1. Move each chord shape up and down one semitone – one fret at a time.-
2. Identify which major chord you are playing by looking at the note you are playing at the root of the shape.
3. Start with the E and A shapes, which you should already be familiar with thanks to F and B, then move on to C, G and D.

CAGED System: Putting the Pieces Together

Now that you know the different CAGED chord shapes, you can move them along the fretboard to play the same major chord in different ways. It is time to start putting all that knowledge together and pouring it onto the tuning fork as if it were a puzzle. Thus, you can take advantage of the full potential of the CAGED system.

To do this, we must see how each of the forms are related and what notes they have in common. As if each chord shape were a puzzle piece, start putting them together, connecting them, and you’ve mapped the entire fretboard.

Let’s start by looking at all the C chords using the different shapes that you will find on the fretboard. You will see that the order that appears is the CAGED.

Different variants of the C major chord.

Match each of the CAGED chord shapes on the fretboard

If you look at the fretboard and the CAGED shapes you will see that between each of them there will always be at least one note in common. In addition, the common notes between the forms usually span a region of a single fret. Except for the common notes between the D and C chord shapes they span a two fret region.

All CAGED chord shapes joined on the fretboard.

You can repeat the same process with any note. For example with A, which is next to C. Thus, you will get the sequences AGEDC. If you do it with G, the sequence would be GEDCA and so on with the remaining chords.

CAGED system for guitar formed by the major chords of C, A, G, E and D.
Order of chord shapes for each note.

Exercise the CAGED sequence

Practice playing the CAGED sequence across the entire fingerboard and in different keys. To do this, start in each of the CAGED chords in the open position. Then keep doing it but using all the rest of the notes, from C # to Bb or A #. 

In the case of C #, start with the C shape by moving the entire chord one fret higher. In the case of Bb or A #, using the A shape a semitone higher. Pay attention and don’t forget the common notes between the different shapes.

Once you get it right in all the keys, you will have mastered the CAGED system and greatly expanded your resources and chord vocabulary throughout the entire fingerboard. The CAGED method provides you with a logical way to get to know and understand the neck using basic chord shapes that any beginning guitarist knows.

How to practice the CAGED system for guitar?

The best way to practice and learn the CAGED system is to take a chord progression and replace each of the chords with the different forms. Use the charts above to see the different ways to play a C, and use them in a simple C | chord progression. G | C | G. Start by changing just one of the chords, but then try changing the rest.

Although you will continue to play the same progression, you will see that the different positions or shapes do not sound the same. You can see that as you move up the fretboard, the notes get higher. You can change how a chord progression sounds without changing a note. Just modify the shape and location of the note and you will see how it changes despite being the same. You will see how it allows you to expand your musical vocabulary.

Chord vocabulary and resources expansion

Now you have five different ways to express yourself with chords along the fretboard of your guitar. By converting each of the five CAGED shapes into barre chords, you’ve transformed them into moving chords. Thus, knowing on which note you are supporting the root note of each shape, you can play the chord you want, how and where you want. In this way, you have exponentially increased your ability to generate different audios and colors in the same chord progression. Just exchanging their shapes and position on the guitar fretboard.

Advantages and benefits of knowing how to transport chords

With all this new chord vocabulary you can also transport a song from one note to another. For example, if a song in D is too high for the singer’s tonal range. With this new knowledge you can easily transpose the chord progression from the song to C; making it easier for the singer to perform the song.

You could even do this simply to change the audio of the song or because it is easier for you to play it in a different way. You can do it without changing the shapes of the chords, but the tonality can.

CAGED system and scales

Many find it practical to combine the CAGED system with the scales. In fact, it is a good way to better understand the scales and identify the keynotes. This is important since the tonic functions as a resting or resolution note. From our perspective, the CAGED system is not a way of learning the scales, but a complement to them. When you practice and study scales, do so in conjunction with the CAGED system.

CAGED System Lesson Lesson Summary

Now you are in a position to find chords all over the guitar neck. Also, you know better the notes on the guitar fretboard; thanks to the CAGED shapes and patterns that allow you to easily visualize how the notes and intervals are distributed throughout the neck. But using the CAGED system does not end there. The CAGED system is equally useful for arpeggios and licks, it is even a great complement to learning scales. Thus, the CAGED methodology works as five containers with information from the tuning fork; allowing you to easily view the entire fretboard and play in any position using the various chord shapes.

Related Note: Best Easy Guitar Chord Songs For Beginners .

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