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Fretboard Knowledge 3: The CAGED System

Updated: Aug 15, 2018

Now you can start seeing some pattern with octaves, I’d like to introduce you to the CAGED system. This is another way of building a roadmap across the fretboard based off the basic open chord shapes:

These are essentially all the shapes you need to successfully navigate the fretboard, so how do we use them?

Well lets pretend that the nut of the guitar is actually a fret, lets move the C chord up a semi-tone so that open notes are now located on the 1st fret:

It still has the shape of a C chord but now it is actually a C# or Db major chord. This is because the lowest note of the chord ( C ) has moved up a semi-tone (C#/Db).

Lets move all the CAGED shapes up a semi-tone:

Now lets look at the pattern shapes:

To make these shape workable for different keys, we need to know where the ROOT note is located within each shape. The root is where the chord gets its name from. For example to play an Gmaj chord the note ‘G’ would be the ROOT, similarly to play an Dmin chord the ROOT will be ‘D’.:

Although technically these are Triads, as in they only consist of three unique notes, the CAGED chord shapes produce a full and rich sound because the triad notes are duplicated throughout each shape. If locate where the ROOT repeats itself we can start to see those octave patterns we were talking about.

You can now pick a note on the fretboard and build the CAGED shapes around it. Check out the exercises below to help you memorise the shapes and also the order of the shapes as they move up and down the neck:

Ex1. Seeing how the shapes cycle:

Ex2. Seeing how the shapes cycle using I IV V IV chord progression:

CAGED Minor Chords

Lets have a look at the CAGED shapes again but now from a minor chord perspective:

Notice how similar the relative major and minor shapes are? Actually only one note moves down a semitone from the major to minor shape (This is the 3rd we were talking about in the Basic Music Theory 3: Chords):

Major Shapes:

Minor Shapes:

You may find the G shape tends to be quite tricky, but try leaving the 'High E’ string out and play these alternative shapes:



Just be aware of where the chord tones are within the pattern as this will come in handy when we cover scales.

Knowing where the 3rd is located is useful and digesting and memorising the shapes. Here are some exercises to show you these shapes moving around the fretboard:





If you can understand the concept of the major third moving down a semitone to a minor third then you only really have five shapes to learn.

Now lets try making some music using these shapes, on the following pages are two etudes covering all shapes in major and minor across the fretboard. Play them both through slowly. Once you have the hang of it why not try mixing up the chords and making your own etude. Who might surprise yourself:

I hope you have found this useful, let me know in the comment section.


Taken from my book series 'Six String Enigma'

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