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The Guitarist's Guide to the CAGED System


Chops: Beginner
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to convert all open-position chords to moveable shapes.
• Identify the location of the root in each shape.
• Discover how to connect all five CAGED shapes to map out the entire neck in any key, starting on any one of the five shapes.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

To get the most out of your guitar playing, you need to have a deep understanding of the fretboard. Wouldn’t it be nice if the guitar was laid out in a logical fashion? Well, it is, and in this lesson I’m going to introduce the CAGED system. I believe that once you understand the CAGED system, you’ll be able to “crack the code” and see the fretboard’s inherent logic. Note: This system only works with standard tuning.

Instead of giving a lengthy description of the CAGED system, I’ve found the best way to learn it is to immediately get your hands on the material. Think of this lesson as a hands-on tutorial. Step-by-step, I’ll walk you through the basics of this system while providing practical assignments—as if we were in a one-on-one lesson. Grab your guitar and let’s get to it!

The CAGED System
The CAGED system derives its name from five basic open chord shapes: C, A, G, E, and D. To get the most out of this lesson you must know these five chord shapes (Fig. 1).

Next, you need to know where the root of the chord is located in each of the five shapes. The root is the foundation of the chord. The root of a C chord, for example, is C. Major chords, which we’ll focus on in this lesson, are built by stacking the root, 3rd, and 5th notes of their respective major scales. The notes of the C major scale are C–D–E–F–G–A–B. Therefore the root, 3rd, and 5th notes of a C chord are: C–E–G. In Fig. 2, you’ll find the five CAGED chords with the location of the root, 3, and 5 labeled in each chord diagram.

Assignment #1
Memorize the location of the root in each chord shape. For extra credit, memorize the location of the 3 and 5!

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