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The Guitarist's Guide to the CAGED System

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Moving On Up
Now you know the basic shapes and the location of the root for each shape. The next step is to convert each open-position shape to a closed-position shape—meaning there won’t be any open strings involved in playing the chord shape. To do this we must create barre chords out of each of the CAGED shapes. In Fig. 3 you see all of the CAGED chords as barre chords. Note: No barre is needed to play the D shape as a closed chord.

Some of these shapes may feel like old friends. The first barre chords most guitar players learn are the barre form of the A and E shape. Two shapes that are less familiar and prone to spacing errors are the G and D shapes. The common spacing error is to compress the fingering of the shapes. Be sure to keep an empty fret between your first finger and the remaining fingers used to build the chord, as shown in Fig. 4.

You may find a few of these shapes are difficult to grab due to the stretching involved. To minimize strain, don’t wrap your thumb up and over the neck on the 6th string side, keep it behind the neck. Also, I encourage you to only barre the necessary notes. For example, when playing the G shape, don’t barre across all six strings; you only need to barre three notes (the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings). Why create any extra work?

By converting each of the five CAGED shapes into barre or movable forms, you have exponentially increased your chord vocabulary. Each individual shape can become any major chord you need: Simply move the chord up or down the neck and place the shape’s root on whatever note you want—it’s that easy. Take a look at Fig. 5 and you’ll see that moving the C shape up one fret creates a C# chord, and moving it up one more fret creates a D chord.

By knowing that the root is located on the 5th and 2nd strings in the C shape and knowing the names of the notes on those two strings, I was able to correctly identify the actual chord I produced by shifting the C shape to these other locations. To do this with all five shapes, you need to know the location of the root within each shape and the names of the notes on the fretboard. Fig. 6 names all the notes on the fretboard.

Assignment #2
Move each shape up and down in half-steps (one fret at a time), focusing on keeping the shape together and not collapsing the G and D shapes. Also, be able to identify the correct name of the chord at any place along the neck.

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