Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Understand the basic elements of the CAGED system.
• Learn how to move around the fretboard in all 12 keys.
• Develop soloing strategies for playing over the V chord in a blues progression.

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Hello all, and welcome back to another installment of Beyond Blues. While you all seemed to dig the focus of the last lesson, an overwhelming percentage of the feedback seemed to be a mixed understanding of the CAGED system, which I reference a lot. Some of you had an understanding of what it is, but not really understanding just how powerful a tool it can be for learning blues and jazz, so I figure this month we could dig into the concept and then use it to help you outline the V chord.

The CAGED system is, in essence, a way to learn the entire neck in five small, manageable chunks. On our guitar we have five basic open chords—C, A, G, E, and D—that we could consider as a shape or position. Now just about all of you will have used this concept countless times over the years. For example, there is no open F chord, so we have no choice but to play a barre chord derived from our open E chord. This idea of moving an open chord up in barre form is something that you’ve probably also done with an A chord too. On top of that, this idea can be applied to minor chords, 7th chords, or just about any other open chord you may know.

This essentially means we could play any chord in five different places or positions on the neck. If you take a look at our first set of diagrams in Fig. 1, you’ll see I’ve given you a C major chord using the “C” shape, the “A” shape, the “G” shape, the “E” shape, the “D” shape and then the “C” shape again an octave higher. For the more studious of you out there, you could stop here and work out how to play the five positions of a few other chords.

The beauty of this is that each shape isn’t just a chord—it’s a position, which can contain any chord, any scale, any arpeggio or musical idea. Once you have an understanding of the system and learn some scales and arpeggios, you be able to instantly transpose an idea to any key.

As I already mentioned, this is something you do all the time. For example, when I say “solo in G,” you can move your pentatonic scale to the 3rd fret, if I say “solo in B” you move your shape to the 7th fret and so on. Studying this system will allow you to treat any part of the neck as home without being forced to jump up or down to our tried-and-tested box pattern.

Now it’s worth talking about the naming convention, which is where a lot of people seem to have been confused. As most of you already know, the first (and in some cases the only) pentatonic scale we learn starts with the root on the 6th string played with the 1st finger. It’s the same with bar chords, power chords, and just about everything else. Seeing as this seems to be the starting point for most players, it makes sense to treat this as the first position than calling it the fourth shape (as in the fourth letter in CAGED), so with E as our new first shape, we refer to each shape from the EDCAG system. So when I refer to position four, I mean an idea that fits around the fourth shape of the system—the “A” shape.

Obviously we haven’t had a comprehensive look at the subject, but it should give you the basic idea. Let’s dive in and try to expand on our knowledge of the neck and use the CAGED system to take our blues beyond the box.

We’re going to focus on licks in position three today that would fit around our “C” form. My method of finding this on the neck is that we have the root on the 5th string and the notes all fall behind the root. Below in Fig. 2 you can see the diagrams for a Bb major chord using this shape along with a 7th chord and the basic 7th arpeggio.

Once you’re comfortable finding this 7th chord in any key, the next step would be to work on the Mixolydian, major pentatonic, and minor/blues pentatonic scale in that position.