Use the CAGED system for more than just chord shapes—use it to navigate your melodic highway on the fretboard.
● Visualize and unlock vertical fretboard moves.
● Learn how to not be bound within a "box" shape when soloing.
● Apply the CAGED system to the pentatonic scale as well as the major scale.
Do you feel confined within the same scale shapes or set of frets every time you go to rip a solo? If so, this lesson is for you. Or, if you're confident in your ability to move both horizontally and vertically around the fretboard, this lesson might help you to see the fretboard even better.
Most people think of the CAGED system as a way to play different shapes of the same chord up and down the fretboard, but it's even more useful when thinking in terms of scales. If you're unfamiliar with the CAGED system, hit up PG's in-depth guide here. Today, we're not focusing on memorizing scale positions, but rather on how to weave shapes together in order to navigate the guitar neck. The examples can be used as licks, but overall, this is meant to be more of a roadmap than an itinerary.
Ex. 1 does nothing more than play a four-note grouping from the G major scale (G–A–B–C–D–E–F#) in different octaves on different strings. Using the 7, root, 3, and 4 of the G major scale in an ascending fashion, I navigate the fretboard vertically using the CAGED system as my shell.
I start in the "G" position, and work my way through the "E," "D," "C," and "A" positions, which lands me 12 frets up from where I started, but on the opposite side of the fretboard. This example is the same idea behind the rudimentary exercise many of you might have learned early on when finding and memorizing all the octaves and fretting positions of a single note across the entire fretboard.
In Ex. 2 I show you an idea that works well as a triad-based lick, but really is a tool that ties together positions of the CAGED system by putting the 3 of each chord position on the bottom of each triad (also known as first inversion). In this case we're working in the key of E, meaning that there will be a G# on the bottom of each triad. In terms of CAGED positions this example starts with the "E" position and continues until you are back in the "E" position 12 frets higher. To finish the lick, the "E" and "D" positions are repeated 12 frets from where we started. The "G" position isn't forgotten. I like to think of the "A" position with a 3 on the bottom the same as the "G" position with the low root omitted. This line of thinking makes for a bit more efficiency and fluidity.
Ex. 3 uses the "D," "E," and "G" positions of the CAGED system in the key of A, but this time we're descending the fretboard. This simple lick is focused on the light tension created by highlighting the suspended forms of each of the chord shapes used. There's no right or wrong fingering here and using slides between shapes tends to make things smoother.
In Ex. 4 we begin to stretch our perception of the CAGED system. We're playing the E minor pentatonic scale (E–G–A–B–D) but using the CAGED system to navigate the fretboard using the relative major shapes of G major. To ease the learning curve of this method, we're only using the 1st and 2nd strings. If you're unclear about the theory behind relative majors and minors, it's relatively simple. (See what I did there?)
Any major scale will share the same notes as a minor scale based on a root a minor third below. For example, if you were to play a G major scale and an E minor scale (E–F#–G–A–B–C–D), the notes would be the same.
In our example here, we're using the CAGED system shapes of a G major chord to outline the E minor pentatonic scale. I'm starting in the "G" position and continuing up the neck through all positions of the CAGED system before returning to the "G" position 12 frets higher.
This might take a moment to wrap your head around, but once it clicks it's like a magic key that unlocks previously hidden areas of the fretboard.
In Ex. 5, I take what we learned in Ex. 4 and apply it to all 6 strings. It's the same idea of using the CAGED system alongside the G major/E minor scales to create a highway vertically on the fretboard. Again, fingerings don't make a ton of difference here–fluidity and accuracy do.
The CAGED system is widely understood but also widely underutilized by many guitar players. Combining relative major scales and the CAGED system can be like Bradley Cooper taking the pill in Limitless–except this brain hack exists in the real world and you can have it too. Use this lesson not as a guide to hot licks, but rather as a tool to build your own connections across six strings and 20-something frets.
- The CAGED System Demystified – shop.premierguitar.com ›
- Beyond Blues: Understanding CAGED and the V Chord - Premier ... ›
- The Guitarist's Guide to the CAGED System - Premier Guitar ›
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The AC/OD layout has three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone. That user-friendly format is perfect for quickly getting your ideal tone, and it also offers a ton of versatility. MLA’s new AC/OD absolutely nails the Angus tone from the days of “High Voltage” to "Back in Black”. You can also easily dial inMalcom with the turn of a knob. The pedal covers a broad range of sonic terrain, from boost to hot overdrive to complete tube-like saturation. The pedal is designed to leave on all the time and is very touch responsive. You can get everything from fat rhythm tones to a perfect lead tone just by using your guitar’s volume knob and your right-hand attack.
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Energy is in everything. Something came over me while playing historical instruments in the Martin Guitar Museum.
When I’m filming gear demo videos, I rarely know what I’m going to play. I just pick up whatever instrument I’m handed and try to feel where it wants to go. Sometimes I get no direction, but sometimes, gear is truly inspiring—like music or emotion falls right out. I find this true particularly with old guitars. You might feel some vibe attached to the instrument that affects what and how you play. I realize this sounds like a hippie/pseudo-spiritual platitude, but we’re living in amazing times. The Nobel Prize was just awarded to a trio of quantum physicists for their experiments with quantum entanglement, what Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” Mainstream science now sounds like magic, so let’s suspend our disbelief for a minute and consider that there’s more to our world than what’s on the surface.
I recently spent a day filming a factory tour of Martin Guitars in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. After we wrapped, we discovered that Martin has this amazing museum that showcases more than 170 historic instruments. We decided to meet at the museum at 7:45 a.m. the next morning to film a few choice pieces before catching our flight in not-too-near Newark, New Jersey, that afternoon.
These were not ideal conditions for a performance. Neither my brain nor my fingers work well before 10 a.m., plus I hadn’t slept well the night before. Even so, we loaded into the museum, met the curators, set up the shoot, and began rolling by 8 a.m.
The first guitar was an 1834 gut string, perhaps the oldest Martin in existence. It was beautiful but had some tuning issues and did not project very well, so playing it felt more like work than music.
Next was a prewar D-45 worth over $500k. The strings were ancient with that rusty feel, like you’ll need a tetanus shot after playing it. I’m sure it sounded great, but I was tired and thinking more about making our flight than playing guitar. Wonderful instrument but uninspired performance on my end.
Then, I played a 1953 D-18 coined “Grandpa” by Kurt Cobain. I picked up the deeply sacred D-18, and my hands went to an A minor. This sounds like hype, but honestly, I closed my eyes and connected with a deep, beautiful sadness. The feeling was palpable as soon as you picked it up. This guitar pretty much played itself, leading me to a sad version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I don’t know if it was any good, but I know I felt something deeply. That’s why I started playing guitar in the first place. I don’t have to play well to feel moved.
I later talked to the museum director, who told me the D-18 was given to Cobain by his 1991 girlfriend Mary Lou Lord. Cobain played it on tour before and after Nirvana’s Nevermind. It was returned to her after Cobain married. Shortly after that, Mary Lou loaned the guitar to Elliott Smith, who played it until his death.
When I’m sad, I make myself play guitar to feel better, because it usually works. This 70-year-old guitar spent a lot of time literally pressed up against the hearts and chests of two artists who were so tormented by their emotions that they ended their lives. That’s heavy. You can’t explain those feelings that make the hair stand up on your arm, or when you feel like crying for no reason … but hitting that A minor made me feel it.
We had to split for the airport, so Chris Kies and Perry Bean started packing up. As they did, I saw this cute little 1880 Martin 000 that belonged to Joan Baez. In the photo next to it, Joan looks like my mom in the ’60s. I asked the curator if I could play it, and Chris grabbed his phone to do a quick Insta video. I swear there was a happy vibe coming off this tiny guitar. It felt like watching my mom dance—like a warm hug I needed after Cobain’s D-18.
In Chinese culture, there is a superstition that antiques may hold evil spirits, and chi (energy) transfer can bring this negativity into your home. Feng shui is all about objects carrying good or bad chi. Here’s how I see it: All matter is made of atoms. Atoms contain energy. Ergo, everything contains energy, or, more aptly, everything is energy. Ever walk into a room and feel powerful emotion: joy, sadness, fear, tranquility? That’s energy. We all have felt energy coming from people, places, and things. But that’s what I love about old guitars: Their atoms spent the first few hundred years as a tree in the forest connected to nature. Then, they’re turned into an instrument that makes people happy or consoles them when they are sad. That’s the kind of chi I want around me.
The Saddest Martin Ever? A 1953 D-18 Owned by Kurt Cobain & Elliott Smith
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