- Learn what’s really behind the CAGED system.
- Develop a deeper understanding of chord inversions.
- Create interesting progressions all over the neck.
Scaffolding is a teaching technique used to build connections for learners before the true concept is taught. An educator will select content that is not too difficult or unfamiliar for students and will use that familiar material to make connections to the new concept.
An example of scaffolding is a teacher discussing the themes of To Kill A Mockingbird before assigning a class to read the book itself. The CAGED system shares this same structure; instead of directly learning how chords are constructed, students learn chord shapes they’re already familiar with, but move the chord shapes to new locations on the neck.
There are advantages and disadvantages to learning with a scaffolding system.
- Scaffolding minimizes frustration
- Scaffolding is catered to students who are quick to give up
- Building connections based on known concepts (i.e.: chord shapes) speeds up learning
- Does not promote independent learning
- Over-scaffolding creates dependence
- CAGED system cannot be applied to music in general and is specific only to the guitar.
The ultimate goal of CAGED is not to teach shapes but to teach new chords.
I would like to offer another piece of scaffolding. Chord inversions will also teach students new ways to approach chords they already know. These two scaffoldings are not in competition, but in fact aid each other.
You will create a chord progression applying both the CAGED system and chord inversions. We will use the I–VIm–IV–V progression in the key of A major: A–F#m–D–E.
What's a Chord Inversion?
An inversion occurs when a chord’s notes are rearranged, specifically which note in the bass of the chord.
An A major chord in root position is A (root) C# (3rd) E (5th)
1st inversion is C# (3rd) E (5th) A (root)
2nd inversion is E (5th) A (root) C# (3rd)
In Ex. 1 you can see these inversions played on the top three strings.
Let’s simultaneously lay out the A major chords using the CAGED system in Ex. 2. (If you need a CAGED refresher, check out "The Guitarist's Guide to the CAGED System."
You will select one of these voicings for your chord progression. As you examine all eight voicings, pay attention to which voicing you’re drawn to. This will help build your creative voice. Personally, I’ve always loved the sound of a 1st inversion chord, so I will select that for the first chord in my progression.
The second chord in our progression is an F#m. Let’s examine the inversions for this chord in Ex. 3.
In Ex. 4 you can see the F#m CAGED system chords.
I want to include some descending pitches. I will select the F#m from the CAGED system, using the "E" shape. When moving between these two voicings the energy drops in a lovely way because there are so many descending pitches. We also add three new low notes, giving this voicing a deeper sonic space. This is a sound I enjoy. You may choose whichever voicings you think sound right for your exercise.
For my example, I’m going to select a D chord in root position. Curiously, I decided against using the "A" shape of the D chord. These two chords are incredibly similar but I wanted to stay away from the lower notes. This will add contrast in my progression for a dynamic effect.
Because E major is the final chord in our progression, I’d like to hear it end on a full sound with a nice bottom end. This will contrast the high voicing of the previous chord. For these reasons I simply choose the open E chord. The final result of my progression is in Ex. 5.
Scaffolding is not good or bad, just as the CAGED system is not good or bad. The power in this lesson comes from the student making strong creative choices, and analyzing why they’re making those choices.
Create your own chord progression and think critically as you select which chords you want. The system itself doesn’t give a player creativity. It’s the implementation of the system that builds creativity.
One of Nashville’s bona fide hitmakers shares secrets to making stock progressions pop.
• Learn the fundamentals of the CAGED system.
• Spice up your chords with colorful notes.
• Understand how to move chord shapes along the neck.
One of the things that made me fall in love with the guitar is how it gave me the ability to play chord shapes up and down the neck. Think about this: You could be playing a simple progression with a friend, and although you're playing the same four chords, by using different voicings, you can make the song sound so full. How does that work? In this lesson, I want to answer that question and show you a few ways to bring the most out of your chord progressions.
Let's get some theory out of the way first. You might have heard of the CAGED system before. [Editor's note: If you want an in-depth lesson on the CAGED system, check out our eBook here.] This rather simple system is based off the open-chord shapes we all started with. It has expanded the way I think about guitar and helped me discover new, creative ways to approach songwriting.
The CAGED system works a little bit like this: We use those open-chord shapes as a framework to understand the fretboard. For example, we can play five different C major chords, each based upon a different shape going up the neck. In Ex. 1 you can see how I'd lay out each C major chord.
Below you can hear how each chord shape sounds. Check out Clip 1 and notice the subtle difference between voicings.
To easily apply the CAGED system, you'll need to learn your root notes around the neck—especially on the lowest two strings. This will help you easily find the different shapes in the middle of a song. Once you get a good handle on your root-note positions, get familiar with a few options for every chord around the neck. I often use the “A" shape and the “E" shape in almost every key up and down the fretboard. This has also helped me get rid of my capo! Sometimes I'll still use a capo in the studio if I want to play specific chord voicings, but for the most part, I play capo-free thanks to the CAGED system. With practice, these will become second nature and they'll really help you expand your harmonic palette.
Now, let's break this down. In Clip 2, I've recorded a simple G–Em–C–D–G progression with the easy open-position chords we all know and love.
Now let's apply the CAGED system and play the same progression higher up the neck. I'm going to try to play all the chords around the 10th fret (Ex. 2). You'll hear what this sounds like in Clip 3.
Now, you can take it a step further. In certain keys, you can let some open strings ring. These open strings sound so beautiful and can really give some nice harmonies when someone else in your band is playing chords in open position. Let's take a listen (Clip 4). The chord progression is E–C#m–A–B–E. As you can see in Ex. 3, we leave the top two strings open throughout the progression.
This simple I–VIm–IV–V–I progression can be played in so many different ways. Using a capo, you can continue to use some of these chord shapes to layer intriguing harmonies if you're playing with other musicians or recording multiple guitar tracks in the studio.
Lastly, there are a few notes within these CAGED shapes that can enhance a chord progression with some cool, ear-grabbing colors. In Ex. 4, I've marked blue triangles on some of my favorite tones that surround the five CAGED shapes and add distinctive sonic flavors. Some are extended chord tones (like the 7 in the “C" shape), while others are ambiguous-sounding suspensions (the 2 in the “D" shape).
I hope this helps you get the most out of your chord progressions. See ya next time!
It’s awards season, so we hand out some totally fictitious ones to honor some of the most deserving scales, techniques, and discoveries over the last year.
• Understand how to use the blues scale to target notes in a 12-bar progression.
• Learn how to navigate open-E tuning.
• Cop some techniques made popular by Slash, Joe Satriani, and Allan Holdsworth.
Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.
Anyone who follows popular culture, in either music, TV and film, or sports, knows that we’re heading into awards season, and that got us thinking. Aren’t there people deserving love in our scene? In light of that, I present to you a handful of completely made-up and subjective awards. It’s worth noting that the panel of judges consists solely of myself, and I also decided on all the nominees, so take these “awards” with a huge grain of salt.
Best Scale in a Leading Role: The Blues Scale
Scales are very much the ingredients from which we create melodies, and it’s pretty important that you pick the right one for the job. Nobody wants pepper in their coffee! That said, the scales you use are often largely dictated by the chords you’re playing over. For example, if you’re playing over a long E7#9 vamp, the E major scale isn’t going to sound great.
Our winner this year is the chameleon of scales. And you can find it working in many contexts where the theory books tell you it absolutely shouldn’t. A close relative of the minor pentatonic scale, the blues scale contains the degrees 1, b3, 4, b5, 5, and b7. (In the key of A, that’s A–C–D–Eb–E–G.) Its gritty sound makes it the perfect choice for minor chords, and even major progressions where you want to add a bit of attitude.
Ex. 1 demonstrates that perfectly, working over the first eight measures of a 12-bar blues in A. To keep things interesting, I’ve moved around the neck a fair amount, covering each of the five CAGED boxes. (If you need an in-depth overview of the CAGED system, head here .)
The only real consideration here is being aware of the chord changes. Try to make sure to land on a D when the chord changes to D. This helps to make it feel like you’re playing with the band, rather than just over them.
Best Scale in a Supporting Role: The Major Scale
When it comes to supporting or harmonizing a melody, one nominee stands head and shoulders above the rest, the trusty major scale.The idea here is that as long as you can work out the key that a chord progression is in, you’ll be able to easily create a pleasing harmony to sweeten your melodies.
Ex. 2 features a Dm–Bb–C–Gm progression. Just jamming over this with the D natural minor scale (D–E–F–G–A–Bb–C) feels right—and it is. Looking at the chords though, I can see that these chords can also be visualized in the key of F major. Take a look below:
D natural minor: D–E–F–G–A–Bb–C
F major: F–G–A–Bb–C–D–E
The two scales share the same notes—in fact, D minor is the relative minor to F major. Now, let’s harmonize a melody in thirds. The concept is rather simple: Start with the melody note and harmonize it with a note that’s three scale degrees higher. For example, if the melody note is D, play an F above it. If it’s G, play a Bb. In Ex. 2 you can see the lower melody along with the higher one. Remember, you can isolate each one within Soundslice. In the higher melody, I’m thinking of three-note-per-string patterns, just two CAGED shapes higher.
Best Effect Used in a Supporting Role: Delay
While there were many candidates here, from a subtler option like compression to a more discernible sound like a wah. I’ve gone with what’s typically used most often and obviously, thus opting for delay.
Now, there are many ways that delay can be used creatively, from the vintage slapback of rockabilly players like Brian Setzer to the bold, atmospheric approach favored by U2’s The Edge. I’ve chosen the more traditional use to add organic ambience to a lead sound.
To demonstrate this, I recorded a simple Pink Floyd-inspired lead guitar part over a four-measure progression (Ex. 3), and then added delay to this part on the repeat. It really is incredible just how much life this gives to a part. When it comes to delay settings, there are lots of options, but most pedals are going to give you delay time, level, and feedback.
Delay level is self-explanatory; this is the volume of the delayed sound in relation to your dry signal. Each pedal is different, but in most cases turning this control all the way down removes the processed signal, while cranking it tends to hide your dry signal. You’re going to want to set that to taste, but I suggest dialing in a delay that’s audible, yet doesn’t overpower the main part.
Feedback is how many repeats you’ll hear before the delay becomes inaudible. Again, each pedal is different, so you’ll want to start with a median setting.
Finally, delay time controls how many milliseconds (or seconds on longer delays) exist between the original note and the first repeat. When I’m playing an ambient lead part, I find I like a 430 ms delay. If your device lets you dial in a specific time, great! If not, simply adjust to taste by ear.
Best New YouTube Discovery: Joey Landreth
This is a much harder category from which to pick a winner, as thousands of YouTube videos get uploaded daily, but one discovery I made this past year was the frontman for the Bros. Landreth, Joey Landreth. Coming out of Canada, this slide whiz works as both guitarist and singer in the band, as well as putting out some great solo material. He’s my main hope for the next coming of slide guitar in 2018, and his vocabulary and fluency—especially in open tunings—is truly astonishing.
The technique we’re going to check out involves fretting a note with the slide as normal, but instead of simply picking the note, you place your picking-hand index finger on the string exactly 12 frets higher and then pluck behind that to create an artificial harmonic. Since the note is played with a slide, it can then be slid up the neck to create a screaming tone sure to impress anyone. Instead of diving into Joey’s open-C tuning, we will use the more common open-E (E–B–E–G#–B–E).
Ex. 4 also offers moments where I’m fretting notes behind the slide. Take a look at measure four, where I hold the slide at the 5th fret. My index finger hits the notes at the 3rd fret before releasing back to the slide. A similar idea happens in the sixth measure.
When looking for an MVP, lots of names came up, but in the end, I went with the player who, in my opinion, added the most value to projects this year, and that player has to be Slash.
Just a few years ago, Guns N’ Roses were considered a bit of a side show. For the record, I absolutely love Chinese Democracy, and the guitarists featured in the post-Slash 1.0 era. The reunion with Axl took a legendary band and put them back on the radar and on the road to playing stadiums. Slash’s style is a masterclass in classic-rock vocabulary, mixing pentatonic ideas with great bends and the odd bit of speed for good measure.
In this short solo composed over a simple blues rock riff in E (Ex. 5), I’ve used notes of the E minor scale (E–F#–G–A–B–C–D) with the added b5 (Eb) for that bluesy quality. The first four measures should present few problems, but as you move into the final section there are some quite quick ideas. Slash isn’t known for being a shred picker, so you’re going to have to mix picking and legato to get these licks to speed. It’s no walk in the park!
Best Way to Get Noticed on Instagram: Neo-Soul Licks
It would be hard to avoid the meteoric rise of neo-soul guitar players on Instagram over the last couple of years.It’s developed into an exciting genre that blends the harmonic sophistication of jazz and soul music with modern funk and gospel chops. There’s no denying how impressive and beautiful this genre sounds when played by the pros.An afternoon looking at the playing of Mateus Asato, Isaiah Sharkey, Mark Lettieri, and Lari Basilio should be enough to spur your interest in this exciting, ear-twisting take on soul music.
The example I’ve composed (Ex. 6) is a relatively simple free-time idea in E. The secret is getting the parts to ring out as much as possible, so take each chord as its own idea and work on it slowly until you can play it cleanly and have the notes ring out. Also pay attention to the quick trills and slides, which are a form of ornamentation to decorate the chords. In terms of tone, I’ve gone for a Tele in the middle position and a Twin Reverb with lots of reverb. This helps to give the playing a beautiful ambience.
Return of the Year: Joe Satriani
This past year was great for new music, and it’s hard to put aside your excitement when a legend of the scene announces a new release. This can be a double-edged sword though, and it’s often impossible to match the nostalgia surrounding a childhood hero. Thankfully, Joe Satriani’s new album was a hit.
In terms of style, Joe is one of the fathers of instrumental guitar music. His strong ear for melody, creative use of modes, and cutting-edge techniques really set him apart in the early years of his career, and now he’s back—as good as ever.
Ex. 7 uses Joe’s pitch axis theory, which involves shifting modes over a static bass note. So in this example, the bass plays a static C, and every two measures the harmony alternates between C Dorian (C–D–Eb–F–G–A–Bb), and C Lydian (C–D–E–F#–G–A–B). In terms of technique, I’ve explored Joe’s trademark legato ideas, rolling up and down the neck.
The beauty in Joe’s legato style lies in how he avoids playing strictly on the beat with obvious subdivisions. Where common phrasing uses lots of groupings of four- or six-notes-per-beat, Joe often uses groups of five, seven, or beyond! These aren’t planned or counted. It’s a case of rolling around with the hand and cramming the notes in the space allotted before resolving to the next part. So in essence, I’m playing this as fast as my hand will carry me!
In Memoriam: Allan Holdsworth
While Allan certainly had the adoration and respect of virtually everyone who heard him, his sound was so ahead of its time he never achieved the following he deserved.Four decades after he broke onto the scene, there are very few people who can really say they’ve mastered what it was Allan did, and I’m certainly not one of them. It was his tongue-in-cheek hatred of the guitar that led him to develop sounds that seemed as far removed from the guitar as possible. His chord work sounded like some kind of synth unit from another planet, and his lead work had a sonic smoothness juxtaposed against some of the wackiest and wildest harmonic ideas you’ll ever hear. There’s unlikely to be another Allan Holdsworth in our lifetime.
Ex. 8 looks into Allan’s beautiful, ethereal chord playing. It’s really hard to pin this down in terms of traditional Western harmony—the chords use 10 of the 12 chromatic notes in total! Things become even messier when you try to give these chords traditional names based on the functional harmony we’re used to.
The concept here is to create more of a soundscape by taking some garden-variety chords and then adding in other notes for color. You’ll notice many of these chords include a major or minor second, which creates a pleasing tension. In all honesty, the wonderful tone Allan used, combined with the soft volume swells and reverb/delay he favored, make almost any chord work sound wonderful.