Okay, so in one of my online polls- you guys said that you would like me to give you an: “Idiot’s Guide to the CAGED System”. Now- I will be trying my very best to explain the CAGED system, but let me tell you now that even the simplest guide to this system may sound notoriously complicated. It’s worth learning though- because it gives you a very good understanding of your fretboard and its possibilities.
To learn about the CAGED System- I recommend that you:-
-Know what notes go where on your strings and frets (i.e. 8th fret e-string and 3rd fret a-string are both “C” etc)
-Have basic musical knowledge
-Know your Open Chords/ Barre Chords
-Have a lot of patience
Okay. Here goes.
WHAT IS THE CAGED SYSTEM?
CAGED is not just a word for how chords can make us all feel sometimes- in this case it is actually an anagram (kind-of). It stands for the chords C,A,G,E and D- all in their Major forms (we’ll be avoiding minor because it just gets way too complicated). So CAGED is just C-Major, A-Major, G-Major, E-Major and D-Major.
Now if you’ve ever played guitar (my guess is that you have) then you should know the open-chord shapes for the aforementioned chords like the back of your hand. If you feel rusty on them then go recap and come back to us when you’re done.
Basically the CAGED system focuses on making these chord shapes moveable and applicable to other notes than what they were originally intended for. So for example we all know that Barre Chords are moveable- and we have 5th string and 6th string Barre chords. Right? Well the funny thing is that they have already snook their way into this system! For example a 6th-string Barre chord (fretting all the strings) takes the shape of an E Major Chord (with a Barre added) just as a 5th-string Barre Chord takes the shape of A Major Chord (with a Barre also added).
Now imagine Barring with the C, D, and G chord shapes- that’s all you’re essentially doing! You may have to alter the fingering but you will basically be adjusting your open-chord fingering to add a Barre where the nut would be. You may have to make some changes to accomodate this- for example if you normally play a 4-finger open G chord then you may have to change it to a 3-finger open G shape and use your now spare finger to Barre the strings.
Caged is a word. It’s not gibberish. The fact that it is a word is merely coincidence though- because CAGED is simply the order in which these chord-shapes connect together. The fact it makes a memorable word is just a nice and simple way for us to remember it!
Now as I explain this- try not to get confused between CHORD SHAPES and ACTUAL NOTES. In this system you could play a D CHORD using D NOTES (and it’s thirds/fifths etc) but while using a C SHAPE. The C,A,G,E and D should be thought of as simply shapes. The actual frets you are pressing down on are what you should be thinking of as notes and you should be able to work out what all of them are and what is wrong if you play something and it sounds atonal.
So all these Chord-shapes connect to each other is this order, and they move up the fretboard in succession- getting higher and higher as they go. So to keep it simple let’s imagine an open C-Chord. Its a C-Chord being played in C-Position. Simple. C in a C position. Now according to the system- to adjoining chord-shape would be the: A shape. Now as we previously discussed- the A shape is the same as a 5th string Barre Chord. If you look at your C you will notice that the lowest note being played is the 3rd fret on the A-string (which makes a C note). Well this is the note that we use to make our A-string (barre) shape with. So you would barre the 3rd-fret of all the strings, and fret the 5th fret on the D, G and B strings. The resulting chord would be in an A-Major Barre shape, but you are actually playing a C.
So then we move on to the next letter/chord which is a G-shape. Notice how in the last shape we played 3rd fret A-string? That note is C (non-surprisingly). Well the 8th fret of the E-string is also a C, and that’s where you will be putting your middle finger for this next one. So you will be Barring at the 5th fret, and fretting a 3-finger G shape with the relevant 7th and 8th frets. If you worked it out, your notes here would be C,E,G,C,E and C. A perfectly fine C-Chord, just being played at odd frets.
We then have the E-Shape. Luckily this is another easy-ish one because it’s basically just a 6th-string Barre Chord (using the E Chord-shape). So looking at the previous Chord we used 8th-fret on the E-string as our low-C note. Well now we’re going to use that 8th fret as our Barring position. So Barre the 8th fret and play a E-chord shape that you should be use to with these Barre Chords (Barre 8th fret, fret 10th fret on A and D strings, fret 9th fret on G string). Once again- if you sit there and work it out then the notes being played here are C, G, C, E, G and C. Once again- still a C-Chord, just being played with an A-Chord’s shape at odd frets.
So now we come to the last chord-shape in the word and that is D. To make the D-shape we would Barre the 10th fret (or alternatively just fret the 10th fret of the D-string, because it’s all that’s really gonna get played at that fret) and use the 12th and 13th frets to continue with the D-Shape. Your notes would be C (an octave higher than normal) followed by G,C and E.
The secret to a system like this is learn it inside out and to learn how all the chords connect to each other! if you think you may be fretting/barring something at the wrong position then work out what notes you’re playing on each string and see if they’re right. Generally the notes will always be either the root (for example “C” before) the Major Third (which would be E) and the Fifth (which would be G). Use your musical knowledge to excel and use this system correctly/ to its full advantages. I recommend checking out: “Music Theory Made Easy” for advice on the CAGED system and just musical theory in general.
HOW TO USE THE CAGED SYSTEM FOR ITS ADVANTAGES
If you made it this far through the article without dying of boredom and/or confusion then I applaud your persistence, as I am going to give you a couple of examples of how to use this System to your benefit.
-Bye Bye Capo!
Something has a sharp or flat chord in it? Better get out the Capo? Nope! You know have 5 different moveable chord-shapes that you could use to make your sharp/flat chord with varying levels of ease
Different chord-shapes and fret-numbers etc give different sounds to the chords- it’s common sense. Even if you’re playing incredibly similar notes- they’re going to differ in timbre- and may give you a sound that you are desiring in a song/piece.
The CAGED system is kind-of the basic layout for the Diatonic Scale, and it can be shifted around in the same kind-of way.
Lots of funk players use chords high-up the fretboard (usually based on the CAGED system) and change their shapes to give some interesting chords and varied sounds/riffs etc
Let’s keep the exercises simple. So basically I want you to:-
-Play a C-Chord throughout the CAGED System. This is what I was discussing before. If you were merely reading rather than playing along then I suggest you revisit the information.
Then when you’ve done that:-
-Play an F# chord through the CAGED System. The first possible shape here is the E-shape, so you would Barre the 2nd fret and make an E-shape with the 3rd and 4th frets. Carry on til you get back to E (so after this it’d be D, C, A, G shapes). In this case F# is your root, A# I’d your Major third and C# is your Fifth. Use that knowledge if you get lost on the expanse that is the Fretboard!
Thanks for reading this article, I hope it has at least made some sense out of a fairly confusing system! Once again if you’re having difficulty with the CAGED System or with any musical theory then I suggest checking out: “Music Theory Made Easy” when you get a chance.