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The C-A-G-E-D System

This system was first codified by Bill Edwards in the series of books entitled Fretboard
Logic. The series goes into incredible detail, but the concept behind it is actually quite
simple. Essentially, it breaks the guitar's fretboard down into five fingerings that are very
easy and most likely very familiar to you already. These are the standard, open-position
major chords that every guitar player knows, C A G E and D, shown in the picture below.
Basic CAGED forms

What's cool about this system is that it provides a basic 'road map' of the fretboard for
you--even when you get into the most complex musical concepts, you can still use these
shapes as your 'guideposts' on the neck of the guitar.
Now we have to translate each of these basic shapes into a "moveable" form, one that can
be placed anywhere on the neck (usually a form of bar chord):
Moveable CAGED forms

IMPORTANT POINT: You might notice that a couple of these moveable forms are not
particularly convenient for practical use. The idea is not that you use these shapes as
regular chord voicings; rather, you should simply know where that shape lies on the neck
for whatever key you are playing in. Your scales for improvising and your chord voicings
can then be based around that shape (more on that later). You can also take portions of
these forms and create chord voicings that are cool and practical for everyday use (more
on that later too).
EXAMPLE: The root notes are circled in each diagram. Therefore, if you want to make an
"Eb" chord using the "C" shape, place the "C" shape beginning on the third fret so that the
circled notes (the ones on the 2nd & 5th strings) both land on Eb.
You're probably already familiar with the "A" and "E" shapes--these are standard bar
chord forms. The C shape is quite useful as well. I personally don't find the "G" and "D"
shapes to be useful as chord voicings, but I do use them all the time as forms to improvise
around. What could be more familiar to our fingers than a G chord or a D chord?
The next step is to get familiar with how these shapes apply to the different keys. Based
on these shapes, you should be able to find five different fingerings for each of the 12
different major chords. You'll learn this best if you try to figure it all out for yourself, but I'll
give you this chart to make it a little easier for you:
Key

fret where

fret where

fret where

fret where

fret where

"C" shape
falls

"A" shape
falls

"G" shape
falls

"E" shape
falls

"D" shape
falls

0, 12

Bb

10

1, 13

11

0, 12

10

C# /
Db

11

10

0, 12

Eb

11

0, 12

10

F# /
Gb

11

10

0, 12

Ab

11

It's worth noting at this point that the shapes ALWAYS occur in the same order on the
neck of the guitar. For example, if you are playing an Bb chord, the "A" form occurs first
(lowest) on the neck, on the 1st fret, followed by the "G" form on the 3rd fret, the "E" form
on the 6th, the "D" form on the 8th, and the "C" form on the 10th.

Applying CAGED to Pentatonic Scales


Pentatonic scales are easy to improvise with, and very familiar to many guitarists, so let's
take a look at how these fit in with the CAGED system. There are basically 5 fingerings for
the pentatonic scale (the major pentatonic scale, to be specific), and they correspond to
our CAGED chord forms as follows:
Pentatonics and CAGED

Compare these to the moveable forms shown earlier, and you will see that each note of
each moveable form is present and accounted for in each of the pentatonic fingerings. The
root notes are circled again for reference.

Minor Pentatonic: Many people are familiar with what is sometimes called the "minor
pentatonic" scale (the "G" form shown above, but played over a minor key or in a blues
song). The easiest way to translate what we have learned so far to the minor pentatonic is
to think in terms of relative major & minor. If you don't know what this means, each major
key has a "relative minor" key that is essentially its equivalent (and, conversely, each
minor key has a "relative major."). Look at this chart for reference:

Major
Key

Bb

C#

Db

Eb

F#

G Ab

Relative
Minor F#m Gm G#m Am A#m Bbm Bm Cm C#m Dm D#m Em Fm
Key:

For example, if we are playing in the key of Am (or playing a blues song in A), we can look
at the chart and see what major key is the relative major of Am...C major. Now we can
apply the CAGED system as shown above for the key of C major. To make a C chord, the C
shape falls in open or 12th position, the A shape falls in 2nd position, the G shape (the
familiar one) in 5th position, the E shape in 8th position, and the D shape in 10th position.

Applying CAGED to major scales and the major modes


We can now take this a step further and apply these fingerings to the major scales and
their modes (the modes are discussed in depth on the page entitled The Major Modes).
Look how they correspond:

Thought process for applying this to different keys and modes:


1. Find the parent major scale for your mode (the major scale from which your mode is
derived).
2. Apply the CAGED system to your parent major scale to find where the 5 shapes fall on
the neck of your guitar.
3. Use the associated pentatonic scales and mode fingerings to improvise in that mode.

EXAMPLE: We are playing "Dark Star," an improvisational song by the Grateful Dead
that is largely played in the mode of A mixolydian (until it gets weird, anyway). STEP 1: the
mode of A mixolydian is derived from the parent mode of D ionian (see the page on the
modes for details on how this works). STEP 2: determine the D major CAGED fingerings--C
shape 2nd position, A shape 5th position, G shape 7th position, E shape 10th position, D
shape 12th or open position. STEP 3: Play the corresponding pentatonic and mode
fingerings.

Suggestion for practice:


Pick a key and mode at random. Using the process outlined above, determine the CAGED
forms for that mode, and all the corresponding pentatonic and mode fingerings for that
key. Play the CAGED chord form and then play the scales and modes that go with it so
that you can really learn what it sounds like, Finally, create melodies of your own within
these patterns.

major chords, caged system


blame je covey, je .covey@pobox.com
September 18, 1997
root position chords
c
a
g
e
d
x 3 2 0 1 0 x 0 1 2 3 0 2 1 0 0 0 3 0 2 3 1 0 0 x x 0 1 3 2

r 3 5 r 3

r 5 r 3 5 r 3 5 r 3 r r 5 r 3 5 r
r 5 r 3
bar chord forms
c form
a form
g form
e form
d form
x 4 3 1 2 1 x 1 2 3 4 1 3 2 1 1 1 4 1 3 4 2 1 1 x x 1 2 4 3

r 3 5 r 3
r 5 r 3 5 r 3 5 r 3 r r 5 r 3 5 r
r 5 r 3
to nd any given chord at any given fret, nd which string has the root on the chart below, then nd a bar
chord form above that has the root on that string (the notes in the chords above are marked with r for root, 3
for third, and 5 for fth). for example, to nd an e major chord at the seventh fret, you can consult the chart
below to nd that there is an e on the fth string at the seventh fret. the chart above shows that both the c form
and the a form have roots on the fth string, so playing a c form bar chord or an a form bar chord will give you
an e major chord (with the a form, your rst nger would be on the e, while with the c form, your fourth nger
would be on the e ).
note names, frets I-XII
6
5
4
3
2
1
open e
a
d
g
b
e
I
f
a]/b d]/e g]/a
c
f
II f]/g
b
e
a c]/d f]/g
III
g
c
f
a]/b
d
g
IV g]/a c]/d f]/g
b d]/e g]/a
V
a
d
g
c
e
a
VI a]/b d]/e g]/a c]/d
f
a]/b
VII
b
e
a
d
f]/g
b
VIII
c
f
a]/b d]/e
g
c
IX c]/d f]/g
b
e
g]/a c]/d
X
d
g
c
f
a
d
XI d]/e g]/a c]/d f]/g a]/b d]/e
XII
e
a
d
g
b
e
made with LATEX and c 1997 by je covey, distributable under the terms of the gnu general public license.
the GNU General Public License is available from the Free Software Foundation, Inc., 675 Mass Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.

The CAGED system is a powerful tool for unraveling the complexities of the layout of
notes, scales, chords, arpeggios, interval patterns, licks and riffs on the guitar fret board.
Its name is an acronym for the five basic chord shapes which form the origin of the system:
Start by looking at the patterns formed by the Root Notes of each of these chords. Marked 'R'
on the diagram below :

By clearing the rest of the chord notes away we can see these root note patterns more clearly.
Note that what we are left with are all the possible ways of fingering movable OCTAVE
PATTERNS:

Now here's the clever bit: by laying these five patterns out so that they overlap each other in
the order that spells the word 'CAGED' we are able to chart every single occurrence of any
given note on the fretboard:

Try it - learn to finger this pattern off by heart then start it anywhere on the fret board and you
will join together every occurrence of whatever note you start it on!