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The CAGED method of learning the fretboard

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The CAGED sequence is explained and shown below with the aid of a diagram.

This system helps the guitarist to understand the fretboard in an easy to learn format.

You might understand already some of these concepts just from playing a little but this will give you the big picture so bear with me!

Let's look at this from a "shape/form" oriented concept and how it ties in together.

Play an OPEN C chord - we'll call that the C form.
Play an OPEN A chord - we'll call that the A form.
Play an OPEN G chord - we'll call that the G form.
Play an OPEN E chord - we'll call that the E form.
Play an OPEN D chord - we'll call that the D form.

(For help on chords, look at the chord directory)

Now let's look at the C chord only. Going by the CAGED system we have 5 different ways we can play the C chord up the neck starting from the OPEN C chord.

Open C chord based at the nut of the fretboard.
The C chord that is made barring the 3rd fret using the "A" shape 3 3 5 5 5 3.
The C chord that is made barring the 5th fret using the "G" shape 8 7 5 5 5 8 (hard stretch).
The C chord that is made barring the 8th fret using the "E" shape 8 10 10 9 8 8 (10 is the tenth fret).
The C chord that is made barring the 10th fret using the "D" shape
X X 10 12 13 12.

Or we can start with an OPEN A chord and work the same progression up the neck. So if you start with an A chord the next chord will be the A using the "G" shape, then "E" shape, then "D" shape, then "C" shape.

Basically, whatever open chord you play the next shape is the next letter shape following C-A-G-E-D-C-A-G-E-D-C-A-G-E-D (it just keeps revolving). So if you play an "A" chord on the 5th fret 5 7 7 6 5 5 (the "E" form), the next A chord moving up the neck is the A chord using the "D" form X X 7 9 10 9 or conversely moving down the neck you would use the "G" form 5 4 2 2 2 5.

At this point, you will be saying to yourself "some of these positions are really impractical" ...and you are correct. This is mainly a conceptual exercise to learn the fretboard. We will gravitate naturally to what is easier. The main point of the CAGED system is illustrating is the repetitive patterns that are generated due to the way the fretboard is laid out. In other words the CAGED pattern "shifts" depending on what open chord you start on and move up the neck but the sequence doesn't shift.


So now we ask ourselves HOW DOES THE PENTATONIC BOXES RELATE TO C-A-G-E-D? This is where the diagram found below comes in.
Each BOX pattern is associated with a chord form. Notice how each box links up to the next one. Every box shares a set of notes. Look at the bottom diagram and see how they all look together on the fretboard.
(Lesson continues after the image - Click to see an enlarged view!)


CAGED Example Image.
Blues in E

My advice is to get familiar with 2 boxes. The C scale form and the G scale form. By knowing these 2, you automatically will learn the A scale form. Once you are comfortable with that then the other 2 boxes will fall into place. Hard to explain without showing you but I think you will see it as you practice.

An example would be a BLUES tune in E with a 1-4-5 chord progression (12 bar blues in E).
Right click here and save as… for a 24 second MP3 sample of this lesson's blues track.
This track is part of a loop, so put it onto repeat and use it to practise the scales!

This would use the Em pentatonic scale. Since the G scale form is the easiest for me, I will start that form at the 1st fret (Open E). If you don't understand what I meant by 1-4-5 progression let me know by posting a question in the forum.

Hope this helps.

Lan Tran, "Ninjato"

[Editors note: Learn to play a few different songs that use the 1-4-5 progression. Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" is a 1-4-5 in A, Tracy Chapman's "Gimme One Reason" is a 1-4-5 in C, and Jimi Hendrix's "Red House" is a 1-4-5 in E. Each song follows essentially the same chord progression, but each sounds unique because of the tempo and the style in which it is played. Playing a variety of 1-4-5 blues will help you understand what they have in common and how they differ, which will in turn help you build a solid foundation in blues while still encouraging your own creativity.]


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