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The CAGED System

Greetings and welcome!

Here's something that some of you have heard about, some of you master it and some of you hate it.

The CAGED System.

Every now and then questions about the CAGED System start popping up on social media and the answers are usually so vague and contradictory, that by the end of the day there's only bits and pieces of a would-be explanation, but no real answer.

I learned about the CAGED System back when I was studying in LA. Before that I knew about a 3-note-per-string system for the major scale and it's modes (I still don't know what that system was called), but I wasn't really consciously using it. I also didn't have any idea on how to map the fretboard, I was just trying to play whatever "sounded right", but I had no idea which notes or scales I was using. Honestly, I just wanted to play fast, I didn't care much about the notes and scales and so on. (yeah I was your average annoying Guitar Center kid)

But then, I moved to LA and started studying and, after failing miserably on my first sight reading lesson, I realized that I definitely needed a system that would help me map the fretboard and find specific notes and scales at any given moment.

Enter the CAGED System.

At first I thought it was just another "Scale System" that I had to learn to get my degree, but after some time using it, it really improved my playing and the way and think when I play.

So, what is the CAGED System exactly?

To keep it simple, the CAGED System is a fretboard mapping system that uses 5 open chords shapes as its fundament (C, A, G, E, D) and it allows us to easily find any major/minor scale, chord or arpeggio at any given moment by moving these 5 shapes all over the fretboard.

Now, it is extremely important to understand that the names of the shapes have absolutely nothing to do with the tonality we're in. You can be playing a Bb scale using a G shape, but it will still be 100% a Bb scale, not a G scale.

So, here's a diagram on the Key of D Major. The numbers on the left of each shape are the frets the shape starts on.

And remember, the names of the shapes have nothing to do with the tonalities!

Now, as you can see on the diagram above, for each shape we have a Chord, an Arpeggio, a Scale (Natural Major) and a Pentatonic Scale. All those thing are found within each "Scale Shape" in the CAGED System.

The trick here is to associate each of this things so that if you see a chord shape, you can instantly identify the scale shape it belongs to and use this scale to improvise on top of that chord. It works the same the other way around. You play a scale, you identify the chord inside that scale and now you have some comping options or an arpeggio.

This is really useful if you're struggling to connect some changes while improvising. The chords you're playing will tell you what scale shape you have to use on top of them, and once you find it you won't have to worry bout playing the wrong notes. There's a lot more to "playing the changes", but this is a really good place to start.

As I said, the trick is to really be able to associate each Chord and Arpeggio Shape with a Scale Shape, and that's what the diagram above is for.

So, the diagram is on the key of D Major. What happens if you want to play on a different key?

The only thing you will have to do is to find the root of the new key you want to use and start the shapes there.

For example, you want to play G#.

You have an G# on the 4th Fret of the low E string, on the 6th fret of the D string or on the 11th fret of the A string. For the G# on the low E string you can use the G and the E shapes, for the G# on the D string you can use the D shape, and for the G# on the A string you can use the C and the A shapes. You just move the shapes until the shape's root is on G# and that's it. Now you can play a G# as a chord, scale, arpeggio or pentatonic scale.

The CAGED System will work the same, it doesn't matter on which key you're on.

As you probably already realized, we don't have any shapes for minor scales/chords up there. I'm not gonna write much about this now because I want to keep all the lessons as short and to the point as possible, but if you're looking for a minor approach to the CAGED System, the 6th of each scale needs to become your new root. This will not change the shape, it will change the starting point of the shape. Try it and yo might discover some fun thing that are also really practical.

I will expand on the CAGED System in the future, but for now, try to really understand how the mechanics of it works and try to be able to instantly recognize which chords belong to which scale shapes and vice versa.

Alright everyone, I hope this helps, and if you have any questions don't hesitate to contact me or leave your question (Or any kind of feedback) on the comment section below. And if you like my posts or find them helpful, don't forget to subscribe to the blog and share it!

Thank you guys, see you around!

Now go practice!


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