How To MASTER The Fretboard Using the CAGED System?

The CAGED system can help every guitar player to get familiar with all the frets on the guitar neck. It is equally vital for both lead guitar and rhythm guitarists (no matter the genre), as it give you a guide of what notes to hit in an improvising / jamming situation.

In this article today, we will discuss just how important the CAGED system is for you to recall the correct scales.

1. What Is The CAGED System?

The CAGED system is the collection of vital chord patterns that every guitar player needs to remember.

It is really “the mother of guitar chord patterns”, and every guitar instructor should cover it. Actually, the CAGED system shows you how music theory ties together across the fretboard.

The name of this system simply derives from the five basic open chord shapes that all beginner guitarists learn: C major chord, A major chord, G major chord, E major chord, and D major chord. Hence the name CAGED was born.

At the first stage of guitar playing, we have the tendency to start with the first frets and stick close to the nut. People tend to avoid playing these same chords across the neck ass they’re more difficult.

However, the more we develop in playing the guitar, the more you will use the higher frets. We can not limit ourselves musically due to the seemingly undecipherable layout. The CAGED system simplifies the fret board by visualizing the relationship between typical open chord shapes and note arrangement on the guitar.

2. Pros & Cons

The CAGED system provides us with tremendous advantages for all aspects of our guitar playing.

You can easily navigate such a massive arrangement of notes by the visualization and collection of interconnected patterns and shapes.


  • Support newbies to learn the guitar easily: When you understand the basic principles of the CAGED system, you can map out and visualize all the chords on your guitar. For instance, with the CAGED system, just by knowing one single chord fingering, you may able to recognize all the scales that surround that chord.
  • Speed up your process of exploring the fretboard: When you are getting in touch with the CAGED system by learning about the root notes, you simultaneously explore the fretboard. Moreover, it also helps you memorize all the keys and scales on the fretboard.
  • Enchich your guitar playing style: Especially, the CAGED system is extremely useful for your guitar playing style since it will make your style more colorful when you are playing with a band. This is because you understand what other notes you can use. Instead of taking uninspired same chord, you can creatively play such chords at the higher position and use the CAGED system to add a higher range of tones to the song to making it more colorful.


  • People become to dependent: You should not totally depend on it. You are limiting your creativity and this makes you meet difficulty in producing musical breakthroughs. Sometimes you just need to feel the beat and just jam. Music is a comprehensive art that requires vital imagination from artists. Rules help us do right but breaking rules will help us make things special. Keep yourself open-minded and allow the potential energy of expression in yourself develop.

3. Practical Applications of the CAGED System?

There are many great applications that the CAGED system will bring to us:

  • Transposition: The systematic nature of the CAGED system will permit you to transpose a song to a different key at a rapid speed and in an easy way without even using a capo.
  • Alternate Chord Voicings: Usually, we are confused and depressed by the different chord voicings because it is very hard to play with them. However, everything will turn out very easy if you can master the CAGED system. With the CAGED system, you will know how each chord shape in the CAGED system connects to the next, and therefore, you can easily deal with many different chord voicings.
  • Adding Sonic Layers: If you are struggling with the issue to create some special highlights for your musical work, then the CAGED system is an ideal supporting tool for you to realize what you are longing for. In particular, the CAGED system informs you of the other ways to play a chord shape, which enlightens you about the way to add more sonic layers to your sóng and giving your songs more depth.
  • Utilizing the Capo: It is common that the capo is only considered to be a tool for changing keys. However that is not all about the capo, that is just one function of it. If you only know that aspect, you will waste other great benefits of the capo. The CAGED system allows you to know the right position placing the capo to retain the key of a song but still use different chord shapes. Therefore, with the CAGED system, you can take full advantage of the CAPO, not just only changing keys.
  • Dividing the fretboard into controllable sections: Throughout this article, we can see this is the most striking and vital reason that you should find out about the CAGED system. By dividing the fretboard into 5 distinct sections, you can simply manage and organize the chord shapes. But the key point we want to stress on is that CAGED is not only about the chord shapes, it goes beyond the chord shapes into the realm of organizing scales. It shows you how scales make connection lays a concrete framework for your improvisation in the future.

4. How Does The CAGED System Work?

When surfing the internet about the CAGED system, it is sure that many of us will be overwhelmed by the too much disorienting information about it. Before you do anything you need to understand the 2 core elements of the CAGED system.

Two Core elements Include:

  • The 5 Basic Chord Shapes: They are C, A, G, E, and D shape. They are open chord shapes and can become moveable by being turned into barre chords.
  • Root Note Position: The Root note is the lowest bass note that determines the chord. Every chord in the 5 open chord shapes has its own root note which is located on a particular string on the fret board. By thoroughly understanding this, you can manage the movable shapes in an easy and rapid way.

Once you understand this concept implementing it becomes much easier.

5. Chords Along the Fret board

When new to guitar playing the full chord voicing can be too difficult. which is why i advise to use a simplified version of the full chord. So long as you know mentally where all the notes of the full voicing.

CAGED Open Chord Shapes

F irstly, to understand the CAGED system, you need to know about the 5 basic open chord shapes. As the above part, they are C major chord, A major chord, G major chord, E major chord, and D major chord. These five chord shapes will separate the guitar neck into 5 individual areas. Looking at the illustrated image below and you can have an overall idea about these ones. They are the most basic things that every guitar player should know.

CAGED bar Chord Shapes

There is one thing that you should pay attention to – the flexibility of the chords. Particularly, all the 5 basic chords previously mentioned are moveable and can be flexibly moved up and down around the fretboard to form chords in new keys. Look at the two familiar bar chord shapes that all the guitarists likely already know – A chord and E chord, you can see these 2 shapes are often used when players are new to the bard chord while the song requires complicated chords like F or Bm. Usually most of the guitarists will be depressed by complex chords and just very few know that we can apply the same rule of movability of A chord and E chord to our other chords (C chord, D chord and G chord) as well. For instance, we can take we C chord and produce a D bar chord by shifting it up 2 frets and baring at the 2nd fret. The same way can be applied with our G chord and D chord as well.

6. How The Chords Connect to Each Other on the Fretboard?

To easily control the puzzle of strings and frets of the guitar, we should connect the chord shapes and map out the entire fret board in a logical way base on the CAGED chord forms.

You should keep in mind a pattern set showing how each chord shape connects to the previous one.

  • C form links to A form
  • A form links to G form
  • G form links to E form
  • E form links to D form
  • D form links to C form
  • and the pattern repeats

All in all, by memorizing the positions of the root note of each chord, you can simply have a clear visualization and road map of all the chord shapes without depending on the capo. Since we visualize each chord on the neck, we will flexibly play in each position and that demonstrates the beauty of the CAGED system. It is very useful that you remember the E and A shapes as they are the common barre chords that generate the backbone of rock and roll and moreover, they are very easy to move up and down your guitar neck.

When you are doing this, it is vital to be visually comfortable with how 2 adjacent shapes linking to each other. Remember that between 2 adjacent shapes there is always at least one note which is common to both shapes.

7. What are CHORDS of the CAGED System?

As Discussed there are 5 chord shapes in the CAGED system. These include:

  • C shape
  • A shape
  • G shape
  • E shape
  • D shape

As you can see the five shapes spell CAGED. We will discuss these in more detail below…

C shape:

C shape

We will take the C shape as our very first chord to illustrate the CAGED system. In this part, we have the C shape in its natural open C form:

A shape:

A shape

In the above diagram, look at the root note on the 5th string, you can see it is also the root note for the A form chord. Therefore, the open 5th string is the root of the A shape. Whenever you change to the next shape, you can easily find the root note of the beginning chord up the fretboard. And that note will become the root note which is lowest down our fretboard in the next chord shape. To cleary imagine this point, you can see the way that the C form chord link to the A form with an A form C chord as below:

G shape:

G Shape

The next chord in the CAGED system we will discover is G chord shape. Similarly, we will take the furthest root note on the fretboard from the A shape, and keep using that note as the root one lowest down your fretboard in the G shape. The root of the G shape is the 3rd fret of the 6th string. When you place the A shape and the G shape together, you can have a clear visualization of these 2 shapes:

E shape:

E Shape

This shape is relatively easy for all of us because it is just the standard E major bar chord shape that most of us use all the time. The root of the E shape is the open 6th string. Namely, when the root note on the 6th string of the G form is shared with the E form, the connection of the G and E forms is created. Below we have the familiar E form C barre chord with the root on the 8th fret.

D shape:

D Shape

The last letter in the CAGED system is D representing D shape. The root of the D shape is the open 4th string. To easily remember the position of D shape, you should look for the highest root note in the E shape, then you use that as the lowest root note in your D shape.

7. The Major Scale

As Discussed there are 5 chord shapes in the CAGED system. These include:

  • C shape major
  • A shape major
  • G shape major
  • E shape major
  • D shape major

Each chord shape has a specific shape/ series of notes that define what the major scale. We will discuss these in more detail below…

C shape major

C Shape

A shape major

A shape 1
A shape 2

G shape major

G shape

E shape major

E Shape 1
E Shape 2

D shape major

D Shape


This article provides you with an ultimate overview of the CAGED system.

It is considered to be one of the best methods of learning how to play the guitar. By memorizing fundamental scale shapes around each chord, you can map out all the chord shapes and be easy to play any scale in any key in any position. Therefore, it is very helpful and powerful for you at the first stage of playing guitar.

Besides the positive applications and tremendous advantages that the CAGED system brings to us, it still can hurt your guitar playing if you abuse it. Remember that it is just a tool supporting you to simplify the fretboard, and it is not a must discipline that you must exactly follow.

Think out of the box and you can freely create your own musical work and develop more in your process of becoming a real guitar artist. Hopefully, you find this subject today is useful and informative. And if you have any questions and advice that you want to share with us, do not hesitate to let us know.

Rich Wilde Music

My name is Richard Wilde and go by @richwildemusic on all major social channels. I am an artist, guitar player, and producer. I have been playing guitar for over 15 years and have come to learn the "tips" and "tricks" to enhance guitar playing, recording guitar, setting up guitar, and overall get that professional sound.

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