The CAGED system came up in my lessons a couple of years ago. I glossed over it and thought I'd come back to it later.

I've now come back to it, and it doesn't really make sense. The point, as I understand it, is that you can play different chords up and down the neck by using the same chord shapes. The problem I have is that the chord shapes usually bear little or no resemblance to the C,A, G, E, or D chord basic shapes. On top of that, while looking for, say, a G shape for a C chord, I'll find an A shape that sounds much better than the G shape in that area. It seems like it would be easier to memorize chords that I would be using.

Am I missing something?
Any chord is made up of intervals ("musical distances" ... I'll come back to this) from the chord root. So, the root of C is the note C; the root of E- is the note E; and so on. Each unique chord type is built up of its own unique set of intervals.

We measure musical distances in "semitones" ... play a note anywhere on guitar, and then play the note one fret higher on SAME string, that second note is a semitone higher than the first. The first is a semitone lower than the second. This can also be done placing one note on one string, and the other on a neighbour string (e.g. 5th fret on bass E string and 1st fret on A string).

Sticking with one string, a major chord can be played using distances of 0, 4 and 7 semitones from any note on the string (so long as you don't "fall off" the end).

For example, the A major chord can be played on the 6th string. A is found at 5th fret, so the notes of A major are found at the 5th (5 + 0), 9th (5+4) and 12th (5+7) frets on the 6th string. (Exactly the same on the 1st string also). A is also found at 2nd fret on G string. So you could play A maj notes at 2, 6 and 9th frets on the G string. Other places for A: 5th string, open. 4th string, 7th fret. 2nd string, 10th fret.

So we have a few possibilities for where that A chord was "rooted" above. To make a minor chord, the semitone pattern is 0, 3, 7.

Obviously, a chord is usually layed out involving several strings. But the exact same idea is being used of semitone distances, including the possibility of octaves of any of the intervals involved. The guitar tuning determines this.

For major and minor chords, there are a very small number of hand shapes to learn to create intervals of 3, 4 and 7 semitones, using more than one string ... these can be learned over a few days, 5 minutes a day. The other useful shape is the octave shape (12 semitones).

Here is the octave shape; Here we're using G as the root. If we used A as the root, the whole pattern slides two frets to the right, and so on. Notice how this breaks the guitar into 5 regions (in this case, regions 5, 1, 2, 3, 4 ... the region "number" is determined by which string(s) hold the octave note of interest)

Moving from left to right, we can imagine a capo laid out (mostly) coincident with each of the octave possibilities ... so, fret 0 (open string ... i.e. just the nut), at the 3rd fret, at the 5th fret, at the 7th fret, at the 10th fret.

Capo at 0. play G shape (region 5)
Capo at 3rd fret, play E shape (region 1)
Capo at 5th fret, play D shape, (region 2)
Capo at 7th fret, play C shape. (region 3)
Capo at 10th fret, play A shape. (region 4)

So ...

Those shapes will lay out the intervals for a major triad, and change depending where the root is. The diagram above is coloured as follows:

Red - root
Yellow - 4 semitones above nearest root
Blue - 7 semitones above nearest root.

The numbers are the what musicians normally use to discuss these distances:

1 - coincident with root
3 - 4 semitones ... aka "major 3rd" ... hence "3"
5 - 7 semitones ... aka "perfect 5th" ... hence "5"

BUT ... the point is, do NOT think of these SHAPES as being the chords E, D, C, or A ... there aren't. The root determines the chord letter name, the shape determines the chord type, and the choice of string for the root determines which shape to apply.

So, hopefully you can see that the shapes that we all learned when we started are laid out along the neck as different ways of playing that chord type.

Unfortunately. CAGED places too much emphasis on the 5 shapes for C,A,G,E and D.

The reality is that its the interval shapes that are the real useful concept.

So, to convert any one of those major triads shown above to minor, simply move the yellow coloured circle one fret lower on its string. Compare next diagram with above.

Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Mar 27, 2016,
They ARE the same shapes, there's just often a barre behind them when they are not in open position.

Do you know all the notes on the fretboard? If not, get up to speed on that first. You'll need to know just what you're playing before the chord shapes become really useful.

These really are the chords you'll be using 90% of the time. I've played in cover/wedding bands for several years and almost everything comes down to those basic triads and barre chords.

And CAGED is a system for learning where all your triads are, not telling you which ones to play or when.
CAGED is a useful tool for expanding your vocabulary quickly. If you master it you can play with anyone, anywhere, in any key. It is certainly not the only way to get there but it does work and it is easy to apply. I used to teach it to intermediate guitarists who had pretty good basics but were stuck in some way. It helps to allow them to branch out and take the next step.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
Thanks for the help. I do know the notes on the board, and it does help. The diagram really helped a lot. I've seen tons of other diagrams, but for once it made sense.
You a can play an A chord in 3 main ways. E shape on the 5th fret, A shape, and C/D shape rooted on 12th/10th fret.

Every basic chord is that way.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Mar 27, 2016,
Quote by Monkeyleg
Thanks for the help. I do know the notes on the board, and it does help. The diagram really helped a lot. I've seen tons of other diagrams, but for once it made sense.

The diagrams are screen shots from emuso software ... you could just hold down the red circle and drag along or across the "guitar" and everything moves and changes as expected. Or click, and everything is shown from that root. Or use a note name (if these are expanded (below the neck), and the root will jump along its current string to that note.

I've set the layout so you can see all the regions ... but for beginners, the amount of visible stuff can be trimmed right back to a few frets around the root.

Instead of interval names, can get emuso to show pitch names inside the circles (E2, G3, ...) with correct spellings (for chord and scale types) ... personally I prefer to stick with intervals (or just semitones, which it also does) when I'm teaching someone.