Prog rock guitarist and teacher with a passion for Music Theory applied to Guitar.
Posted on Sep 12, 2016 12:15 pm
Do you know a number of different scale positions on a fretboard? Should you be learning more of them? And why should you be asking this question?
Some people learn to play scales on the guitar fretboard by breaking it into different segments ("positions"), and learn each one separately. This method is known as "position playing" and is very popular. But that doesn't mean it isn't without its problems: most notably how exactly do we break apart the fretboard? While it seems inconsequential, it does have some real-world effects on your playing.
The vast majority of scale systems for guitar use "position playing" in some way or another. Among them is the system we're talking about today: the infamous CAGED system.
In both online and offline discussions I have heard many players who use the CAGED system affirm that CAGED is the "correct" system because the fretboard divides "naturally" into five shapes (I'll go into detail on this momentarily), that happen to be the five CAGED shapes. And this is typically followed by "the five shapes are a consequence of the structure inherent in the standard tuning of the guitar" or something along these lines.
But this idea of "natural division" is chock full of discrepancies, of which, in the interest of time, I will highlight just a couple:
1. Not all CAGED systems divide equally. The Berklee CAGED system touted in their numerous books has seven shapes and yet, the CAGED system described in Joe Pass's book shows six shapes. How can more than one method of dividing the fretboard be the natural one?
2. The fretboard only divides into five shapes naturally when using five-note scales (like pentatonic scales), but try plugging in a seven-note scale like a natural minor, and you'll find nothing but problems. Sure, you can divide it into five sections with seven-note scales if you twist these patterns enough, but it's far from being a natural division.
Logically and technically speaking, trying to divide the fretboard into five equal parts regardless if you are playing diatonic scales, pentatonic scales, and triads is just fraught with problems and inconsistencies.