Why CAGED for Guitar Doesn't Work Part 2: Scales/Arpeggios Mechanical Integration

A simple examination of the facts shows that the CAGED scale/arpeggio integration is just superficial.

Why CAGED for Guitar Doesn't Work Part 2: Scales/Arpeggios Mechanical Integration
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"Programming languages teach you to not want what they cannot provide." (Paul Graham). When learning guitar, a scale system is just like a programming language.

Visualizing arpeggios and scales is a necessary skill for any guitar player. Do you possess this skill? If you can, what system did you use to learn this? If it's the CAGED method, then this article is for you.

Perhaps the most awkward lesson the CAGED system offers is the use of arpeggios/chord notes inside a scale. Which is funny, as integration of scales and arpeggios is THE most touted benefit of using this method... In other words the majority of people who picked up or were taught the CAGED system did it specifically to learn how to integrate scale patterns and arpeggios.

So it to be expected that people critiquing the system (yours truly included) receive a lot of interesting "feedback" when they comment negatively on this point. When this happens, the key to understand both the apologists and critics is that they have different understandings when they use the word "integration."

The CAGED system DOES incorporate the memorization of scale shapes and the positions of the chord notes inside them, which we will call the "visual" integration. But visual integration works in any system: no matter which patterns I use to play a scale, I am in principle able to point to the arpeggio notes in it.

What guitar players actually require, on the other hand, isn't simply visual integration: what is actually beneficial is called "mechanical" integration, meaning the possibility to fluidly move between a scale and an arpeggio as they play - and making sure that both the scale and the arpeggio patterns are playable. This is where the CAGED system falls short.

Of course, this is something that can be seen only when scales and arpeggios are actually played on a guitar fretboard, as opposed to just watching scale/arpeggio patterns on a piece of paper or on a computer screen. As such it is much easier to show this point practically than it is to explain in words, so be sure to watch the following video to see how this concept actually applies to guitar playing.


This example shows why mechanical integration is the best feature to have rather than a simple visual integration: it doesn't just help in real playing situations, it will help make all of your playing more consistent, and will help get results from your practice efforts much quicker than other methods. My previous video also shows a prime example of this: CAGED Sucks part 1: Right Hand Consistency.

Part 1: Inconsistent Picking
Part 3: Why 5 Shapes and What Has the Tuning to Do With It?
Part 4: Learning to Stretch

About the Author:
Tommaso Zillio is a prog rock guitarist and teacher with a passion for music theory applied to guitar.

123 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    oddworld
    Do you approach harmonic minor and melodic minor with the 3nps too?
    tommaso.zillio
    Yes
    oddworld
    Not sure if you're going to, but could you post a video using this in musical context? Not trying to be an asshole, but to me this sounds like shit. Exactly the problem I had with the 3nps. I learned 3nps before CAGED system and my ideas started to sound musical only after adding the use of CAGED system with the 3nps. Also, this seems like a very hard way to play over jazz chord progressions compared to thinking about chords, so that's why I'd like to see how it works in practice.
    jerrykramskoy
    Tommaso ... I applaud all attempts to reduce complexity on learning guitar. For sure, arpeggios are much easier in 3 nps compared to staying in one box. I wouldn't de-emphasise the importance of visualisation ... as that also brings theory and mechanics together. For me, I use a mix. I first learned how to break a 12 fret block of the neck into 5 regions by octave pattern, and where the intervals are in any of these 5 regsions. I originally saw 3 nps as the bringing together of any 2 regions (now I don't think about it). Ditto arpeggios ... but then adding in sliding as well to take in bigger arpeggios. But I also like playing horizontally (along one or two strings). I have my opinions on 3 nps here, but you haven't got to this yet. The main danger I see in sticking with one system can be on becoming predictable ... some very cool ideas come from using 2, 1 or zero notes on a given string. Also odd note groupings, which of necessity change the mechanics of the right hand. But I guess that's more advanced playing. I agree that 3 nps is very efficient, and should be in a players toolbox. But I don't agree it's the only thing. However, I'm not sure you think this is the case either? Keep up the good work!
    tommaso.zillio
    Hi Jerry. As usual you make interesting and reasoned points, thanks. It's not my intention to de-emphasize the visual approach (I think 3NPS is still visually good), rather I want to point out that there is not only visual. Visual is not bad per se... visual at the expense of the mechanical is not optimal though. And yes, 3NPs is NOT the only system. I am using it as an example, but I personally use more than one system integrated together. If I made the video with examples from all the other systems, it would have been much longer and confusing: I'd rather give a simple clear example even if it may open me to the criticism that I am "close minded" or "dogmatic". As for playing horizontally... in another video I'll to that too. One at a time!
    rawuzar
    I know guitar players that use CAGED and others that use 3NPS. What I observed so far, is, that the ones who use 3NPS are better players and can adapt new techniques, shapes, theory a lot faster than the "CAGED-users". I think CAGED is a way to start (like many others) but it reaches its limits pretty soon. From that point, things getting way more complicated, than with 3NPS. In my opinion a combination of learning 3NPS patterns and chord/arpeggio shapes is good way to get fast results (Both fit together but are still different perspectives)
    Sam-Russell
    This really helps integrate the two concepts (3nps and arpeggios) together, thank you for taking the time to make this video for us!
    Chocomalk
    The caged system is just a way of viewing the guitar, it exists whether you utilize it or not. It is useful but it all depends on your musicality/style. Mechanical fluidity is not the end of music nor is technique. Use that left hand thumb to play power chords all you want.
    aldo.chircop
    And unicorns exist in your mind if you believe they do, doesn't matter whether you actually ever saw one or not. So what? That's a non argument. The issue is which way to view the guitar is also the better one to utilize. What use is something that 'is there whether you utilize it or not?'. If there is a system that not only allows you to visualize the fretboard just as well or better, but is *also* better when it comes to mechanical fluidity, then guess which system is objectively better. You are basically saying "I don't care whether the system I use is the better one, I don't intend to play well anyway, or to make the learning process easier and quicker." How does that make sense?
    Chocomalk
    What I meant is that it exists because of the theory inherent in music and yes it can be utilized using any number of nps. And I don't know many country players that use the 3 nps concept yet they are some of the most fluid and technically proficient players around.
    tommaso.zillio
    Well, yeah, there ARE other methods... I am showing 3NPS as an example of a system that works better than CAGED, but if I had to list ALL of them we'll be here for hours.
    Chocomalk
    I agree that it is a better method for overall musical technique but that does not mean CAGED sucks. In fact the 3 nps concept is not better for country or blues or rock players that are strictly pentatonic based.
    tommaso.zillio
    What part of "3NPS is just one possible example' is not clear? Pentatonic is a perfectly viable approach to the fretboard (that I use regularly). But pentatonic is not automatically CAGED (though many CAGED players would like you to think it is)
    Chocomalk
    If the diatonic scale is CAGED then the pentatonic scale is also since it is within the diatonic.
    tommaso.zillio
    Oh please, now you are just randomly throwing out statements. The diatonic scale "is" not CAGED. There are many ways to play it. The pentatonic "is" not CAGED either: there are many ways to play it. If you know only one way, that's on you, but stop putting other people in a box.
    Panasonic3
    You are talking about tradition. You say caged is better because that's what people have been using/that's what the style of music developed around. However, anyone can take any style of learning and apply it to any style of playing in any genre. The author here is trying to show us a better way. Don't be stuck in the past. Try and learn from his lessons with an open mind, you will learn something! I garuntee! Or you could just be salty and butthurt that this dude is hating on the way you did things. To the author: you use lots of superfluous language (actually, oh please, use of CAPS LOCK) if you relax a little and adopt a more professional tone, you may turn away less potential students. Good lesson though! I only recently learned caged after years of playing and I found that I wasn't missing much. It does expand fretboard knowledge but as you put it, there are much better ways of doing things. Cheers!
    Jere Toikka
    The 7nps system is also a way of viewing the guitar and exists whether you utilize it or not. But it does not make it useful. Is there a specific reason other than it actually existing to why you think CAGED works? And technique is only a tool also, I agree and I think so does Tommaso If technique is made easier, it gives more room to work on other aspects of music. Would you rather spend more time on honing technique on a poor system, or get it over and done with quicker and have more time to focus on songwriting for example?
    M Scholtemeijer
    3nps*
    Jere Toikka
    I actually meant 7nps just to demonstrate that every system exists whether you utilize it or not Same goes for 5nps etc.
    M Scholtemeijer
    How does one play 7 notes per string?
    Chocomalk
    Ask any country player if they feel that CAGED isn't working for them. What I meant is that system X is only as good as the person utilizing it and the style they play. Not every painter uses the same brush technique or photo realistic techniques.
    tommaso.zillio
    ... I know lots of Country players who use 3NPs... but whatever...
    Chocomalk
    Maybe some but if you watch the more prolific players the entire style is based around open notes and the CAGED system.If you know how to shift positions you can be quite fluid.
    tommaso.zillio
    Your is still an argument ad populum ("that many people can't be wrong") - and it's not even verifiable either way (do we have statistics about what system Country players use?) We will never go anywhere if we don't reason about this with rational arguments. I make a few in this video and in the previous one. Do you have anything to say about these?
    Chocomalk
    This isn't about popularity and stats. The "typical style" country players use is well known and uses shifting instead of stretching
    Chocomalk
    And another example.
    FWIW I also thought CAGED was limited until I met a kid from Nashville. He turned me on to people like Brett Mason, Brad Paisly Danny Gatton, Jerry Reed...
    Your argument is about mastery of the fret-board whereas another approach is to master music. Better to develop technique that enhances your personal approach.
    tommaso.zillio
    I agree is not about popularity and stats. So it's useless to post videos of people playing in one style or the other, we'll be here until the cows come home and not get anywhere. What is IS about is how every system works, and what system is the best one, that is the one that will take you to your playing goals first. Saying that some people got there using CAGED is not an argument... since 3NPs can be used for the same, and, as I am trying to show, there is a good case for thinking that it can take people there faster. So what DOES matter are the features of every system. Now. I have two videos out that compare the features of CAGED and 3NPS, and you guys keep shooting them down based on "popularity" arguments (i.e. "this guy uses CAGED", "everybody I know uses CAGED") and refuse to comment on the points I actually make. So why don't you take a page from your own book and finally comment on what I actually say in the video?
    tommaso.zillio
    Guess what... if I want to see the fretboard with diatonic scale patterns that have ONE note-per-string... this system exists too whether you utilize it or not... but it's an incredibly useless way to play scales. And the same is true for any weird idea you might have on how to see the fretboard. Just because something "exist" does not mean it's useful, practical, interesting, or anything else. As for technical fluidity... is your argument that the LESS FLUID system is BETTER? That the MORE DIFFICULT system to learn is BETTER? Then by your logic, the hypothetical One note-per-string system is the best
    Chocomalk
    I never said less fluid is better. Shifting is a valid way of playing fluidly. Ask any country player or ask Django.
    M Scholtemeijer
    "ask any country player" is not an argument. Django is dead, so we can't ask him.
    Chocomalk
    Django had 2 fingers bub.
    tommaso.zillio
    The point we were talking about was that if a system "exists" it does not mean it's automatically useful or convenient. Anything to say to that before you change the topic again?
    kill it
    Great videos Tommaso. I'm from Edmonton too. I agree 3 note per string patterns are awesome. They are easy to memorize and play. I do use 3NPS most of the time, but find CAGED still useful too. The reason being is various patterns can force you to play differently. Kind of like how improvising on a single string does. It forces you to break certain patterns and can introduce different ideas and rhythms into your playing. I find knowing many different patterns opens up more possibilities. But yes, the 3NPS stuff does rock!
    AJGNW
    This one is even better than the first one! It looks so easy when you show it!
    Amadeus_Wolves
    Can't say I fully agree with him. Granted the CAGED system can be a bit of a bitch to get a handle on at the start, but the mechanical aspect of fluidity is simply a matter of analytical practice and repetition. Triads, arpeggios and modal theory all lock in with the CAGED method, so it makes sense as to why it's so commonly used. It's always good to study and understand different forms of musical practice, but to completely shun a method you don't agree with despite it's benefits is kinda short sighted.
    Jere Toikka
    "Granted the CAGED system can be a bit of a bitch to get a handle on at the start, but the mechanical aspect of fluidity is simply a matter of analytical practice and repetition." I agree with your facts, but not your conclusion. If you throw enough hours at anything you can make it work. You can get great using a crappy system, but it will be HARD. Much harder than using a good or great system. Triads, modes and arpeggios also lock in with the 3nps system so I don't see advantage to using CAGED instead.
    tommaso.zillio
    If you watch the video, you will see that triads will work with 3NPS too. In fact they work BETTER with 3NPS than they work with CAGED. And no, it's NOT good to spread your energies in as many methods as you can. It's better to find ONE method that works, learn it in depth, then maybe see the other ones if you need.
    anthony wisnick
    i wholeheartedly agree with you im 68 and do not have the time to waste, i think you are a good teacher, and would like all the videos on this subject so as not to waste time, i would advise you ignore the comments that just want to argue the case for the sake of it, and devote the time to those who see the value in what you teach.
    ruipalmeira
    from a pratical pov, it's easier to use whatever technique he's advertising than using the CAGED system. it has a logical base, it's more ergonomic than the caged system and it really does seem easier at first glance. I'm a self taught guitar player with no musical background (i never studied music, I never had lessons) who doesn't know about this stuff (in whatever way you can go at it, I can't play arpeggios, I don't know scales, I don't know patterns. I've never put any of my time into it). but looking at them side by side it is obvious what not to learn.