Why CAGED for Guitar Doesn't Work Part 4: Learning to Stretch

Guitar players are willing to compromise on what they learn because their hands are too small... or are they?

Why CAGED for Guitar Doesn't Work Part 4: Learning to Stretch
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Why do many people avoid anything other than the CAGED system? If you're not using the CAGED system, is there a reason why you're learning a different way? Take a moment to go through your reasoning for the system that you use. Is yours the most logical way?

In previous articles, we've discussed how the CAGED system lacks consistency (CAGED Sucks Part 1: Right Hand Consistency) and how it cuts the fretboard up in a weird way (CAGED Sucks. Part 3: The "Natural" Division Of The Fretboard). At this point, you might be asking: "If there are so many reasons why the system doesn't work, then why do so many people still consider it the best method?"

That question has no simple answer; and I'll be the first to admit it took me longer than expected to understand what is actually happening. I began realizing that the CAGED scales are not built for the reasons people say they like them - they're not easily accessible, mechanically consistent, memorable, or even easy to use for arpeggios (see (CAGED Sucks, Part 2: Scales-Arpeggio Integration). But they are REALLY good at one thing.

They are really good at making sure a player never stretches their fretting hand fingers.

You can see how this is perfectly consistent with the "CAGED vs the world" debate going on. Indeed this is one of the biggest objection used by people who have used the CAGED system when introduced to other systems: "I can't stretch my fingers enough to make these shapes." But when you consider how much of a drawback the CAGED system is for new players, this just sounds as an excuse. Because it is.

Learning to stretch over four frets is actually really easy - even for people with stumpy fingers - if you use the right technique.

Take a look at the video below for a demonstration of how to stretch your fretting hand effortlessly and be able to easily play the "stretchy" 3-notes-per-string shapes easily. Doing this properly is about putting your hand in the proper position rather than hand size, so that anybody, even those with small hands like mine, can achieve it. Take a look at the video now:


As you see, it's not advanced particle physics. Anybody can do it. Pick up a guitar, move your fingers into the proper location and feel how easy it is to stretch into these shapes. After this, you shouldn't have any more excuses to forego the CAGED system for good.

Part 1: Inconsistent Picking
Part 2: Scales/Arpeggios Mechanical Integration
Part 3: Why 5 Shapes and What Has the Tuning to Do With It?

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

114 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    M Scholtemeijer
    Stop being pussies and learn to stretch. It's not painful at all. (UG is not letting me log in, argh)
    huesudo2
    And whoever is having issues stretching while using the first 6 frets, they can move to the next 6, or as far as they can pull off any stretching exercise comfortably (though without making it too comfortable - you're supposed to be stretching those fingers).
    Brad Litton
    I remember when this stretching idea of stretching your first finger backwards clicked and it was like taking the governor off of the engine of a car. Everything opened up and got so much easier. Great video, Tommaso!
    ArthurSungward
    This is a great idea, I'm going to watch the other videos. I think CAGED positions have their use in specific cases though. When you're playing high up the neck onc ertain guitars it's easier to pick a note on a higher sting than to go up hte fretboard. And when you're playing Hendrix-y kind of stuff where you play a rythm on a chord whilst adding little one note phrases and double stops. But those are pretty specific situations, I can see using 3 notes per string is actually more useful. There is no diminished chord in the CAGED system, plus I think it doesn't translate to bass that well as on bass you tend to go up the neck to play scales, and 3 nps is easier to play octaves with.
    ArthurSungward
    CAGED does overlap more easily with pentatonics too.
    tommaso.zillio
    That's because CAGED started as pentatonic + extra notes. But using pentatonic does not meant that you are using CAGED (I know you know, I just want to make it clear for other people reading). I do use pentatonic a lot, but I integrate it with 3NPS and arpeggios - in the medium-long run it'w actually much easier this way.
    steve.peasey
    That's because CAGED started as pentatonic + extra notes. ----- No idea where you got that idea. The system was developed around the chords they are built off of. Im baffled where some get their info from.. another says there is no diminished chord... its a seven note scale.. harmonize it and you'll find the diminished chord. Bottom line I can tie two caged scales together that are side to side and wail away pulling notes from both of them and bam... I'm playing 3fps... ITS ALL THE SAME SHIT !! lol.... EVH said "Its 12 notes do with them what you want" ....Did he mean caged or 3fps ??!! ... I'm guessing neither.
    tommaso.zillio
    You are confusing music theory (that applies to all instruments) with scale systems (that apply on the guitar fretboard and have to respect music theory). EVH was talking about music theory of course.
    ArthurSungward
    Damn, 3nps makes playing scales in broken intervals way simpler and logical too.
    tommaso.zillio
    Yes it does Just think about what this added consistency can do for your ear training, sight reading, improvisation, technique... It's more than just "using different patterns", it's a completely different way to think.
    aldo.chircop
    Very well explained. Indeed the idea of keeping to 'one finger per fret' at all costs must be at the root of the system. Unfortunately the system, in its attempt to solve the wrong 'problem' (which is not even a problem and very easy to overcome as you explain), creates a host of other real problems and disadvantages.
    Jace Bastian
    Another great video Tommaso! A great way to overcome a (stupid) objection to a clearly superior system.
    Jere Toikka
    A good video! It's interesting that the one thing CAGED is optimized for shuoldn't really be a concern at all.
    RyanMueller
    It's quite baffling that this objection is so common that it warrants needing a video to address it. That said, great video, article and break-down of the stretching exercise to pull it off. Very good explanation! Well done Tommaso!
    DanMayhew
    Another great article and great video Tommaso! The way you explained the fretting potion for stretching was explained really clearly and makes it easy to understand how players get wider stretches even with smaller hands.
    foreverMoR
    Awesome video Tommaso! This technique revolutionized my playing when I first learned of it. I thought my old fingers would never learn before then. Not so! Thanks for sharing!
    Drapte
    So weird how people actually believe this guy.
    tommaso.zillio
    I don't want your belief. I want your thinking. Try what I propose and make up your mind by yourself.
    Drapte
    It's just missing the whole point of learning the neck professionally.
    M Scholtemeijer
    Still not an argument. Do you know what an argument is? How is it missing the point? It would help if you explained how/why. What even is "learning the neck professionally"? Just saying that something is weird and missing the point doesn't work.
    carbenez
    Such a great comment... and should show anyone who is interested in THINKING a great deal about who Tommaso is and what he is about. Bravo.
    Tucson_Don
    Gee, when I found out about 'CAGED' after playing for about 25+ years over a 40 year stretch, I found it to be extremely explanatory for how the patterns and scales get arranged on the fretboard due to the string tuning & western music methodology. You mean to tell me there's a playing method built around it, and it sucks? This is disappointing to learn at this point in my life!
    steve.peasey
    Actually this is silly. A caged system, just like a three note per string system contains all the notes of the scale that whatever key signature your playing in. I can easily take (THINK ABOUT THIS) ... any two of the five caged system positions that are next to each other.. and play three notes per string because I am exploiting notes from both positions by stretching out over both positions. The idea that you can't play 3 note per string lines because your using the CAGED idea is technically incorrect and just outright silly to view that way. Usually once a student has a grasp of how each of the five caged boxes sit in succession to each other they are directed to work them up one and down the other and visa versa up and down the neck. In as many keys as possible. Further to that single string lines are studied so the player can play those scales on one string alone so they can see the fretboard laterally as well as horizontally. Entire scales exist on one string and that is true of each of them. The idea of the CAGED system isn't to create boxes to contain your hands in they are there to help the person learning the instrument get command of the fretboard faster. Its a tool. There is no rule saying you can't step left or right from that scale your playing because notes of that scale exist to the left and right of that position. All 5 positions and shapes of the CAGED system tied together = possibilities up and down the strings as well as up and down the neck 3 notes 4 notes 5 notes 6 7 8 10 ... they are all tied together the same way the 3 string pattern is so this is really pointless.
    aldo.chircop
    Oh, so once again it boils down to: 'everyone is really using the CAGED system..they just don't know they do' or 'everything you can do on guitar is part of the CAGED system, you just don't see it'. Please. If you need to step outside the 'cages' and combine patterns together to come up with 3nps patterns and so on, then guess what..that's proof that the system was limiting you and you naturally progressed to a 3nps pattern system. Why? Because you discovered it's *more efficient*. Hence you just proved that Tommaso is 100% right in what he's saying. If those 3 nps patterns are just better, then why not use them from day one to visualize the fret board, instead of first teaching someone to see everything as 5 one-finger-pre-fret boxes, hoping that someday they might stumble by accident on more efficient 'combinations of boxes'? Just learn the more efficient method first then and do away with the confusion.
    steve.peasey
    If those 3 nps patterns are just better, then why not use them from day one to visualize the fret board, instead of first teaching someone to see everything as 5 one-finger-pre-fret boxes, hoping that someday they might stumble by accident on more efficient 'combinations of boxes'? Just learn the more efficient method first then and do away with the confusion. ----- Because there are chord shapes directly associated with each of the CAGED shapes. There is a reason for it. It has a purpose.
    tommaso.zillio
    Chord shapes: dealt with in the 2nd video of the series. Curiously, most comments on that video were about the "stretchy" shapes. How it is that every time the important issue is the one dealt with in the OTHER video?
    Jere Toikka
    What is your point? You can mix and match, cut and paste to get different systems? Of course you can, and this is true for all kinds of scale systems. You can also derive the CAGED patterns out of 3nps patterns (although I have no idea why you'd want to do that). But what has this to do with the point expressed in the video?
    steve.peasey
    What is your point? You can mix and match, cut and paste to get different systems? Of course you can, ----- you just answered your own question. Of course thats my point. The writers assertion is that isn't the case and three note per string patterns are the only ones that allow for it. Which is BS.
    tommaso.zillio
    Of course I never said that. In both systems if you cut, paste, shift, modify the patterns enough you get the other system patterns. What I am saying is that there are definite mechanical and cognitive advantages to use 3NPS over CAGED. Review my previous videos to have the whole story.
    DanMayhew
    if you have to mix and match positions of together to get 'new' positions that weren't possibly available to you, the system is flawed. If the system is good then you do not need to do this, 3NPS as one example (and there others) is a system where you do not have to 'mix and match' to get 'new' positions. All this does is create extra work for your brain, thus not only making it harder to master guitar but also making it take longer, leaving students with more frustration and more importantly then have to spend more money learning just to get to the same end result. The idea about learning the fretboard 'faster' may be true in the beginning but would you rather students have temporary success only to have to undo things later on to have to learn the fretboard properly and unlearn their 'baby' method of learning the fretboard in the beginning. There are other ways of getting the students to learn the fretboard, learn the notes on guitar, scales, arpeggios, and chords, and how to apply them all into music and integrate the skills together in a much easier way that allow students to really see how music works instead of some 'cheat method' or some 'quick fix'. Tell me, why is that no other instrument uses CAGED yet they all manage to learn their arpeggios, scales, chords etc... perfectly fine?
    DanMayhew
    Are you going to reply to what's actually in this article/video or just talk about a completely different point about the CAGED system that has already been covered?
    tommaso.zillio
    DanMayhew: they can't resist. With EVERY one of the other videos there were half a dozen people commenting on the "stretchy" shapes... but they will not comment on it here, of course
    tommaso.zillio
    By the same reasoning, if you learn 3NPS then you can play anything that is in CAGED. Thanks for explaining people for me why they can just learn 3NPS (that is easier, more consistent, with better integration) and do not need to study CAGED at all.
    steve.peasey
    Because the CAGED system has the 5 inversions of chord shapes directly lying inside the scale shapes. When students learn the caged approach they see this as well. Now they can see not only how the scales tie to each other *(again plenty of three note per string action doing that) they see how each C chord *example* sits across the fretboard. The usefulness of this method and its bigger picture your clearly missing.
    tommaso.zillio
    You cannot have 5 INVERSIONS of a triad: there are only 3 (see Video number 3 in this series). Also, 3NPs integrates with arpeggios better than CAGED (see video number 2). Now, what about commenting on THIS video?
    DanMayhew
    Like Tommaso said, 5 inversions for a triad. Really? You may need to go back and study inversions... it is impossible to get 5 inversions from a 3 note chord. Where are the other 2 notes coming from? We're not playing 9th chords... One other reason why CAGED confuse students, it teaches them 5 inversions of a triad when there are actually only 3. Also you can easily teach students how scales relate to chords and arpeggios very easily within the 3NPS system. You're making a very big assumption that this isn't possible. Perhaps like many people here, including Tommaso you should fully learn both systems test them on your students and see what results you get without teaching a bias to different systems (e.g. don't half heartedly teach 3NPS and really promote CAGED.. this will not bring you accurate results).
    Robert Callus
    Can you give me one valid reason why I should not take the word of an established guitar teacher (Tommaso) and instead take the word of someone who thinks a triad can have a 5th inversion?
    DanMayhew
    Robert, being an established teacher isn't really relevant here. In fact it's just as bad to use that term than if yo were to name drop a famous guitar player who uses 'x' technique. You could an established teacher and still not teach the most effective concepts. What these articles are about is what is a better learning system based upon objective and rational thought. A teacher who agrees with this philosophy would have just as much validity to their argument than someone like Tommaso because it's not about the person who says it but what's being said.
    ha_asgag
    |-1-|---|-2-|---|-4-| |-1-|-2-|---|-4-| |-1-|---|-3-|-4-| I'm quite familiar with the Bill Edwards CAGED patterns as well as 3NPS. The 124 and 134 fingerings illustrated above are COMMON to both CAGED and 3NPS scale patterns or ascending/descending runs on one string. I wonder why Tommaso is exaggerating or making an argument against CAGED with regards to stretching?
    tommaso.zillio
    In every other videos I posted on CAGED there were lots of people complaining about the stretch in 3NPS. Now that I post a video addressing their concerns, people tell me that I am "exaggerating"... And of course many comments on THIS video are about stuff I talked in OTHER videos... it's like people purposefully try to switch issues every time I talk about a specific CAGED problem. Don't take my word for it, just read the comments thread on UG and you YT and tell me what you see..
    Dynamight
    Ever heard of paragraphs? Jesus.
    DanMayhew
    Really, that's what you have to comment on? You're avoiding the issue at hand in this article/video so much that you've become a grammar nazi... in which by the way there are 3 paragraphs in my comment so yes I have heard of paragraphs. Yes, I use them. If you're really going to be picky about paragraphs maybe you should comment on the 6th post down from the top. So back to the topic at hand, how about those stretches hey?
    Dynamight
    My reply was to steve.peasey's original post, so l2treeview. And this isn't about grammar—his post is just painful to look at.
    DanMayhew
    My apologies, your post came under mine so it looked like you were replying to what I put.