Guitar Theory Revolution. Part 3 - The CAGED Pattern

This lesson covers the CAGED chord pattern. A pattern that arises out of the way the guitar is tuned in standard tuning and something that allows you to play chords all over the neck.

Ultimate Guitar
In this lesson we are going to cover the CAGED pattern (it is often referred to as the CAGED system but I prefer to highlight the fact that it is a regular pattern). The CAGED pattern is the result of how the Universal Note Pattern, because of how the guitar strings are tuned in standard tuning, and it allows you to play chords all over fretboard, giving you a wide palette of sounds to choose from when playing. Besides that it will also help you with learning scales and help you with improvisation. In this lesson I want to show you the underlying reason as to why it works, what you can do with it and how it can provide the starting point for more advanced topics. Before continuing you should already have read my first lesson about the Universal Note Pattern and the second lesson about the Five Fret Pattern. In the last lesson I mentioned that the formula for a Major triad (commonly referred to as a Major chord) is 0 4 7. So you take a root note, for example C, as the 0 point. Then you find the note the equivalent of 4 frets away (E) using the Five Fret Pattern and another note the equivalent of 7 frets away (G), strum all three notes and you'll have played a Major triad. If you find all of those notes on the fretboard you will get the result shown on the diagram below:
Now the first thing I want you to notice is that the diagram contains three instances of the Universal Note Pattern, one for C, one for the E and one for the G. This might be obvious since the diagram contains all the C's, E's and G's but seeing this makes learning the CAGED pattern so much easier, after all you've already learned the Universal Note Pattern. The second thing to look at is the two C's the E and open G that appear within the first three frets. You may recognise this as the common way to play the open C Major triad / chord. Now the word CAGED refers to the pattern in which the triad shapes appear along the neck. For example you already a found C Major triad on the left side of the image (in this position you won't normally play the two G's on the 1st and 6th string, though you could if you wanted to). But it's not only the C Major triad but also the C-shape in the CAGED pattern. So notice how I'm making a distinction between the shape and the actual triad (the notes that are being played). The next letter in the CAGED pattern is A which means the next C Major triad will have the A-shape. Can you see where the A-shape appears at the 5th fret? This is a C Major chord but it has the shape of the well known A Major triad / chord in the open position. Next the G-shape appears at the 7th and 8th fret, the E-shape at the 9th and 10th and the D-shape at the 12th and 13th fret (the notes at the 13th fret are the same as the 1st). So now you can play a C Major triad at 5 different places between the 1st and 12th fret (so 10 different places across the 2 octaves of a guitar fretboard). In order to really make the distinction between the various shapes (C-shape, A-shape etc.) and the actual triad type, take a look at the next diagram. This is the CAGED pattern for the A Major triads (the notes A, C#/Db and E). Here you can see that the C-shape is an A Major triad. Hopefully this will make clear the distinction between the shapes that are described by the CAGED pattern and the actual triads you are playing.
You can repeat this method for the other triads G, E and D. Just start with the relevant triad in the open position (at the first 3 frets) then find the next shape by looking at which letter appears next in the word CAGED. Also note that you can see in the A Major diagram above that the D shape links in with the C shape. This means that the pattern repeats endlessly CAGEDCAGEDCAGED etc. So the order of shapes for these 5 chords is as follows, starting from the open position at the 1st to the 3rd fret. CAGEDCAGED etc. AGEDCAGEDC etc. GEDCAGEDCA etc. EDCAGEDCAG etc. DCAGEDCAGE etc. I advise you to concentrate on learning the pattern for these five triads until you have a good feel for where they are in relation to each other. Of course the CAGED pattern doesn't just apply to the triads C, A, G, E and D. It holds for all major triads F#, A# and Eb for example. Just take a look at the diagram below which shows you all the notes for the F# Major triad (the notes F#/Gb, A#/Bb and C#/Db). You can still see the CAGED pattern shapes on the fretboard.
The E-shape appears at the 3rd and 4th fret, the D-shape at the 6th and 7th, the C-shape between the 7th and 9th and the A-shape at the 11th fret. If you want another visualisation of the CAGED pattern, watch this video to see how I'm sliding the various shapes along the:
YouTube preview picture
So how is this useful? Well obviously it allows you to play Major triads all over the neck, but if you adjust the pattern by learning the different minor triad shapes (or chords such as 6th and 7th chords) you can apply the same methodology to them as well. Besides this you can also use it for rudimentary soloing since you can pick out the notes of the C Major triad over a song in the key of C Major. The next step from there is to outline a song's chord progression by playing notes from the the various chords all over the neck. This is a great way of soloing without sticking to just one scale throughout the music. Finally learning this pattern will be a great foundation for learning scales like the Major Scale and the Major Pentatonic scale since it necessarily contains notes from those scales. Hopefully you can now start to see how everything is fitting together. The guitar is tuned in a particular, this creates the Universal Note Pattern and the Five Fret Pattern, which in turn can be used to see the CAGED pattern. In future lessons we'll start expanding on these patterns to learn scales and understand something called the Circle of 4ths and 5ths.

9 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I dont know if you should use the 0-4-7 method, well cakking it that anyway, a major chord is the 1st 3rd and 5th of the major scale calling it anything else can lead to confusion an I found that thinking in fret locations rather than note location starting out has really damaged my playing. just a suggestion
    @gerrywm Hey, thanks for the feedback. The way I see it there are already thousands and thousands of lessons online that teach theory the conventional way. So my lessons are for people that struggle with that and need a different approach.
    excellent article! I have been reading up on the CAGED system for the past few weeks, and this one has been (by far) the best, and most informative one. This has certainly expanded my options while playing.
    I have read up on the caged system before and understood it a little but this just made the caged system WAY easier to understand. Thanks
    Hey guys, thanks for the kind feedback. I would be grateful if you rated the article. Thanks!
    Awesome dude - love how you don't ramble and talk about irrelevant crap. Will be using this for further reference as well.
    I don't understand the 'd' in caged, the d is just a repetition of the c. If I move up some frets and bare then play a c shape that is the so called d. I just don't under stand why you need both. Can someone explain to me why it is both, I'm pretty sure when I learned this it was just the cage system. Want to know what changed.
    @Silver77, You're right in a way, the C and the D shape share a note. The thing is, in reality you shouldn't attach yourself too much to the particular shapes, they are only guidelines. For example you could play a C from the 5th to the 8th fret with the G on the D-string, the E on the A-string and the C on the low E-string. Not many people play it that way but it's perfectly valid, but it doesn't have a 'shape name'.