9 Reasons Why the CAGED System For Guitar Scales Sucks

It took the help of a good teacher to let go of the CAGED system and discover that there are other systems out there, more functional and less difficult.

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Ultimate Guitar
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Are you struggling to learn the CAGED system for guitar scales? Or you have learned it already, but still not feel like you master the fretboard? You have the feeling that these scales patterns are getting in your way? Well, you are not alone. I have learned the CAGED system too, and struggled for a long time to make it work for me. I was really frustrated, and wondered if there was something wrong with me. It took the help of a good teacher to let go of the CAGED system and discover that there are other systems out there, more functional and less difficult. The CAGED system was holding me back. Keep reading. Since the CAGED system of learning guitar scales is the most widespread method to learn guitar scales, many guitarists think that it is also the ONLY "real" or "correct" method. For this reasons many obvious observation regarding the fretboard are credited to CAGED: for instance, I have read countless articles saying that the patterns of octaves on the guitar is "a consequence of the CAGED system." Well, there are other methods to learn guitar scales and all of them obviously use the octave pattern. The fact that some people think that CAGED is "the only way" reaches sometimes ridiculous proportions: I know a couple of local guitar teachers that do not use CAGED but they teach it to their students because, hey, it's the "right way." When they play, on the other hand, they both use "a system they invented," but they readily concede that "of course CAGED is better." And yet, I can't help wondering WHY you should need to invent your own system if the "right" one already exist. Also, these teachers are both unable to tell me exactly how CAGED is superior to their own system. In my experience as a music teacher, I have seen countless students confused and frustrated by this scale system. I also have seen a few who raved about it, only to drop it like a hot potato once I showed them how the system was limiting their playing ability. I am going to elaborate on that in detail in the points below. Keep reading.

There is no integration with arpeggios...

Every time I talk with a CAGED apologist, the very first thing they tell me is that their system integrates scales and arpeggios. This is not true. What it's true is that the scale patterns are superimposed over a major chord shape, but these shapes are not always usable as arpeggio patterns (see below). The only advantage seems to be that they are similar to the open strings chords most beginners know, but that's about it. So, what I mean with "not usable?" I mean that the shapes shown for the chords are difficult to play cleanly and fluidly compared to other shapes such as the standard "sweep arpeggio" shapes. This is partially because some of the shapes are good only for few strings: for instance the "G shape" does not cover strings 2, 3, and 4: these notes must be borrowed from the "A shape," but the resulting pattern is not easy to play as an arpeggio. The "D shape" covers only the first 4 strings, and so on. In all these cases the arpeggio/scale integration seems good visually, but it not as convenient mechanically. Try just to play the scale pattern ascending and then descend using the arpeggio without stopping to see what I mean.

... And only MAJOR arpeggios are featured

As we have see above, all the scale patterns in CAGED are usually shown superimposed to a major chord shape. As it is easy to verify, it is not as common to see them superimposed with a minor chord instead, and they are only rarely shown with diminished, augmented or altered chords. Even the seventh chord patterns are rare. Why it is so? Well, because the shapes for the minor arpeggios in CAGED are less attractive and are more technically difficult than the major arpeggios, and the problem is even worse for diminished, augmented or altered chords. Of course, many CAGED apologists will say that this is not true and that you can use CAGED on minor chords, or on any other chords for that matter. I'm sure this is the case if you are willing to twist your mind enough and put enough hours of work into it - after all a week of hard work can sometimes save you an hour of thought. In some case, though, the proposed solutions border on the absurd: for instance I have seen some horrible ways to patch this problem such as using the relative major chord instead (on the Am chord we use the shapes for the C chord). Such patches make the CAGED system much less direct and intuitive as it seemed at first sight, and still do not address the fact that there are tons of other chords types you need to learn to solo on.

It is technically inconsistent

Have you noticed that few "high speed" players recommend the CAGED system? This is for a very simple reason: because it is difficult to play these scale patterns at a high speed. Now, you may or may not be interested in shredding, but it is a fact that a scale pattern that is difficult to play at high speed WILL put a higher technical burden on your playing at any speed - simply because it's more difficult to play. Everything else being the same, you should always use the simplest way to play something because this way you will have more attention left to the real important expressive elements of music i.e. phrasing (vibrato, slides, etc). Why are the CAGED patterns difficult to play? Because they have 3 notes on some strings and 2 on other strings. This makes them less "consistent" for your right hand technique. The CAGED patters are derived from the principle of "one finger per fret," which is an interesting principle but it's not doing anything to make your playing easier in practice. It is much easier to user more regular patterns such as diatonic scales with 3 notes per strings. This will make easier to pay not only "straight" scales but also melodic patterns ("sequences"). Another problem of CAGED is that most players who use it tend to stay in "position playing": they start and end their solo in a single position of the neck. To see how the CAGED system is technically inferior, I suggest the two following three exercises: 1) try and play the scales as fast as possible. 2) Try to play a scale sequence such as: C, D, E, D, E, F, E, F, G, etc... 3) Restrict your playing to only the first two string, and play the scale patters all across the fretboard. In all three cases you will see that the CAGED system produces some awkward fingering when the scale pattern passes from 3 to 2 notes per string.

Requires a considerable memorizing effort

CAGED apologists like to say that "you just need to memorize only 5 patterns." As we will see in the next point this is not actually true... But let's concede the point for the time being. Other scale systems, like the 3-notes-per-strings system have only ONE pattern if they are taught correctly (not 7 like most people think). Yes, you heard me well. I may dedicate a future article on that if you guys are interested (let me know if the comments). It does not end here. To use a scale pattern effectively when soloing you need to know more than just the pattern: you also need to know where the scale degrees are in the pattern i.e. Which note is the root, which one is the fifth, etc... These must be learned by heart separately for each shape in the CAGED system since these shapes do not have any intervallic regularity.

It is too scale-centric

Every CAGED method I have seen shows the scale patterns superimposed with the chord patterns, often with the comment that "this is how you integrate them." Literally all the method I have seen, though, have you play these scales... But virtually none have you play the arpeggios. As a result most players that use the CAGED patterns have a scale-centric view of the fretboard: everything comes from, or is reduced to, a scale, and since this is the center of their approach this is also the thing they play most in real playing situations. You may have heard or read online the advice that you should "not learn scales as they are bad for you." I have also heard this phrased as "scales are stupid." Of course I don't agree with that: you should learn your scales. But there is a grain of truth in these comments: you should not learn ONLY scales. You should learn ways to break free of the scales whenever you need. But especially you should not rely on systems that make it difficult to play anything but scales.

It locks you in the major scale

The CAGED patterns are always shown for the major scale and its modes, and if you are learning it you will be told that you just need to learn these 5 patterns and then you will just need to play a "variation" on these scales to play every other possible scale. Well, this is true only in a narrow sense: indeed if I change enough notes I can play any other scale, but is this a convenient way to think? How much do I need to change the major scale to arrive to the scale I want? Is it going to be easy? Sometimes the change may be so big that it does not make sense to see it as a simple "variation" from the original pattern. This happens for instance for harmonic and melodic minor scales (and all their modes) of the augmented and diminished scales. What is going to happen in this case is that you will need to learn another set of 5 shapes for every new scale you want to use. You want to play jazz and need the melodic minor scale and modes? This is a new set. You want to play some exotic metal with the Hungarian minor scale? Another set! The CAGED system does not look anymore like an elegant and economic system, right?

Isn't it the system used by Hendrix?

Well, a scale system should not be measured only by its users, rather you should judge based on if it helps you learning the scales and not limiting your choices. But since this is one of the most common claim that CAGED apologists use, let's put it to rest. The CAGED system was invented in the late '70s. Hendrix died in 1970. It's not likely that he figured out the exact system before it was invented since his solos are not played using the CAGED patterns. Simple as that. Other famous players are said to be using CAGED, the most famous probably being Joe Pass - he said so himself. On the other hand, if you read Pass' book on scales, you will discover that he uses 6 different patterns, and not 5 like in CAGED. He also uses them mostly to create chord shapes rather than to visualize scales. From these considerations, it seems clear that Joe Pass was using a different system than what is called CAGED today, even if he called it the same way. But isn't the CAGED system in the curriculum of famous schools like Berklee? Well, yes, but the real question is if their most accomplished students are using it. Let's take for instance one of the most famous Berklee alumni: John Petrucci. Every time a non-pentatonic scale appears in one of his solos it's fingered as a 3-notes-per-strings pattern, not with a CAGED pattern. Interesting.

It's taught the wrong way

Of course, the CAGED system DOES have one advantage. If you already know how to play pentatonic scales, then you can start playing modal scales by adding modal notes to them. For instance, if you are playing the Am pentatonic, and add the notes B and F# then you are effectively playing the Dorian scale. In this case, starting form the 5 standard pentatonic patterns and adding the modal notes you will obtain the CAGED patterns. In other words, the CAGED patterns are a nice way to go between pentatonic scales and diatonic/modal scales... And that's about it. The curious thing is that I have never seen the CAGED system taught this way. All the educational resources that I have about CAGED insist a lot about the fact that the scale patterns are superimposed on the major chord shapes, but do not even mention the pentatonic/modal connection. It is quite interesting that the CAGED system is branded as a "general" system that can handle any playing situation well (which is not true) and it is not explained in the area where it would shine.

Everybody has a different idea of what CAGED is!

Every time I talk about, write about, or otherwise explain why the CAGED system does not live up to the hype, one or two people are bound to say: "Wait a moment this is not the CAGED system. The CAGED system is..." You see, this is another problem with CAGED. It has been "copied" over and over by so many less-than-competent authors that everyone now is teaching a different thing and calls it CAGED. If you are willing to throw enough energy, time, and resources at it, eventually you WILL find a system you like (for a while at least) that is taught under the name of CAGED. This is simply because every way to see the fretboard has been taught before or later under the CAGED name. I have a DVD where the author explains the octave pattern on the fretboard and calls it "the CAGED system." I have a book that states that the standard tuning of the guitar (established in the 16th century) is a consequence of the CAGED system (invented in the '70s). And let's not talk about that YouTube video that explains the 3-notes-per-strings patterns and calls them "a variation of the CAGED system!" If you realize the absurdity of this situation, you will also see why so few people dare to criticize the CAGED system: no matter what to say, you are bound to find someone that will comment "but this is not the CAGED system" followed by endless and fruitless discussions on matters of definitions. But let me tell you something. I own (and have studied) enough instructionals and DVD's on the CAGED system alone to fill a 4-feet shelf in my studio. I believe I have more than half an idea of what I am talking about:-)

But why the CAGED system is so famous?

If you are wondering why the CAGED system is so widespread despite all these obvious problems, I have 3 reasons for you: 1) It's easy to teach. After all, you are just handed down the 5 pattern and supposed to make sense of them. I have seen the consequence of this method in many students who come to me form other teachers: they know these patterns by heart, but they can't apply them to save their life 2) there is a large "industry" behind this. Search online for guitar methods, and you will see that 90% of the results are about the CAGED system. Everybody can sell an eBook about the CAGED system: copy the 5 patterns, put some text around them and BAM! You are in business! 3) Because it can be marketed as a "magic bullet system": just learn the 5 easy patterns and you are on your way. And yet the magic never seems to work the way it's supposed to be. So if you are wondering if it's you being not good enough to understand, rest assured: you are fine. Just throw away these books on CAGED. About the Author: Tommaso Zillio is a prog rock guitarist and teacher with a passion for Music Theory applied to Guitar.

168 comments sorted by best / new / date

    iaceu
    I would very much like to see an article explaining how the three note per string method is only one pattern. I know I can learn the seven, but I haven't put my mind to it. If you can help with that, I'd love to hear it. And I agree, by the way. CAGED does lead to some getting stuck in one position. You can learn ways to move up and down the board, but those ways I find just get me stuck in a new pattern.
    tommaso.zillio
    If I get enough comments from people interested about the "one pattern" I will definitely write the article.
    cpu.stat
    Yes I would like to know that.. I think if we start from root in all the positions we will have only one pattern..That will be great.. Also the Idea of adding two notes to each Pentatonic parttern to get modes is great. I already use it when I solo over major scale. I ll use it for modes.. Also its a good thing to super impose caged over pents
    jpkuz
    Please do... I am trying to learn a good alternative to the CAGED system
    latinromans
    I learnt the pattern at a music and nature camp just outside of Nashville, every single person the room could play every mode flawlessly up and down the neck of a seven string bass after about five minutes of beautifully logical explanations and no demonstration whatsoever. We used a seven string bass because it's a seven string pattern based on fourths, I'm kind of curious if it could be inverted and modified for use with instruments tuned in fifths such as violins.
    crazymez89
    I thought I was alone, but then you posted this!!! Thank You!! I started with CAGED and just found myself at a dead end. Everything just starts sounding the same.
    tommaso.zillio
    I'm glad you liked the article. My message is exactly that: you are not alone! :
    gus.mueller.3
    I figured out CAGED on my own having only heard the term for the first time a few hours ago; it's pretty obvious but I don't see how it gets you anywhere.
    latinromans
    For anyone who's curiosity has been piqued two words, Anthony Wellington, just look him up and you won't be dissapointed, sorry to hog the top but this is a cant miss.
    Greg Trotter
    Teaching the CAGED system is like guitar teacher malpractice. I'd like to see an article on the "one pattern to rule them all".
    20Tigers
    This is a lame article. It's just bashing a useful method of learning the fretboard by highlighting some valid limitations together with a lot of misinformation and hyperbole. There is nothing constructive in this article it is effectively saying "Don't learn this" without providing a real alternative - only hinting at an alternative. The truth is that the CAGED method is useful in some respects and limited in other respects. The 3nps method is useful in some respects but limited in other respects. Used together each can fill in the gaps of the other. Both systems should be a stepping stone with the ultimate goal of complete fretboard knowledge without reliance on fretboard shapes. Learn CAGED and 3nps if you really want to get there and learn them properly. This article though is not USEFUL to anyone because it only argues that something is NOT USEFUL and doesn't give any alternatives. How is this a "lesson"? It doesn't teach anything. It is a criticism. Wouldn't everyone's time be better spent learning about something productive with real benefits?? Lame article, not a lesson at all, how do I vote this down?
    jamstation
    20TIgers, I agree with you completely. Poor article, and it's actually discouraging people from exploring the guitar. CAGED is just a bunch of major triads in different shapes. How you use it and integrate it to form an understanding of the fretboard is entirely up to how much time you put into it. Whether you have a system or not, you have to put in those hours. Tommaso, you really shouldn't be telling people where NOT to sink their practice time, because everybody has their own way of learning. If you claim to be a guitar teacher, then you should understand this. Whether you use CAGED or 3nps, or any other approach, we all have the same objective: learning the fretboard. And while it's the same fretboard for everybody, the way we learn to see it is different for each person. If you're closed-minded about a system, it doesn't mean you have to tell everybody else to be closed-minded too.
    tommaso.zillio
    CAGED person #1: CAGED is a complete system for scales Me: No, it's just a bunch of major triads CAGED person #2: Tommaso is wrong because CAGED is just a bunch of major triads
    jamstation
    Thanks for summarising my comment in one line/sarcasm This is a negative article where you discourage people from learning a simple system with a lot of benefits, and you discourage them from putting time into exploring the instrument.
    tommaso.zillio
    I think you guys should agree between you what the CAGED system is. I was just highlighting that once again, as I described in the article, the line of defense you put on is "this is not the CAGED system" and then every single one of you proceeds to describe a completely different thing from one another. I don't discourage exploring the fretboard. In fact I encourage doing it. I'm just warning people about something that does not work as a scale system but that is marketed as such. If you want to use it for chords, I wrote in in article that it may work for that.
    nick.c
    Dude you are really going to the death on this article . "It may work" for chords, your hilarious. Also those who described it here have described essentially the same thing. Lastly, I'm gunna go out on a limb and say knowing the major chord patterns (caged) is fine for scales (gasp). If you know about intervals and you know where major triads are and you have a brain, you can manipulate the chords to represent any arrpeggio (metal heads, isn't that yngwies whole thing?) or key. Shocking fact : every major has a relative minor key and thus with slight manipulation caged can represent minor chords as welll. You may have to think to figure it out. damn. With regard to speed, sweeping.can be faster than 3 notes per string and caged certainly allows for this. I think that unless your fabled one pattern is just the chromatic scale then you are just teaching another 'system' with flaws. I found the lesson in the article: learn where all the notes on the fret board. Thanks for the tip.
    tommaso.zillio
    It's actually MORE important to know where to NOT sink your practice time. If I had to also explain properly an alternative, this would have become a book. In fact even this article (which is already long) has been cut short... if I wanted to be really complete in my CAGED criticism it would have been twice as long. Also, the fact that neither CAGED or 3nps (for instance) does everything does not automatically mean that they are on the same standing. 3nps is a much useful way to learn scales and gives you more usable results than CAGED given the same amount of effort. When you consider that neither of them is complete, you have also to consider HOW MUCH they are missing in order to be complete - and they are not the same under this respect.
    20Tigers
    Do you seriously believe that when learning a skill it is MORE important to learn what you shouldn't be practicing than finding out what you should be practicing??? Adding an eye roll to the end of the sentence doesn't make it common sense!!! It's an absurd argument and the eye roll has the opposite effect. Teaching people the negative aspects of other methods of learning is not a productive use of the students learning time, teaching an alternative method that works in a positive manner is far more effective. It's not a difficult concept. Mistakes should always be corrected. The best way to correct a mistake is by teaching the right way to do something, not by focusing on the mistake. So even if you believe the CAGED method is a waste of time you are focusing on the mistake, not on the correction. In doing so you will only serve to create doubt, confusion, and fear. The guitarist that started on CAGED now says, oh no I'm learning the wrong thing, but what am I meant to learn. And those that have learnt this method and previously found it useful might start worrying that it will produce flaws in their playing that might hold them back later. But it does nothing to resolve the doubt, confusion, or fear with correct instruction. This kind of tactic is common in sales. The tactic being to create doubt and fear in the potential customer. Let that doubt and fear fester before providing a way to solve the problem - at a fee of course. I'm not trying to suggest you are selling anything - 3nps method is freely available to anyone that cares to look. But creating a problem where there is none while only hinting at how to solve is effective for selling, not teaching.
    cmvideo
    I have to admit, I've been playing guitar for about 23 years now, took lessons for 4 years when I was a teenager and I have never heard of the CAGED system. Where have I been?? My guitar teacher was an awesome classical/pop metal player (it was the late 80's!, lol). He taught me the 3-notes per string pattern and the relationships between the notes and intervals. (PS - isn't that the reason why there is only 1 scale, not really 7? Because the intervals are always the same. The shape of the scale may change depending on the notes you start on but not the actual notes so thus, it's the same scale). HOWEVER, after I just looked up the CAGED system online, I think it definitely would have helped me if taught in combination with the 3 note method. The CAGED system is a really good way to see how major chord overlap each other as you move up the fretboard. Once you get the pattern, it makes it very easy to find the major chord you need anywhere on the neck. That would be very handy for a learning guitar player. Why couldn't you use the CAGED system for orienting yourself to the basic chord shapes all over the guitar neck, then use the modes for a better way to learn the scales? I can see the limitations of CAGED when trying to solo... so use the modes to get up and down the neck. When I first started playing, I personally had a tough time applying intervals without having a good visual in my mind. The CAGED system does provide a nice visual (based around the major chords) that makes sense to me and would have helped me understand the relationships a bit easier. I agree with you, the CAGED system is a limited system and can hinder your development if that's all you learn. But it shouldn't be brushed aside because some teachers can't figure out how to integrate it with other teaching styles. The best teachers are the ones that recognize how their students learn and adapt their style.
    Amarthi
    Great article, btw I would love to hear about the one pattern thing.
    DaliLama
    Totally excellent points. I'm on the fence with the CAGED system, sometimes it feels good to play in a "box", that's about the only time I use it. As far as the 3 note per string patterns being only one pattern that is absolutely true and it's pretty amazing. I first saw it in Richard Lloyd's The Alchemical Guitarist column he had a few years back in guitar world. 3 note per string patterns only have 3 possible finger combinations. Full: Fingers 1, 2, and 4 2 frets apart. Middle: 1,2, and 4 in regular position spacing, and Ring: Fingers 1,3, and 4 in regular spacing. You do one finger combo per string to the pattern full, full, (shift 1 fret), middle, middle, ring, ring, full. Every 3 note per string pattern follows that pattern but they all start at a different point. Of course that might be hard to grasp like that, I think most people need a more thorough explanation. A well written article on it would blow a lot of people's minds, I definitely think you should do it!!!
    tommaso.zillio
    Yup, that's one way to think about it, and a good start. There's more to find, but you are on the right road.
    DBKGUITAR
    Then what system should we learn?
    guitar/bass95
    If you have patience and common sense you don't need a system. I've never used any kind of system and I know the fretboard inside and out, along with every practical scale and chord shape there is. Only thing it takes is a little bit of common sense and you can figure everything out without these "magic bullet ways".
    crazysam23_Atax
    I agree with guitar/bass95. I was taught (early on) to use the "box shapes", which do teach you scales -- provided that your guitar teacher actually teaches you the intervals/degrees of the scale along with box shapes (mine did not). It wasn't until I noticed that many of the "greats" didn't use box shapes that I realized I was limiting myself. I don't apply any kind of playing system today. Rather, I use common sense and a bit of music theory to compose and/or improvise.
    Saintp83
    You meant to say, a little common sense and A LOT of time that you could have eliminated if you did learn couple short cuts.
    jardennis
    I am baffled by your comment, "common sense". What is common sense to you is not common sense to a beginner. You mention major scales, diatonic, pentatonic and arpeggio patterns. What common sense did you apply to these scales/patterns?
    jaytee_metal
    3 note per string scales are great, you should try it! Once you memorize the seven patterns in one key, the rest of the keys get much easier to learn and master.
    DBKGUITAR
    Thank you guys, I'll try the 3 note per string thing, i'll try to use my common sense too
    Sir_Taffey
    It's personaly the way I do it and teach people it makes writing in any major key a breeze (that is if you are learning the major shapes ) Although it does get a little less fun when you do harmonic minor and other (non-symmetrical) scales, but worth the effort, but I'll eat my words when Tommaso does his lesson on the major being one shape
    latinromans
    I find once you know the original pattern even though it takes away from the sheer simplicity having to know only three finger patterns modifying a couple notes at a time comes pretty naturally with a bit of repetition
    armaghk
    I love it - please share your 1-pattern approach. I've been working with a similar concept on my website that's more of a 3 pattern approach: a major scale staring on either your 1st, 2nd, or 4th fingers. (The third just gets awkward.) I'd love to see how yours compares.
    aelkeris
    Amasing, now we know why CAGED system sucks, but can you tell us any other system? Honestly im not even sure what CAGED system is.
    Unreal T
    all you need to know is intervals . if you know your intervals you can create any chord you want and play whatever you want. and yeah the CAGE system does suck major balls.
    Smudgee
    I don't even fully understand what the CAGED system is, nor do I care. To learn my fretboard I just sat in my room and worked things out for myself, using my ears and some basic music theory (semitones and all that stuff)
    ashwinpc1993
    you said that in the three notes per string scales there is only one pattern, and that it has a deeper connection with the 5ths and 7ths. Could you please do an article on that or post a link to where i could learn that?
    iduno871
    I learned on the CAGED system, and feel that it immensely helped me with my understanding of the fretboard. It's by far not the only thing you need to learn in order to master the guitar and scales, but it does give you a VERY solid sense of patterns and note placement.
    florence007
    Bloody good article! But what would you recommend as a substitute for the CAGED system?
    nick.c
    So learning about Inversions (effectively what caged is about) is bad because you can't play them fast? We are basically just talking about diatonic modes and major chords The idea of being a caged 'player' is ridiculous. You are just playing chords! Its not a 'system'. However you do it you gotta learn it one way or the other. Just because you had a bad experience with the caged method does not mean you should waste an article slagging it. Show us your wide stretch super speed patterns and leave the dissing to the comments.
    tommaso.zillio
    CAGED may be about inversion (in some interpretations... as I say in the article there is more than one system called "CAGED") but it's not the only way to study them, nor the best. Of course you have to study your inversions. Don't confuse the system you are using to study inversions with the inversions themselves. Uh, and I did not have "a bad experience". I'm just observing that people who use CAGED are consistently limited in very predictable ways, and that it does not have be this way. It's a pattern I have seen in countless people, in some of my students (coming from other teachers), in many players I know. I'd say, before bashing out someone that honestly criticize a system, go out there and learn other systems. Then you can decide for yourself. But if you think that CAGED is "not a system" then you just confused the learning system with the thing you needed to learn.
    nick.c
    Regardless of what 'system' it is presented in, a chord is a chord. How can there be a best way to learn a major is a 1st, 3rd and 5th. It is what it is and that knowledge can be best expressed in whatever way a student can best digest it. In my opinion, subscribing strictly to any one method/ system can be dangerous if you are learning independantly or teaching.' You may as well use as many 'systems' as lead you to where you want to go. They should all end up teaching you the same thing ; in music any thing goes as long as its what you wanted. this article is about you trying to sell us on your prefered system or method of teaching the basics of diatonic harmony.( whether that was your intention or not) Thats fine, everyone is entitled to teach from their own perspective and i am certain you are a fine teacher. However, in this article your observations dont serve any purpose. We learn nothing other than to distrust those who choose to present intro theory via this method. A musician can be effective in even the most basic ways (neil young for instance) and simply because you see patterns that you deem ineffective in someones playing does not mean YOU should bash everyone out there trying to teach chords using this method(whatever you think it is). I don't mean to bash you but I think that your ( and now my haha) time could have been better used to teach rather than slag.. internet arguing is fun haha!
    latinromans
    I love how people always interpret trying to criticize accepted dogma using personal observations as trying to authoritatively tells us there's only one right way to do things because he thinks he's ****ing god or something. Remember, your no longer in school, you don't have learn something as the gospel truth just because it's in front of you. Based on the comments many people found this helpful and I'm glad this discussion came up. Your right, there is a lot more to musicianship than sheer speed and technical ability, however when that's what I'm going for I got a system that beats CAGED hands down based on personal experience, to each their own.
    dominiksprenger
    9 REASONS WHY USING A PICK/PLEKTRUM SUCKS !!!! - You may forget to bring them to the gig, and then what ? - They get lost a lot, or drop to the floor into some dark corner ! - When your hands get sweaty (stage-fright?) they slip away from the optimum position ! - They wear out, and may even break ! - They make it impossible to play classical-style finger picking - Even when using hybrid picking they severely hamper your fingers' movements - They are outrageously overpriced ! After all it's just a tiny piece of plastic produced by the thousands ... - They come in many shapes and colors, making it confusing to choose. - Almost every bad or even mediocre guitar player in the world uses one at least from time to time, clearly proving beyond any reasonable doubt that the PICK truly is the source of all evil !!!!
    dancaron
    WARNING: This article misses the point of the CAGED method. The CAGED method is a navigational tool, to help you understand the fretboard quickly. You use the patterns to learn where all the root, 3rd and 5th notes are, for any major chord, over the entire fretboard. It's not used to play rapid fire licks. The shapes are not used to play songs. It's a roadmap to acquire fretboard knowledge. When you can instantly know where the root, 3rd, and 5th are (for the current chord in a progression), no matter where you are on the fretboard, you can then use that knowledge to play along with the progression, using chords or leads (whichever you feel). Further, when you know where the root, 3rd, and 5ths are for any tonic, you can easily play more advanced chords, such as minors, sevenths, 11ths, etc anywhere on the fretboard, in any key. Consider a chord progression that is not strictly diatonic harmony. You can't apply a static diatonic scale over that progression, it won't sound right. But if you know the chord progression, you can easily play over the progression when you know where all the root, 3rds, and 5ths are of the underlying chords, because if you come to a strange, out of key chord, and you know it's a diminished chord, you'll then know to just flat the 3rds and 5ths of the entire pattern (for the current chord), and boom, you're playing leads or melodies and everything sounds good. Heck, you can use 3 note per string patterns or whatever patterns your hand enjoys playing. The point is, that you know where the fundamental building blocks are of any chord, all the way up and down the neck. The chord patterns are indeed awkward, and you don't, in most cases, use them while playing. You use them to learn the notes on fretboard, and the position of the root, 3rd, and 5th for every tonic, up and down the entire fretboard. To the author: I understand that CAGED may seem pointless, but I suspect you never learned it from someone who could explain it properly. Most YouTube videos miss the point entirely, and don't explain the purpose. They just show you the patterns and tell you it's great. I'd recommend looking up Kirk Lorange or Steve Stein, they are the only two I've found who explain it properly.
    lutherish
    Your comment gave me a lightbulb moment. I've never heard CAGED's purpose explained before, it totally makes sense now. I have a terrible memory for the fretboard and have made a huge leap in the last hour since reading your comment-fiddling about with the caged thing, forming new chords and knowing what I'm doing! Thanks very much, I'm gonna check out Kirk Lorange now.
    frank_o
    I have to agree with you because I am presently looking into trying to learn the fret board via the caged system and agree looking into someone like Kirk Lorange, Steve Stein or Brad Carlton is the best bet to learn it properly. I am glad I saw all these post tonight because I had seen an article on a google search  with nothing but criticism about the caged system by Tom Hess that I was shocked. I figured he was trying to promote something else.  Everyone has an opinion but it started to sound like two people arguing about which is the better truck...Ford or Chevrolet.  A lot of nonsense to me.  I just want to learn to be able to play my instrument and it not take 30 years to do it. If the caged system will help me I am all for it. If I figure I need more I will look at expanding my my knowledge with what will help me accomplish my goals.  I do not know what the three notes per string are but will have to check that out too just to satisfy my curiosity. 
    Sir_Taffey
    Please please please do that lesson where you said the major scale is actually one pattern, I'm currently going about fretboard awareness with a few pupils and that seems to be a lot more efficient than my current way of looking at scales. I don't use caged because it looked too complicated to memorize really, I was being too lazy to learn it.
    DreamGate
    Very true. Especially the 'It locks you in the major scale' point. I myself am a huge Byzantine scale lover (which. Although i might be mistaken but, is an extension of the Hungarian scale from a different tonic note) and find that the CAGED system cages you inside the major scale and its diffrent patterns (god forbid I mention modes in UG). That for me was the main reason why I scrapped the system almost entirely.
    pncoutts
    I really don't know why everyone bashes the CAGED system so badly.... The CAGED system is great for chords and is absolutely NOT limited to only Major arpeggios. You can play augmented, diminished, minor, sus, arpeggios using the major arpeggios as a template and altering them with a little theory. The CAGED system is great for it's uses, but doesn't mean it's the ONLY way to play. Any decent guitarist would know this.
    tommaso.zillio
    This is the same problem I highlighted above for the major scale. Does it make sense to use the major arpeggio as a template to be altered for every other arpeggio shape? Of course you can do that "in theory" but it is the best way to think when you play? And I did acknowledged a specific use for the CAGED system in the article
    Guitarreth
    ACTUALLY CANNOT BELIEVE WHAT I'M READING HERE: I could not disagree more with this article. Like or dislike this CAGED system approach, this write-up is effectively "dissing" the natural map of the fretboard. The CAGED name is only a label/name given to what already exists... "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" Simply answered: Learn both CAGED and 3-note-per-string approaches, integrating all chords, scales & arpeggios: the building blocks of explaining the mechanics of how music works globally! PLEASE REMEMBER THE "CAGED SYSTEM" IS THERE TO HELP AND NOT TO CONFUSE SURELY? As Mr Miyagi once said "no such thing as bad student, only bad teacher" Choose wisely who you learn from on the internet and use your common sense FFS! My advice is get a guitar instructor that knows what he is talking about and concentrates on positive approaches as opposed to negative instruction. I am actually livid about this article. Bad choice of instruction Mr Zillio, please do your research before posting rubbish like this!
    sweetdude3000
    CAGED is a great launching point for a beginner who has enough to worry about with the overwhelming possibilities inherent in the guitar. For those of you wondering what next? Learn intervals, theory and 3nps and songs that use these concepts once you get past beginners stage. Theory will lead to conceptual understanding rather than pure rote... its like how scientists learn actual concepts instead of plug and chug rote memorization.
    joe.doran.7798
    I can think of ONE BIG REASON why this article sucks: the author gets so much wrong! I'll point out just a few of the misguided claims. POINT #1: Concerning “CAGED” scale patterns, the author says: "for instance I have seen some horrible ways to patch this problem such as using the relative major chord instead (on the Am chord we use the shapes for the C chord). Such patches make the CAGED system much less direct and intuitive as it seemed at first sight" A "C-form” Major scale pattern can be used for an A-form minor chord (rooted on the 6-degree of that scale) because the C-form Major Scale IS ALSO the "A-form”Relative minor scale pattern". This relationship is a fundamental fact of music not specific to guitar. Is the author really claiming it’s confusing to use the same pattern, and call it different names (A-form minor vs. C-form Major?) And that this is a confusing element of the CAGED system?! Yep, he is. POINT#2: Concerning CAGED and “even versus uneven” scale patterns, the author claims: Why are the CAGED patterns difficult to play? Because they have 3 notes on some strings and 2 on other strings. This makes them less "consistent" for your right hand technique. I won’t even go into which play faster, uniform 3-note per string patterns, or “uneven” 3-note / 2-note combinations, or others. I will say Chuck Wayne, among others, advocated and seemed to do just fine with uneven 3-note / 2-note scale patterns. BUT: the claim that CAGED patterns are only limited to patterns with uneven fingers across strings is a bogus straw man that this author sets up in order to knock down. Any scale pattern which contains one (or more than one) of the five basic CAGED chord forms can be legitimately referenced in relation to that form. Simple as that. That’s because CAGED is an “organizing framework” for perceiving the fretboard in terms of fingering shapes or “forms”, with the most fundamental forms being categorized as C-A-G-E-D. CAGED is not defined by a particular 3-note / 2-note pattern on the fretboard that this author tries to set up as a straw man to knock down. POINT#3: Concerning the number of scale patterns the author, is all over the map. It should be obvious there is no one actual pattern that can play every kind of scale. Of course, one can employ “parent” or “base” patterns that are then modified to create specific tonal scales, just as CAGED uses the five “parent” forms as a reference for modifying to specific chords. But I specifically do want to clear up the “five vs. seven Major scale patterns” issue in terms of a CAGED organizing framework. It’s absolutely true that just five three-note-per-string Major scale patterns are not sufficient to enumerate every contiguous note of that scale available on the fretboard. Specifically, there are unaccounted notes between the A and G form, and the D and C form. The solution is easy. The 3-note pattern that lies between the A and G scale patterns actually contains both a playable A-form chord and a playable G-form chord. So it may reasonably be called the “A/G-form” Major Scale pattern. Likewise, the 3-note pattern that lies between the D and C scale patterns contains both a playable D-form chord and a playable C-form chord. So it may reasonably be called the “D/C-form” Major scale pattern. So the seven 3-note Major scale patterns perceived within a CAGED forms organizing framework are: C A A/G G E D and D/C. I’ll conclude by saying that, by you can count me as a CAGED Advocate. I've written books about the “chord forms” approach to guitar, of which CAGED is an important part. CAGED isn't the whole story. But it’s a great doorway into perceiving and organizing the fretboard in a forms framework. Anyone who wants the 3-note scale patterns I talked about in this post can goto my website seedega and email me and ask for the “3-note CAGED scale patterns PDF” and I’ll be happy to send it to them. As for the author, his article has twisted and mis-characterized CAGED. Maybe he really sincerely misapprehends it. More likely, his intention is to be provocatively negative and derogatory. The result is a biased harangue. His article does not include or promote much meaningful or helpful information regarding its purported subject matter.
    guitarfitch
    Joe.doran Great response. When I started reading this persons blatant misinformation I was already with pen in hand for scathing rebuttal. You saved me the work. CAGED is the foundation of the guitar period and to ignore it is to remain ignorant of some amazing possibilities
    pat.dimartino69
    You are incorrect: A-minor is the counter scale to C-mayor, but uses a different note: C: C-E-G a: A-C-E You will have to replace G with A and then the shapes go bye-bye.
    srscarrott
    the CAGED system is not a method for learning scales, it is a navigational tool for following chord progressions, use the right tool for the job. I've spent half an hour typing out the reasons for my opinion and some solutions for some of the problems people are having that i have seen posted here, and when it told me had to log in, it wiped it all, not good lol.
    jesse405
    @srscarrott... that was the essence of what was going to be my comment... I discovered the 'CAGED' System myself after staring at the fingerboard for 30 odd years - sometime in the late 80s/early 90s and actually taught it as "The Guitar Inversions" for a couple of years before I discovered that it already existed as the 'CAGED' system - I like to call it AGED-C - as it's only really useful function is to put the fretboard in a discernible order. It can be applied to ANY pattern. My first glimmer was the connection between the roots and the fact that you could connect them HOWEVER you wanted, be it 3 note system, pentatonic, maj, min, modal, etc. ALSO... In fact it has been around since at least the 1920s. I was taught to Jazz cats back then as a way to organize chords. Having jammed with Mr. Hendrix and seen him up close many times in '67-'68, I can assure you that he did - in fact - play out of what we might call today "CAGED" positions... But then EVERYONE does whether they know it or not. The only other system for organizing the fingerboard that I know of that is universally taught and needs to be integrated into one's playing is the Fret/Position system or Chromatic system taught in Classic Guitar in order to facilitate reading as much as anything. CAGED is NOT a method for learning scales but just a system for visualizing the potential in the 5 positions. That's it. No more. That can then be adapted to WHATEVER modes or methods you might want to apply. It is merely an organizational tool. Anything else is some kind of proprietary expansion on the idea. (my 2¢)
    pncoutts
    I wrote the same reasons and then realised this is UG... where everyone knows best.
    srscarrott
    I'm wondering if caged is interpreted differently in the US to how it is in the UK.
    tommaso.zillio
    A "navigational too for following chord progression" IS a scale system Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but the CAGED system does not teach you 5 scale patterns to use? Aren't you using these patterns to play scales when you learn CAGED? So in what sense CAGED is not a system to learn scales?
    ThatZachGuy
    As a student of the CAGED system, almost every point here is 100% false. You clearly didn't learn the same one I did. Obviously, it doesn't work alone. Any idiot could know that. It's true about EVERY system. Read Fretboard Logic and learn some theory. Maybe read Guthrie Govan's books. But seriously, I'm sick of people bashing a system for reasons that aren't even true.
    tommaso.zillio
    See above in the article: Every time I talk about, write about, or otherwise explain why the CAGED system does not live up to the hype, one or two people are bound to say: "Wait a moment this is not the CAGED system. The CAGED system is..." ... and yes, there ARE systems that work by themselves, without the need to learn other systems. Of course the more you know the better, but isn't it curious that when I criticize the CAGED system someone is bound to say that "of course no system works alone"?
    latinromans
    Saying no system works at full effectiveness in a hundred percent isolation is obvious (limiting yourself to one way of thinking is clearly going to lead to a narrower duller playing style) however if the goal is to teach the shapes of scales on a fretboard why would I use system that tends to confuse people and requires remembering five different patterns when I can get quicker results with another system that I can not only logically understand and explain but require the memorization of a single logically consistent pattern?
    jamstation
    Tommaso Zillio promoting Tom Hess's correspondence lessons...
    tommaso.zillio
    So?
    aaront00
    SO??? You should at least be honest in your comments that you are promoting a method FOR SALE on your website. Instead you mention that you will post your method when enough people in the comments respond they want the information. DOZENS of people responded they want your information yet you refuse to post. Why? perhaps it is because the information is for sale on your website. This is not a bad thing but honesty from the get go would have been nice. the fact that after nearly two years and dozens of requests you refuse to post the information leads me to believe that you are a charlatan and I would not give you a dime of my hard earned money. Perhaps if you had given a taste of your system with the preface that the complete method was availble for sale I may have considered the purchase.
    cousindud1
    hahahaha, his t-shirt really sums up what I think of his life and opinions. The five seconds of this I watched made me realize how little I care about what he thinks about anything...
    dominiksprenger
    jamstation
    Lol weren't you supposed to comment on the 2016 CAGED article?
    dominiksprenger
    Well, there's another comment of mine right here at the bottom/today, questioning exactly that Meanwhile, to get things straight: the above video has been uploaded to Youtube by the man himself around the same time as this here article was posted, and therefore should give a fair representation of the man's musical abilities at the time of writing ... no trolling or opinionating whatsoever. The question at hand (to me) is whether the man is qualified or not to actually write about and PROMISE all the stuff he does ... JUDGE FOR YOURSELF !
    Saintp83
    Great Article, painful pill to swallow for some guys. Just an inferior system.
    tommaso.zillio
    The article is about a method of visualizing the fretboard. Sure, a major chord is always a 1,3,5... but there are MANY ways to play it on the fretboard. The CAGED system is NOT a "theory" system, it's a "pattern" system. To infer that since a major chord is a 1,3,5 THEN the CAGED system is "true" (whatever that means, I am more interested in if it's "useful" or not) it's a shaky way of reasoning at best.
    latinromans
    Thanks for putting up such a hard fight on this front, although these kind of definitions may seem like pointless philosophy to some these ground level misunderstandings can lead to real confusion when you try to understand more complex aspects of music theory. Confusing methods of learning fundamental musical patterns with the fundamental musical patterns themselves can easily over complicate your understanding of music theory.
    nick.c
    Man, the caged thing is about learning major chords. Major chords are built the same way all over the fingerboard. Its useful for major chords. Major chords are important in music. Its not shaky, its about learning where those notes are. Your's is only a response to my first sentences.
    derek.goss.161
    couldnt agree more. i know several people who think the caged system is the only way. i like natural scales. u can start on any root note u want and find differnt ways of fingering them
    dominiksprenger
    (cont'd) ... OK being a little ironastic here; consider it humorous But seriously, no trolling, READING THIS ARTICLE MADE ME SHAKE MY HEAD IN SAD DISBELIEF. You see, back in the 60es it was EITHER Beatles OR Rolling Stones; then in the 70es when my generation started playing in GarageBands, you were EITHER the LEAD guitar hero or the RHYTHM guitar dude. As a happy but admittedly not well known professional guitar player I pride myself in being Jack Of All Trades, and I simply achieved that by meshing/blending/using all available bits of knowledge ... using AND/AND instead of EITHER/OR ... put 'em on a heap and run 'em through the blender so to say. But the CAGED principle (which I incidentially found out for myself) provides a player with a MAP of the freboard, which (unless you use alternative tunings) is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL for finding your way around the guitar. Of course there are other ways ... use them all ... BUT DON'T EVER LET ANYONE TELL THAT ONE WAY OR THE OTHER IS 'BAD' !!! ----- THERE ARE NO 'RULES' IN MUSIC, ONLY 'GUIDELINES' ... and you can always break away from those as long as you know how & why (or for any other reason actually). But knowledge, ALL knowledge, is the key ! Dominik P. Sprenger - JustAnotherGuitarPlayer -
    ianstich
    The author of this article is DEAD WRONG. If you just study the chord positions then you are going to be stumped. It is more of the CAGED ROOT System and Hendrix, Garcia, Anastasio, and Every other guitarist who actually makes/made a living off guitar abides to the rules. To everyone and I mean everyone who agrees with the author, I GUARANTEE you are stumped and trying to make the guitar make sense. For those guitar players who understand the guitar truly inside and out, they know that the CAGED Chord System is essential. It is the very start of an idea then when expanded on, will explain every song, every riff. Sorry, that is the truth. Disregard this crap and study the CAGED Chord System for all it is worth and don't be like this guy.
    Sir_Taffey
    I recently learnt that Guthrie Govan teaches the caged system for chords, scales and arpeggios as the starting point. Everything major(7)/minor(7) Is in terms of the caged system the way he teaches. I have his book and it doesn't seem that bad at all. He outlines the pentatonics held within the shapes and explains how to get to major modes, minor modes and he has arpeggio sections for each type of chord. For his extended chords I think it's the same. I'm not quite there yet. And I understand that for other scales like harmonic minor he teaches the shapes. What I understand from it is internalize the shapes and the concept. Just be able to visualize in different keys where the chords lie, and then you can take it from there with pentatonics and all that stuff. I just like the way he teaches it. I haven't learnt it like that but it does make some sense. It is not a substitute for knowing note names and intervals. But all this bashing about not using patterns and shapes... When was the last time you constructed a bar chord note by note. It was a shape you reverted to because you have internalized it and can use it as you wish
    baba44713
    This article is basically an embodiment of those cheesy infomercials which try to convince you that something that works perfectly fine is actually completely wrong and you should immediately abandon it and search for an alternative. In other words, it's a sales pitch. All Thomas Zillo wants is to instill fear and doubt in you while establishing authority which will ultimately lead to a point where you end up giving him money. Even if your guitar playing ultimately benefits from this, I find this approach highly unethical. My suggestion - be careful what and who you believe, and take everything you read, whichever it is, with a grain of salt. Especially if the information you are reading is almost completely based on negative opinions and criticism, no matter how eloquently it's written.
    allensommerby80
    this is the most absurd lack of knowledge I've ever seen about the guitar. The original posters article is complete rubbish.
    kenni.kuhlmannc
    I learned from the Berklee Method, by Willam Leavitt. I have only just recently even heard of the 'caged' system -- at first I thought it something to do with meaning o the word 'cage', as if it was 'trapping' notes/chords/arppeggios.... I still don't really know what it is, and don't think I need to. William Leavitt taught the 'position playing', involving movable scale patterns with Roman Numerals, I thru V, with variations denoted by letters a,b,c,d.... This is now tatooed on my soul.
    pat.dimartino69
    You nailed it, and I had just started to look into the CAGED system. It is inconsistent and Mayor only, as you observed. If there would be something to it it would have to work in other scales. Just for the fun of it I drew out the minor scale tones for A-minor as it is the counter scale to C-mayor, which uses the A,C and E notes.No surprise you will find only 2 regular shapes: 123456789ABC123 E|----A--C---E--- -|C---E----A--C-- -|-A--C- --E----A- -|-E----A--C---E- -|--C---E----A--C E|----A--C---E --- Hence not consistent.
    Mike's Guitars
    Hello, I also teach guitar and do not like the caged system. I do use some of the movable chord shapes such the ones for E major and A major, but I find the shape for G major not easy to use as a movable chord shape. I prefer to just teach my students all of the movable bar chord shapes along with the major and minor scales.
    ocsjesus
    thats a good article, my teacher taught me 3 notes per string at the beginning, so i know nothing about CAGED and thanks god i dont get confused by that
    Sixxstarr
    I have been playing for almost a year and I've been learning well enough to write my own stuff and I just learned the caged system after learning music theory and even I noticed that it was a crap system that made me feel like I couldn't step out of a little box...I've found myself breaking the rules anyways but I'm glad to read this to simply do away with it for when I'm writing my leads and instead try to find a better system or find my own
    mbself73
    Again, it is not the point of the CAGED system to trap one in a box. It is to open up the fretboard. Used in tandem with a really good awareness of all pentatonic forms, modes and other forms of learning scales it is an effective tool. Everyone is looking for some magic bullet. It doesn't exist. 3 notes per string, CAGED, rote memorization, pentatonics, all are necesarry to learn how to use your guitar and juice every ounce of tonal and chordal options out of the fretboard as possible.
    Deelo
    Another thumbs up to seeing a write-up on your approach. I'm early in my learning to play and I'd like to explore my options.
    pat.dimartino69
    I would recommend learning the Mayor and Minor Pentatonic scales instead. The shapes are much easier.
    dpmertl
    I'm glad I read this article! thank you before I traveled down the road of CAGED system. What do you recommend to someone that's always played first position and looking to be able to riff or jam with people. I've learned a lot these last few months but there are so many scales. Where should a "newer player" root themselves
    sploorp
    I agree to pretty much everything you said, but I think it can be broken down into one simple truth: the caged system isn't a musical approach to improvisation, it's purely a visual way of looking at a guitar fingerboard. Teachers like it because it's easy to teach. In a few simple lessons they can have their students playing simple melodies over simple chord progressions. Students like it because they feel like they are really making progress. The problem with it is, at some point, you'll stop getting better. No matter how much you practice, no matter how hard you try, no matter how fast you can play, you always feel stuck. That is because your entire approach is visual and not musical. Musically, the caged system is like a rocket ride into a brick wall.
    Octane Twisted
    Well, what is exactly the CAGED system? I mean is there anything besides using the chords shape as a basis? I do use the "5 shapes partern" (used a lot in jazz) over the "7 shapes partern" because I find it much more friendly phrasing-wise. And I find some of the arpeggios shapes to be really cool. Especially the diminished arpeggios contrary to what you say. Now that being said, I also know the "7 seven shapes patern" and I agree that its really shredder friendly. In a nutshell I think people shouldn't dismiss any system because there's always something interesting to grab (i.e new shapes).
    nick.c
    I love this topic haha. I also love when people ( me included apparently)speak sanctimoniously, so here I am again haha. My main objection to this article is the dismissal of this apparently mysterious concept refered to as caged. For me caged refers to a series of patterns that spell a major chord on the neck. Patterns are useful for learning and understanding theory. It is sketchily defined in this article ,and it is maligned. I am concerned that people will dismiss this basic and necessary bit of knowledge, in favour of speed. I guess i feel chords are much more useful compared torecognizing a whole key on the finge board.keys change often in a lot of music and learning diatonic harmony via a big pattern can be as confusing and restrictive as some people find caged. I thave really enjoyd this convo!o Made me do a lot of thinking!