Scale Shapes In CAGED System

The most convenient forms of the 5 scales shapes which can be used to play the major/minor scales and all the modes, and how they fit together under the CAGED system.

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Ultimate Guitar
11
This lesson pre-supposes that you know the tonal structure of the Major scale, the Nat. minor scale, the modes, and the theory behind them. Okay, I've seen other people with the major scale etc in their lessons, and several shapes of it in some lessons. There are 5 shapes in total, and just these 5 shapes encompass all 7 diatonic scales. (Excluding harmonic and melodic minors however). These 5 shapes, taught to me by my old guitar teacher, are the most convenient ones to use, and I'm pretty sure I haven't seen anyone lse at UG with these in their lesson. (Though the_strat_man did come close, to his credit). Also, remember that even though the shapes are named "E major" etc, this does not mean that this particular shape will only play a scale in the key of E major; they are entirely moveable, and this naming nuance is explained below. Without further ado, here are the shapes. 'R' signifies the root note, and the other numbers on each fret indicate which note from the scale it is, e. g. |-6-| = 6th note of the major scale. )
|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|
|-5-|---|-6-|---|---|
|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|
|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|
|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|
C major SHAPE
                                   
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|     
|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---| 
|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---| 
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
A major SHAPE        
                     
|---|-5-|---|---|---|      
|---|---|---|-3-|---|       
|---|---|---|-R-|---|                
|---|---|---|-5-|---|       
|---|-R-|---|---|---|         
|---|-X-|---|---|---|       
A major CHORD SHAPE
(Here you can see why it's called the A major SHAPE, even though it doesn't necessarily play in the key of A. When you take the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes from this scale you will get the A major chord shape, i.e. the fingering pattern used to play 'A major' in the open position).
|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|
|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|
|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|
|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|
G major SHAPE

|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|
|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|
|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|
E major SHAPE

|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|
|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|
|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|
D major SHAPE
These shapes fit together so that you can switch between positions at any time while improvising, this will dramatically improve your improvisation if you learn the shapes linked together all over the fretboard. The shapes fit together in the order: Cmaj-Amaj-Gmaj-Emaj-Dmaj-Cmaj... etc over and over. For this reason, this system of playing the shapes linked together is known as the C-A-G-E-D system. Here is C major all over the fretboard, to give you an idea: (Sorry if this didn't come out so well, I wrote it on notepad originally).
| 3 |-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
| 7 |-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|
| 5 |---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|
| 2 |---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|
| 6 |---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R|----|-2-|---|
| 3 |-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
  ^           ^       ^       ^     
open         3rd     5th     7th.....etc
                 fret
It is not easy to discern at first, but you can see that the shapes are all linked together in the order of C-A-G-E-D. (I included an extra C major SHAPE at the end here also; frets 14-18). If you know how modes work, then you should already be able to figure out how to play the shapes for the minor scale, or any other mode use the same fingerings, but with the Root note beginning in a different place). However, for your convenience, I have painstakingly written them out.
|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|---|
|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|
|-7-|---|-R-|---|---|
|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|---|
|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|---|
|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|---|
A minor SHAPE

|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|
|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|---|
|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|---|
|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|
|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|
G minor SHAPE

|---|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|
|---|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|
|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|
|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|
|---|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|
E minor SHAPE        
                     
|---|-R-|---|---|---|                    
|---|-5-|---|---|---|                       
|---|-3-|---|---|---|                       
|---|---|---|-R-|---|                   
|---|---|---|-5-|---|                  
|---|-R-|---|---|---|                    
E minor CHORD SHAPE
^ (The same principle applies here as did for A major CHORD SHAPE above).
|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|
|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|
|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|---|
|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|---|
|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|---|
|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|
D minor SHAPE

|---|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|
|---|-R-|---|-2-|-3-|
|-5-|-6-|---|-7-|---|
|-2-|-3-|---|-4-|---|
|---|-7-|---|-R-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|-6-|
C minor SHAPE
That's all, learn these shapes well, and I hope they will help you with your dexterity, your improvisation and soloing.

31 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    xenolith42
    Very good lesson if you already understand the theory. I like it... Thank you very much. Just a question though, my music teacher at school is going on about 1st position and 2 position etc.. He IS talking about scale positions, but do you know if they are just different names for the CAGED system, or is it a different system? Thanks in advance to anyone who answers. Cheers!
    Guitar_Idol
    ok you start from root note and the a maj is a bar cord played on 5th fret not an open cord great system i got it straight away c.a.g.e.d wicked THANKS A HEEP scousertommy
    Kerbache
    This is the best lesson to learn the major scale in all positions for every key, exactly what I have been looking for. If you learn these shapes off by heart and know which degree of the major scale each pattern starts on then you can apply it to all 12 keys... e.g in the key of C major, the C shape starts on the III degree which is E, the key of F major the C shape will start on A. I have made a table which shows which note to start each scale shape for all 12 keys and am in the process of tabbing it out, so if anybody wants, give me a shout.
    Guitarfreak777
    Lopsided_cow wrote: EFGABCD 12345678
    Okay, people E Major is not E G B Lets go back to our circle of fifths now. C - 0 sharps G - 1 sharp D - 2 sharps A - 3 sharps E - 4 sharps E major's sharps being F# C# G# D# so the scale being E F# G# A B C# D# Root being E 3rd being G# 5th being B Please tell me you all caught that. If not im very worried about the accuracy of this article.
    VIRUSDETECTED
    ibanez1313 wrote: Wow it looks like SOMEONE read *cough andrippedoff cough* Fretboard Logic... buy the book for true understanding...
    I've seen this in many books, and my teacher taught me this. There's no set standard for who owns data. Don't be so presumptuous. I've come across this in 3 different books I've read.
    urnonav
    Lopsided_cow wrote: E maj actually has a G#, not G natural. EFGABCD 12345678
    It doesn't work that way. It's the Root, 3rd and 5th INTERVAL of the MAJOR scale that make up the E-major chord. E major scale is like this: E F# G# A B# C# D# E (Distance from root: 0 2 4 5 7 9 11 12) So, your 1, 3, 5 works like E, G#, B#. In other words, remember 0 4 7 for major chord and 0 3 7 for minor chord. All other chords build on this.
    SadGuit
    I think he means there are many fingerings possible and that these fingerings are in his teacher's view the most useful. I do though agree that they are obvious if you use modal scales - but maybe not to all. They are also a bit misleading in that most play is done 'across' these fingerings. Maybe some of the most-used choices of doing that would be useful.
    michal23
    i really don't understand.... if i know all the modes.... including how to switch between them using chromatics whilst soloing.... and it doesnt take ages to work out which mode is in which scale... then how does this help? Could somebody please explain to me the overall point this is making? Because yes, I see the different modes and the open position chords within them but, y'know, so what?
    GIBSON135
    C major: cdefgabc 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 A minor: abcdefga 1 2 3b 4 5 6b 7b 8 C maj pent: cde ga c 1 2 3 5 6 8 A min pent: a cde ga 1 3b 4 5 7b 8
    ibanez1313
    Wow it looks like SOMEONE read *cough andrippedoff cough* Fretboard Logic... buy the book for true understanding...
    ac/guns n zep
    if you know the caged system and you know which notes to emphasize (ex: emphasize D in C major for D dorian) then do you know all the modes?
    SilentDeftone
    Not helpful unless you know modes; and if you know modes it makes more sense to just play the 7 "shapes" as intervals in relation to the major scale instead of learning these "chord shapes".
    scousertommy
    Hey, thanks for the comments lads, I hope the lesson helped. Just to clear one or two people's questions:
    M ATTTHEMOP wrote: im sorry i really dont understand. such as ur comment: (Here you can see why it's called the A major SHAPE, even though it doesn't necessarily play in the key of A. When you take the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes from this scale you will get the A major chord shape, i.e. the fingering pattern used to play 'A major' in the open position). also, how the notes labelled 'R' in the diagrams were not actually the root notes, as u claim.
    Well "mmm" basically posted the answer to your question:
    mm m wrote: If you played the fingerings correctly, then yes each R should represent the root note for whichever pattern you decided to play in whichever key. As far as the 1st, 3rd, and 5th thing...any major chord is composed of it's 1st, or it's root, it's 3rd, which is 3 tones up from it, and the 5th, which is 5 tones up from it. So an E major is composed of E, G, and B. You can use that formula to come up with any major chord.
    Silent Deftone: I know I included those "chord shape" patterns, but I don't mean for anyone to really practise those shapes, I only included them so as to give people an idea of what notes of a chord they are actually playing over when they are playing those full-scale shapes. Just to show people how the open chords are actually derived from the scale patterns, it can't hurt. As for the modes: I did specify at the start that the lesson was for people who already knew the tonal strucure of the modes. It is a piece of cake to adapt these 5-shapes for playing any of the 7 modes. Just accentuate a different note of the scale, i.e. for Aeolian, just take what ordinarily would be the 6th note as your new root note. Anyway, hope that cleared stuff up. Cheers
    -downhill-
    Good lesson thought I do not know where to start the scales thought. If anyone would like to help me my address is cazchadwick@hotmail.com thanx
    lovemyMartin
    This is what i have been looking for! I'm glad to see that someone took the time to show the entire major scale of the full fretboard. It even has very recognizable names for the shapes and who can't remember C-A-G-E-D for how they link together?! You better learn this stuff guys if you want to be a better solo guitarist 'cuz it doesn't get any easier than this! Not even the countless books I've bought!
    MATTTHEMOP
    So an E major is composed of E, G, and B. You can use that formula to come up with any major chord.
    E maj actually has a G#, not G natural.
    mmm
    If you played the fingerings correctly, then yes each R should represent the root note for whichever pattern you decided to play in whichever key. As far as the 1st, 3rd, and 5th thing...any major chord is composed of it's 1st, or it's root, it's 3rd, which is 3 tones up from it, and the 5th, which is 5 tones up from it. So an E major is composed of E, G, and B. You can use that formula to come up with any major chord.
    HaraldLangner
    Thanks very much! This lessen give me an good overview about somethings I had known. Great!
    MATTTHEMOP
    im sorry i really dont understand. such as ur comment: (Here you can see why it's called the A major SHAPE, even though it doesn't necessarily play in the key of A. When you take the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes from this scale you will get the A major chord shape, i.e. the fingering pattern used to play 'A major' in the open position). also, how the notes labelled 'R' in the diagrams were not actually the root notes, as u claim.
    -Quicksteel-
    a Minor Pentatonic is actually 1, 3, 4, 5, 7 of the Natural Minor scale. .. so it looks like this |-R-|---|---|-x-| |-x-|---|---|-x-| |-x- |---|-x-|---| |-x-|---|-R-|---| |-x-|---|-x-|--- | |-R-|---|---|-x-|
    Keefer
    What's the formula for a Minor Pentatonic? Same 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 notes of a minor scale?
    mojonola
    Please DISREGARD this post as its inaccurate and obviously WRONG...The C major shape chart is WRONG.....C is the first fret on the B string not the second, as there is a half step between B and C, so the whole thing is off.