Understanding Guitar With 5-Position System

I'm launching my new channel today with this series on how to better understand the guitar through the 5 position CAGED system.

Ultimate Guitar

Ask any guitarist to explain the instrument and you'll find out right away that there's as many ways to approach the instrument as there are ways to butcher it. So let's take the hike from the butcher block to the practice room and find out why the 5-position system is the simplest way to learn the fretboard.

Have you ever looked on with a mixture of awe and anguish as a skilled guitarist sails up and down the neck with no inhibitions whatsoever? How is it that they find their way through this maze of wood and metal and magically land in the right spots? You already know the answer. It's Scale Patterns! You know, those things that you thought were too boring and pointless to practice...

Every player needs to have an arsenal of note combinations at their disposal. We categorize these in terms of chord and scale spellings and spend eons learning which scale goes with which chord. For guitar players, the visual nature of the instrument and the fact that we can learn from diagrams of the neck is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, it's easier to memorize a pattern than a series of notes or key signatures, but you're really shortchanging yourself if you don't learn how to spell chords and scales on the staff. So try to think of the patterns presented here as only one side of the equation. The other side is all of the theory that allows you to truly understand what you're doing and why.

I've suffered through a lot of practicing that turned out to be a waste of time. Why? Because I've learned the guitar in both the 7-position modal system and the 5-position CAGED system (based around the C, A, G, E, and D chord shapes) and I've come out enormously in favor of the CAGED system. The reason is simple: less stuff to learn, easier fingerings. And you already know half of it if you've spent any time with barre chords. Everything you need for all chords and scales can be derived from the five positions and it is a truly elegant and flexible way to get around the neck. We can play all the triads and 7th chords in these positions and you will immediately notice that the fingerings for all the scales line up with licks that you already know.

Everything in the CAGED system starts with the 5 barre chords. A quick glance will show you that the five chord forms originate from the open C, A, G, E, and D chords. However, all of the open strings have become fingered notes, so as to accommodate transposing them up the neck:

Each of these moveable forms can be used to sound any of the 12 major triads by moving them up or down, as long as you know where the root of each form is and have a basic understanding of the chromatic scale and it's application to the fifth and sixth strings (and for the D form, the 4th string) of the guitar. For example, the E form triad is probably the most common chord form for guitar. Played in 3rd position, this form gives us a G major triad.

Move it to 8th position and it becomes C.

Every one of these 5 chord forms can be moved in the same way. Take some time to play them all over the neck.

YouTube preview picture

Downloadable diagrams for these and other topics are available for free at www.danmylotte.com/guitarwisdom.

23 comments sorted by best / new / date

    With all due respect to the author, the CAGED system is a good way to send a burgeoning player into shit fits. Yeah, it works for the basics, but unravels when you start to venture into more complicated territory. Learning to play guitar doesn't have to be like taking a University's theory class. 1. Buy a guitar/amp/pedal. Find a song you want to play. Try to learn as much as you can by ear. If you need help, find a tab. 2. Have fun. 3. Explore different picking/strumming patterns. Add some variety in the songs you choose. 4. Have fun. 5. If you want to play leads, pick one that sounds awesome. Find a tab and practice, practice, practice. 6. Play that killer lead for friends and hot chicks. Continue to have fun. 7. Want to know more? Learn some scales, venture into different chord shapes. Try to find common ground between what you're learning to what you want to play. Connect the dots, discover similarities and patterns; try to understand the musician's logic. 8. Have fun! 9. See #8. I mean, that's how we did it in the old days, correct? If it worked then, it will work now. No need to over-complicate shit. In the course of learning, you'll decide if you want to follow a more scholarly, regimented route. Otherwise, play, learn, and have fun, dammit!
    This was what I was looking for a long time. Was very useful for me...
    Yup, I agree that the CAGED system isn't a good way to teach or learn guitar. It's like teaching someone to ride a bicycle to help them drive a car.
    I purchased some books on the CAGED system/sequence a couple years ago and got bored with it because it wasn't making enough sense to me and I couldn't get beyond a certain point, however, during your forth lesson on this subject that "ah ha" moment struck; now that I see how it's applied in practice, rather than as written theory, maybe now I can move on with a better understanding of how this system/sequence, along with so much more, will help me in my learning. Thanks for clearing this up for me; I'm looking forward to digging deeper.
    Lost me after 5 minutes of babbling on.
    it lost me the first few times but when you start doing these shapes practically up the fretboard, over time you will start to understand the concept. watch it as many times as you have to and learn one thing at a time.
    "Playing the killer lead for hot chicks" is great advice, but I pity anyone who seriously buys into your approach as being superior to seeking out an actual pathway for improving themselves as a musician. Sounds like an exercise in staying exactly where you are. The CAGED system if for UNDERSTANDING the guitar, exactly like the title says. Learn it, and you demystify the guitar while only having to memorize five things. It's not meant to be a prison. If you need to stretch beyond it, there's no law against that. Guitar players are confused, though. They need a system. Trust me. I see the things people are talking about on this site and other places. People need to have things explained - properly. This requires talking. The wisdom I've gained as a musician comes from listening to people talk - people who knew more than I did and had a wealth of experiences to share. I think this is important so that's what I've tried to do here. Thanks for your feedback, either way. I eagerly await your superior instructional materials.
    What makes you think that we want to write instructional material? I'm not a teacher. Neither did I say that your lesson was bad, you did a good job explaining it. However that does not change the fact that in my opinion and experience the CAGED system is not really worth it. We're not some random idiots flaming articles here. We've been musicians and site members for years, and I haven't really seen any CAGED success stories. Valvruls advice was, at it's core, great. Have fun, that's the most important thing. Now, I want you to understand that there was nothing wrong about your lesson. I didn't downrate you or anything. I just expressed my opinion about the system you're talking about, which is in my opinion not the best way to learn guitar.
    Your comment was perfectly appropriate and I have no arguments with anyone's opinions about what works or doesn't. The 5 position system works for people who can play but aren't grasping the bigger picture about how to look at the neck and understand where things are played. Let's face it, these are the patterns that are used for almost all the well known guitar parts that we've all been playing for years. But then someone came along and decided to give it a name and call it a system and it strikes fear into the hearts of anyone who has a personal issue with studying. If guitar is a pastime for you or anyone else, that's great. Far be it from me to ruin anyone's fun. On the other hand, plenty of people are seeking improvement at a level above being a hobbyist, and I find that many of them are not willing/able to seek instruction from a qualified source. These videos are for them, and they will work if followed and applied. I will occasionally put a negative comment on someone else's instructional materials when I think that they are doing their audience a disservice. If that's really how anyone feels about this material, then I will step aside and let the downvotes flow. For everyone else, you're welcome.
    Please, don't. Let the high and mighty have their say; it's the internet, they will do it anyway. I enjoyed your tutorial and wish that UG was normally up to this standard.
    But again, I'm not a hobbyist who just has fun with the guitar. I'm a guitarist who has been a student at a musical academy and who has spent years of his life learning both music theory and guitar technique, and who plans on spending the next decades of his life creating musical art. I still think that having fun is the best approach to guitar playing, and if you really want to study theory and it's applications the best way is to learn it all step by step, little by little without any shortcuts. If you really want to understand guitar and music on a deeper level, tricks like the CAGED system are, in my opinion, exactly not what you're looking for. If you really want to improve¨and become a master at your art, I think you're better off doing it properly rather than relying on some "magic bullet ways". And what comes to personal issues with studying, don't you think that learning a trick that gives you a simplified answer to a complicated problem is exactly the opposite of proper learning?
    I have to reply to this because it's really surprising to me that anyone would call the 5 position system a "trick." It takes 5 videos for me to really deliver anything resembling a comprehensive lesson on the subject. Tricks are little things that you learn in a few minutes and probably don't have a transformative effect on you. The CAGED system was transformative for me and really enlightened me about how the instrument works. I think other people here are echoing a similar experience when they have this need and are willing to make the investment in learning something that very broadly changes their perception of the instrument. And, like I said, this is the way people play the guitar, for as long as their has been guitars. These are the fingerings that make the most sense. 95% of the stuff you have already learned (if you learned it correctly) is using these partners. All I'm doing is showing you how they work in the bigger picture of connecting positions across the entire length of the neck.
    As a mediocre beginner/intermediate guitarist, I have to say that I completely disagree with you (not actually completely, which I will come back to). The joy of learning guitar on your own is that there are a LOT of ways you can go about it. And with the internet, we can find the one that works the best for us. What works for me may not be what works for you. Yes, having fun is the best way to get into guitar. In fact, it's why I fell in love with guitar from the moment I started playing. IT IS FUN. It's exhilarating, in fact. I was able to get three chords down on night one of owning it and I could strum things that sounded like real songs...beautiful. But theory has a place. And CAGED teaches theory, even if it's a crutch way to teach it. It IS valuable. You call it a trick, and maybe it is, but for some of us, it's a trick that helps us learn the deeper theory better. Also, there's a lot of value in recognizing the relationship between chords and scale patterns and blah blah blah. NOBODY has ever seriously suggested (particularly the guy who made this tutorial) that learning CAGED is the be-all-end-all solution to playing guitar. Not anyone.
    I appreciate the lesson and the effort you went to with creating the downloadable charts on your website. I agree with the folks here that say - learning guitar is not an all or nothing situation. It should be fun, it should be a challenge but if something doesn't make sense...leave it be until you're ready for it. In the meantime - keep learning the chick catching riffs!
    I don't see why people hate the caged system. The goal is to learn all the notes of a scale through the 12 frets. The fastest way to do that is the caged system because it has a pattern. Once you've learnt the 5 positions you should be able to shred anything up and down the fret board. I think it is not the five caged position that is the problem, theoretically it is the quickest way to learn all the notes, but the problem is beginner players only play at one position every time and go up and down which is lame. Instead of saying 5 position system is not a good system, because it is good, we should teach how to jump from one box to the next box, which is not even hard, i don't know how people get stuck, its not like they can't move. But once you can visualize all the notes of a scale on the fret board, without the need of visualizing the 5 boxes, then you have mastered the scale, takes a long time, but as far as i know, the 5 box is the fastest way to learn all the notes, where all the notes are, and it is also good as you can visualize the chords.
    THIS. And it's precisely what the next 4 videos of this series are trying to make happen for you. Thank you.
    My process, was to memorise all the open strings...then knowing how many notes exist in Western music (12) just go up from each open string. Slowly (well, within a couple of weeks of doing a bit of this a day maybe less it was a while ago), I learned all the notes on the fretboard, which is far from hard. I then learned chord shapes, then learned theory (what makes certain chords/scales) then its all there for you, you just select the notes yourself. I went to University and played guitar. Not telling a lie here, but I still don't even know what the CAGED system is all about, 5 position, 7 position means nothing to me. Just seriously, learn and play what you want to play. It actually IS that simple, and if you don't want to learn theory to achieve this, then honestly, music is not what you should be doing. There is a reason learning music, to read and write is considered another language. It IS. You want your instrument to talk words YOU want them to say, learn the language. All learning like this does is box you in. CAGES you in...LOL :| There are no quick fixes, there are no short cuts. You take these paths you block yourself in. Learn theory. If you don't need to learn theory, no problem, some people don't. But if you are struggling to learn things on your instrument, and you are struggling to understand how other musicians do stuff they do when you can't, if learning theory isn't the first path you take, you are lazy.
    Said my professional guitar instructor (who plays the lead guitar position in a global iconic jazz rock band) " I dont know, that CAGED thing seems like a fad to me. Steer clear of that"
    Obviously, there was some humor in my post that went unnoticed. Anyway, my point was a suggestion to forgo intellectualizing the guitar until it becomes necessary to do so. And if CAGED is meant for understanding the instrument, then I guess guitar has its version of "Hooked on Phonics." Cheerio, folks. Don't take the internets too seriously ;
    The way I see it is there is more than one approach. One can be a hack, like me, or go to school and learn it all. But yet there are many approaches in between. It's not all or nothing. People will learn all different ways, at many different levels, and for me I'm going to give this a shot. I need some help with the different forms. Thanks. (I wish I could have studied guitar full time and learn it all)