CAGED System Explained

The CAGED system is one of the most important lessons a guitarist can learn. It describes the way music imposes herself on a guitar fretboard in standard tuning and is the key to understanding how to use the whole fingerboard.

Ultimate Guitar
The CAGED template is the most important pattern of all to commit to memory. It truly is the mother of all patterns for guitars in standard tuning, and any course teaching you how to use the whole fretboard will have to refer to it.

It, in a very real sense, IS the way guitars work. When we start playing, we tend to stick pretty close to the nut, down in open-chord territory, and for good reason: that's where we can keep track of what we're playing by using open strings and relying on the proximity of the nut to count our way up the fretboard.

Anything past the fifth fret become no-man's land where panic sets in. However, as we progress, we need to move up the fretboard in order to access those high notes. We can't let ourselves be restricted musically by the seemingly undecipherable layout of the fingerboard. There must be some logical way of dealing with the maze of strings and frets, we tell ourselves, and that way is the CAGED template.

I explain it all in the video below.

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48 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Concise, clear and great! Good job!
    i finally made the decision a few years back to just focus on playing by ear and ditched the theory thing. i wish i knew theory, but if i spent half as much time learning it, i wouldn't have any technique. the more you play, especially over backing tracks, the more you figure things out for yourself. some people are wired different and i believe i have a more hands on approach that helps me. sitting with a book open just never worked for me, just like school.
    "It, in a very real sense, IS the way guitars work." But it's not. Guitar isn't just limited to one way...
    wheres your video crazysam_23? Show us "your" way...
    You sounds like a pretty humble student. I, myself, disagree with Sam on a lot of stuff, myself, but he IS right. If you really need an example, look into the twelve-tone system. And if you're going to passive-aggressively scoff at someone, at least quote their name right.
    That's my favorite logical fallacy.
    Where's the fallacy in my statement, Theo? Guitar can be learned and studied in multiple ways. It'd be a pretty boring instrument if there was "only one way".
    No, I meant HumbleSudent's fallacy.
    what fallacy is that? humblestudent is making a fair point, not claiming that crazysam's conclusion is wrong because crazysam didn't provide his own theory. if anything, why aren't you jumping on crazysam's 'fallacy' of "but it's not" amounting to 'nuh uh' to someone else's 'uh huh?'
    "wheres [sic] your video [...]" strongly implies that he is making an appeal to experience/from authority sort of fallacy wherein he points to the lack of perceived expertise/experience on Sam's part (ie his lack of video) as a counter argument to Sam criticizing the author. It's pretty much the classic "well let's see you try it then" mentality at its finest. Also... there was not, in fact, a fallacy on Sam's part. Disagreeing with something that somebody said is not a fallacy unless the reasoning behind the disagreement is itself a fallacy. Failing to provide proof for why one disagrees is not a fallacy. And in this case... the author's claim that Sam was refuting has no real proof to support it in the first place, and so since the claim is not backed by anything, Sam does not need to provide support to deny such a claim.
    "strongly implies" and there you have it. an implication isn't a statement of fact. you're seeing what you want to see and then applying semantics that support your own claim. good god, talk about fallacies.
    for a beginner this made absolutely no sense.not even really sure where to go 2 look for something that helps
    Try Guthrie Govan's book, Creative Guitar
    Yea probably no beginner should look at Guthrie Govan's book. The book is great and deals with every guitar topic imaginable which is the problem. It's literally hundreds of pages long and deal with every topic which is far too much for a beginner to start with. A beginning should be learning to play easy chords and easy songs. Much else will be hard to understand and too much to understand.
    I don't know man there is a dude on who reckons he's been playing for 3 years and must of started out studying the greats and he is awesome, not what i'd listen to but here is his page and music check user logicbdj
    I like the caged system for finding chord shapes but for playing scales I have always like the 3 note per string way for diatonic and 2 note per string for pentatonic over the caged method it is easier to play but I think its good to learn as many ways to play as you can- can never have too many tools in the old tool box
    I'm still confused to the whole "All 12 chords have the same underlying structure". You do the F chord briefly, but is it still in the CAGED shape or does it use different shape chords? like FDCBG?
    It still follows the template, it's just the position on the fretboard (and thus the notes) that change. He plays an F to start it off, but he plays it as the 'E' chord shape in the CAGED system, just one fret higher.
    Personally I only recommend learning this if you are a beginner. Veterans should be learning things to the bone and not relying on systems and patterns. This is a very clear explanation of the caged system however & a great video.
    "There must be some logical way of dealing with the maze of strings and frets, we tell ourselves, and that way is the CAGED template." No. The way is to understand, mostly, the major and minor scales composition from 2-3-p4-p5-6-7 and 2-m3-p4-p5-m6-m7 intervals, and then approaching modes from their notes perhaps. Any oversimplication like this one can only bring you so long until you eventually have to understand why the scales are built the way they are.
    Is this similar to the Nicholas "Cage(d)" system? You know . . . not spectacular, but good enough to get by?
    Oh sweet. a fresh set of rules to learn to break ;P I can see how one could get stuck in the patterns without knowing a bit of underlying theory, and for me personally the first 2 minutes or so of the vid was a little dull, having learnt a reasonable amount of theory as a kid playing piano.. But hey, I got something from this to add to my little arsenal of tricks for jammin
    I really enjoyed the video. However, like the last comment, it wasn't related to soloing: I finally understood how to choose alternative positions to place the capo. CAGED It's so simple! Brilliant!!!
    meaning say you want E as your tonic, you keep the chord structures so they can be played further up the neck, so to explain it... C A G E D = E C B G F. useful for transposing chords especially if you are using capos too.
    To the people not understanding this, it is not a miracle understand the guitar in one second, it is a point of reference, where you can find the chords in relationship to the root, so if you want to play in say E, you can start from any of the 5 positions of the chords.
    I'm a decent guitar player, I can almost play any riff I want and I can figure out a lot of things by ear but I don't understand a single thing on this video. I don't see why is it necessary to know that to play, it doesn't look very fun to learn all that...
    Phil Starr
    Great video, some really clear graphics and just enough information to make you think. A lot depends upon what you define as a beginner, six months in something like this would be a useful part of the jigsaw. If you don't understand this now then file it away and come back in a few months time.
    I was given the book 'Plane Talk' when I first starting playing guitar. It confused the hell out of me. Now that it's years later, I might give it another read. Although the format of the book is in comic style and slightly feels as if it drags.
    This is an over complicated shortcut. Just learn the fretboard notes, intervals (properly, as in scale/chord relationships and harmony of harmonic/melodic/diatonic modes. After that (which is way easier than it sounds) the world of music is your oyster!
    Any good recomandations that helped you in that direction? I have never found a good book or lesson for learning the fret with the major/minor scales and the modes. And god knows i have tried many.... i want to reach that next level in playing. (i have been playing like 13-14 years now, 10 years of that in a metal band....) so any good books or lessons you know?
    For beginner/intermediate level, the Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Theory is absolutely fantastic, no b.s or over complicated rubbish, just what you need to know. Later on I would recommend Mark Levine's Jazz theory book (only if you feel you want to get into mastery of improv etc.)
    Thanks man! Found the Idiots guide PDF for free XD These books have a lightly different approach to music theory because they are not strictly "Guitar theory". This could be more difficult i guess... how did you approach these books?
    I voted this highly because of the execution of the video. The CAGED system itself doesn't really interest me. I just enjoyed the narration and its nods to the old-school style of presentation.