The CAGED Sytem: Part 1

One of the best things about learning chords on the guitar versus other instruments is the fact that many of the forms you hold in the left hand don’t have to change when you switch to another chord of the same quality on the same set of strings. For example, if you play an F Major bar chord on the first fret of the guitar going across all six strings, you can keep your hand in the same exact form on the frets if you want to play an A major - you just slide the hand up to the fifth fret instead. The notes change, but it doesn’t take a lot of mental energy to achieve this.

Enter the CAGED System. The CAGED System is a way to use these forms to create chords, scales, and arpeggios. The system is named after the open major chords most commonly used on the guitar: C, A, G, E, and D. Not only does this spell a word (which helps you remember it), but it also outlines the order in which you can move the same chord up the neck in different forms. This post is called “part one” because I’m only going to going over the rules for creating the open chord (which can then moved and barred) and the main major, minor, and dominant 7th chords of the open position.

The CAGED System “Rules”

These rules apply to 6 string guitars in standard tuning, capische?

  • No more than 6 notes in a chord
  • All chord tones must be present (3 for major and minor, 4 for dominant 7)
  • octave doubling can be used to fill out the chord
  • The left hand fretting should only occur between 4 frets
  • For the chord form to be barrable, up to 3 fingers on the left hand can be used in creating the “base” form.
  • All of these chords are root position (not inversions)

The CAGED Worksheet
The CAGED System Worksheet

I created a worksheet as a place for musicians to start learning the most basic chords. I show each chord in the open position using standard notation and chord charts, then show how the chord would look fretted at bar 2. Remember, however you finger a chord in the open position, you might have to change the fingering when you move to the bar chord so that you free up finger 1 to execute said bar.

As you go through this, think about the chord root, type (or quality), and form. This is important to know when you start moving into the bar chords.

I’ve included only what I consider “practical” chords for this worksheet. Remember, you can also do partial chords when playing. For example, many people find the G form in major difficult to execute when barred. It’s very common to change the chord to a 4 string chord (only playing strings 1-4) in a performance situation.

Moving up the neck with a single chord in different forms: C Major example

So you’ve completed the worksheet! Good work! Now let’s try putting this into practice with a single chord, but with different voicings! Play C major in the C form. (Notice, if the root matches the form, it’s an open chord not a bar chord). Good work! Now play a C major in the A form. The third fret will be barred to achieve this. Notice the lowest root C is the same as when you played the open chord (5th string, third fret). The plot thickens. Now play the C major in the G form. You’ll be *barring across the 5th fret for this one. Yes it’s a bit of a stretch! But notice the barring finger is sharing the notes (G on the 4th string, C on the 3rd string, and E on the 2nd string) from the previous form. Intriguing! Okay, now play the C major in the E form. You’re barring the 8th fret now, and the root C is the same as the previous form (6th string, 8th fret). The first octave is on the 4th string, 10th fret. I mention this because…Now we’re moving to the C major in the d form (barring the 10th fret). The root of this chord shares the octave from the previous form!

What have we learned here? First, the forms were always go in the order of the spelling of the word CAGED as you ascend up the neck. I love that. (Note: if you start on a different form, go in order of where the first form begins. For the E form, follow it with D, C, A, G). Next - all of the chords have connection points between them. Navigate forward and backwards between chord forms to recognize these connection points. Pick a different chord, then navigate through all of its forms to expand your variety of playing on the guitar.

Moving Forward

I know Ian has a similar document that goes over much of the same material but in a different way. Look out for a post from him, as well as more from me continuing on using the CAGED system! In the future I’ll post about different chord types/qualities, scales, and arpeggios as they relate to this system.

Good luck, and let me know how applying this post goes for you!

Good work brother! I’ll be posting mine soon too! Multiple perspectives are always good on the subject but spoiler alert for readers - there is a lot of crossover in the way we explain this.

This is great, Sean! I like how you included the standard notation along with the tab style.