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CAGED Fig. 1Fig.1. The ‘CAGED system” uses an easy visualization technique (trick) to quickly locate root notes.

Usage:

-Knowing the location of all Root Notes also reveals the chord positions.  Different chord positions may be used to change voicing.  They also allows better positioning for lead playing.

-Knowing the location of the Root Notes is essential for successful Leed improvising.  In order to have a polished and harmonious sound you must  frequently & creatively resolve back to the root note of a given Key.  The root note is your “landing note” for leed work.  For more on this see Leed Improvising.

CAGED Explained

Here’s the trick (it is actually quite easy):

-Each letter of the word CAGED represents an Open Chord  Shape: C shape, A Shape, G Shape…etc.  These Shapes are linked together like a chain with the outside note of one shape forming the inside note of the next:

 CAGED Chain

 Fig.2. The CAGED Chord Shapes are linked together.  (See how on the fretboard in fig.4 below).

Chord SHAPE

-It is important to understand that a Chord SHAPE is the finger FORMATION only.  The Open Chord defines the name of the Shape however the Shape may be moved on the fretboard to produce other chords.  Take the D Chord for example:

D Chord SHAPE

Fig.3. On the top fretboard the “D Major Chord Shape” produces the “D Chord” in the Open position.
On the bottom fretboard the “D Major Chord Shape” is moved up 2 frets to produce an “E Chord”.

Root Notes of the C-A-G-E-D Chords.

-Take the “Open C Chord” for example.  It is comprised of 5 tones.  Two of the five are C tones (the 2nd & 5th strings).
These two tones are the root notes.  They help establish the chord as a “C Chord”.  They dominate the sound.

-As you move up the neck, use each letter of CAGED as the chord shape used to locate the other C notes on the fretboard:

CAGED System 2

 Fig.4 . Showing all of the “C notes” on the fretboard & how they relate to the CAGED chord Shapes.

Some important observations:

-The last note of one shape is the first note of the next.
-With the exception of the C Shape the first note each shape is located on the String of the same name.
-The system repeats after the 12th fret.

The Process

Start with the Open C Chord & build off the C note on the 3rd fret of the 5th string.
Using the A Chord Shape,  locate the next root note.
We knowing that the Open A Chord has one A note on the Open 5th string and one 2 strings up & 2 frets up.

Therefore, applying this formation, the next C note is 2 frets up & 2 strings up from the 3rd fret of the 5th string.
Or the 5th fret of the 3rd string (see fig.3).

-This process now repeats from shape to shape as follows:.  The next Shape is the next letter of CAGED (the G):

Building off the C note on the 5th fret of the 3rd string, use the G Chord Shape to find the next root note.
The Open G Chord has an G note on the Open 3rd string and Two G notes 3 frets up on the 1st & 6th Strings.

Therefore, applying this formation, the next C notes (two of them) are 3 frets up on the 1st & 6th Strings.
Or the 8th fret of the 1st & 6th Strings (see fig.3).

-The process repeats with the next letter of CAGED (the E):

Building off the C note on the 8th fret of the 6th String, use the E Chord Shape to find the next root note.
The E Chord has an E note on the Open 6th & 1st strings and one 2 frets up & 2 strings up on the 4th String.

Therefore, applying this formation, the next C note is 2 frets up & 2 strings up from the 8th fret of the 6th String.
Or the 10th fret of the 4th String (see fig.3).

-The process repeats with the last letter of CAGED (the D):

Building off the C note on the 10th fret of the 4th String, use the D Chord Shape to find the next root note.
The D Chord has a D note on the Open 4th string and one 2 strings up & 3 frets up from the 2nd String.

Therefore , applying this formation, the next C note is 3 frets up & 2 strings up from the 10th fret of the 4th String.
Or the 13th fret of the 2nd string (see fig.3).

This brings us to the 12th fret (where the fretboard repeats).
-The Process repeats with the C Chord Shape to find C notes further up the neck.

Using the C note on the 2nd String we know the duplicate is located 2 strings up & 2 frets up.
Or the 14th fret of the 4th string (see fig.3).

It is important to note that the first Note of a given Chord Shape is found on the Open string of the same name.  This will help you quickly play the root note of a given key.:

The first note of the A Shape is found on the A String. (5th string).
The first note of the G Shape is found on the G String. (3rd string)
The first note of the E Shape is found on the E String. (6th string)
The first note of the D Shape is found on the D String. (4th string)

Note: the above information spells AGED.  The C Shape is missing.  This is because there is no Open C string.  For simplicity, think of the first note of the C Shape as being found on the B String (2nd String).

-It will take some practice but once you memorize the positions, going to the correct note will become second nature.

-Practical example: If you are playing an A chord at the 5th fret of the 6th string then you now have a tool to find other “A Chords” or ‘A notes” for leed work (transposing).
Since the E chord is off the E string then use the E shape to find the “A” root note and use CAGED to reveal the other “A” notes.

-The reason only 5 chords are used, the C-A-G-E-D is because these are the “Open Major Chords”.  Meaning that they are formed from separate distinct finger formations.
The B Major Chord & F Major Chord are not included because the B Chord is the A shape slid up 2 frets
& the F Chord is the E shape slid up 2 frets.  They do not use distinct finger formations (shapes).

-You may start on any letter and cycle your way through.  e.g. AGEDC or GEDCA.  Each shape is connected to the previous shape and the next shape.

-The CAGED System only works for Standard Tuning.


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