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The CAGED System: Your Best Fretboard Navigation Tool

What is the CAGED system?

The CAGED system is basically a set of scale patterns derived from a bunch of open chord positions. The CAGED system enables you to play the major scale in any key and across the whole fretboard by memorizing just five patterns. That’s right. Just five patterns and you can play scales anywhere on the neck. Notice I mentioned the major scale. Though you might object that the major scale itself is pretty dull and rarely used alone – and you’d be right – remember that it is the big daddy of all scales in western music. Knowing this scale off by heart is the first necessary step to mastering all other scales, including pentatonic scales, modes, exotic scales, etc.

The basic positions

The CAGED system is mostly regarded as a scale-related tool, but it is primarily based on these five open chord positions, hence the name of the system.

Open C Open A Open G Open E Open D

The barred patterns associated with these chords – i.eRhythm-Guitar.com. the same chords moved up along the neck – are just as important as their open counterparts since these are the chord patterns that make it possible to cover the whole neck.

C-related A-related G-related E-related D-related

Also, they give you five different ways of playing the same major chord along the neck. When you think of all the variations you can get out of one single position (seventh, minor, sixth, etc.), this is indeed no small advantage. For instance, here are the five chord patterns for F (notice numerals alongside the patterns; they indicate fret numbers).

F in E-related
F in D-related
F in C-related
Rhythm-Guitar.comF in A-related
F in G-related

It is important you try using the different positions in your playing to avoid getting stuck with just one fingering for a given chord. The voicings of these patterns differ (the notes are not in the same order and some are an octave up or down), and thus each chord has its own sound even though they're all in the same key.

The major scale patterns

Here are the five major scale patterns derived from the open CAGED positions, root notes are in red.

C pattern A pattern G pattern E pattern D pattern

That’s it? That’s it. Master those five patterns and you're well on your way to being a fretboard wizard.

Learning the patterns

Learn the patterns one at a time. Don’t try to cram them all into your head at once or you’ll mix them up. Practice the C pattern in all positions along the neck, moving up one fret at a time to the twelfth fret, then back down again.



As you do so, name each note as you play it while going up the neck

Rhythm-Guitar.com(C, D, E, F, etc.), and name its function while going back down the neck (root, second, third, fourth, etc.). Knowing the notes individually will help no end once it comes to playing in real life scenarios, though you obviously have to be able to rely on your ears too. To improve your pitch, try singing the notes as you play the scale patterns. You'll be missing a lot if you just memorizes the patterns themselves whithout understanding what goes on inside them.

Do this drill once a day for a week, and then start on the A position, while still doing your C drill first. Then C, A, G, and so on. There is no particular order in which you should learn these. Once you have memorized each position separately, practice them together in all twelve keys. Also, don’t always start your drill in the same key, or in the same position.

Example: starting at the bottom of the neck in the key of F, the pattern sequence is E, D, C, A, G:




Though this article is short it contains information that won't be mastered in just a week or two, so be patient and take your time. Most of all, practice using these patterns (the scales and the chords) in your playing, or else there isn't any point to even start learning them.

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