Hello, fellow guitarists. I’m thrilled to share some guitar wisdom that I've picked up over the years, wisdom that has helped me and countless others break down the seemingly massive challenge of mastering the guitar fretboard. You know, it’s often said that the easiest way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. The same principle applies to the guitar. Our 'elephant' is the fretboard, and the 'bites' are the tools we use to understand and internalize it.
One such indispensable tool is the CAGED system. Today, we're delving into this intriguing concept, which can simplify and demystify your journey across the fretboard. This system helps us perceive the entire fretboard by breaking it down into more digestible chunks – the open chord shapes of C, A, G, E, and D. It’s a lot like using a roadmap to navigate a sprawling city, giving us landmarks (chords) to guide our way.
However, the CAGED system isn't the only tool at our disposal. Learning the notes on your fretboard is another crucial step toward fretboard mastery. Combine these two powerful tools, and you're well on your way to perceiving and navigating the entire fretboard with ease and confidence.
So, strap in as we embark on this enlightening journey through the CAGED system. By the end of this post, you'll have a new perspective on your guitar playing, with the fretboard no longer seeming like a vast, intimidating elephant but a familiar landscape ready to be explored.
Learning The Big D Chord
One of the most illuminating ways to grasp the power of the CAGED system is by visualizing what I like to call the 'Big D Chord.' Most guitarists know the standard open D chord; let's expand that thought across the entire fretboard. This is where our CAGED system comes into play and where a handy diagram can be a valuable guide.
Imagine all the D major chords on the fretboard, starting with the C shape, moving through the A, G, E, and finally ending with the D shape. Each of these shapes, when played at the appropriate fret, yields a D major chord, but at different positions along the fretboard. Together, these form a sort of mega-chord, spanning the entire length of the fretboard – hence, the 'Big D Chord.'
The real magic of the CAGED system comes alive when you can perceive this 'Big D Chord' not as separate shapes, but as one unified entity. You're not just seeing individual chords anymore; you're visualizing the entire expanse of the D major chord across the whole fretboard. It's a bird's eye view of your fretboard, offering you more freedom, versatility, and creativity in your playing.
But remember, the 'Big D Chord' is just one example. This perception can and should be extended to all chords, letting you navigate the fretboard effortlessly, no matter what you're playing. This is the heart of the CAGED system – viewing the fretboard as a cohesive, interconnected network of possibilities. A guitar player's dream, right? But it all starts with understanding these basic chord shapes and their movable nature. Let's break these down further in the next section.
Applying the CAGED System
You've probably heard the CAGED system described as a method for moving bar chord shapes across the fretboard. While this is true, it's only part of the story. The real beauty and power of the CAGED system extend far beyond simply shifting chord shapes. It's also about understanding and utilizing the arpeggios associated with each chord shape.
What are arpeggios, you might ask? Arpeggios are simply the notes of a chord played one at a time. Understanding arpeggios allows us to see the individual notes that make up each chord across the entire fretboard, offering an even more nuanced understanding of our guitar's landscape.
So, as we move each shape of the CAGED system around, we're not just shifting a bar chord; we're also learning the shape of the arpeggio that corresponds to that chord. This provides us a complete picture of each chord, contributing to melodic lines, solos, and improvisations.
It's not about being able to play all the notes at once, or even using them as chords. It helps make the fretboard more familiar and smaller.
Let's delve into the specifics of each of these chord shapes in the context of the CAGED system:
C Shape: Let's take a look at the D Major chord in the form of a C Shape. Picture an open C Major chord. Now, imagine moving this shape up two frets, including the open strings. You'll notice on the first and sixth strings, there are the third and fifth of the chord respectively. While only one note can be played at a time, this shape still represents the entire D Major chord in this position on the guitar.
A Shape: Next up, consider the D Major chord utilizing an A shape. Think about an open A Major chord and then shift this form up five frets. You'll find the third and fifth of the E Major chord residing on the fourth string. Just like the C shape, this A shape represents the complete D Major chord at this particular fret location.
G Shape: Now, for the D Major chord in the G shape. Visualize an open G Major chord. Move this chord shape up seven frets. On the second, you'll find the third and fifth notes of the D Major chord. This G shape fully represents the D Major chord in this region on the fretboard.
E Shape: Let's move on to the D Major chord using an E shape. Picture an open E Major chord. Shift this shape up nine frets. On the fifth string, you'll find the third and the fifth of the D Major chord This E shape encapsulates the entire D Major chord in this spot on the guitar
D Shape: Lastly, consider the D Major chord in the D shape. While we could use an open D Major chord but for illustrations sake let's look at it up an octave so the open strings don't get in the way. Visualize the open D Major chord and then move this shape up 12 frets. You'll notice the fifth and third of the D Major chord on the third string. Although only one note can be played at a time, this D shape represents the entire D Major chord at this position on the guitar.
The Importance Of Knowing Where the Root is
Understanding the position of the root note is a fundamental aspect of mastering the CAGED system quickly and efficiently. If you glance back at the diagrams we've discussed, you'll see a pattern. The root note on the sixth string is part of two shapes - the G and E shapes.
Think of finding the root of a chord as locating your 'home base'. When you locate the root note on the sixth string, you'll see the G shape sitting 'behind' (towards the headstock) the root, while the E shape lies 'below' (towards the body) or 'under' the root, neatly tucked under your fingertips.
A similar principle applies when the root note is on the fifth string. In this case, the C shape positions itself 'behind' the root note, and the A shape can be found 'under' the root.
Lastly, when the root note falls on the fourth string, the D shape comes into play. This shape neatly wraps around the root note, extending both 'under' and 'above' it.
Remember, the location of the root note essentially anchors each chord shape, helping you orient yourself on the fretboard. By identifying the root note and understanding its relationship with each chord shape, you’ll be able to deploy the CAGED system with greater ease, speed, and confidence.
It is important to address some common misconceptions about the CAGED system. These beliefs, if left unchecked, can hinder your progress and limit the benefits this powerful tool offers.
"The CAGED System is just about Bar Chords": This is probably the most prevalent misunderstanding. While the CAGED system indeed involves moving bar chord shapes across the fretboard, its essence lies in seeing the fretboard as a whole. It's not about isolating individual shapes but rather understanding and stitching these shapes together to perceive the 'Big Picture' – like our earlier example, the 'Big D Chord.' So, the CAGED system isn't just about learning three additional bar chord shapes; it's a holistic approach to mastering your fretboard.
"The CAGED System is only about Chords": Another common misconception is that the CAGED system is purely a tool for mastering chords. However, its utility extends far beyond that. It's also a fantastic asset for understanding and applying musical tension and release. Once you're familiar with the chord tones of the chord you're playing over (which provides musical 'release'), you'll start to easily identify the notes outside the chord and the key (creating musical 'tension'). In this way, the CAGED system becomes an essential tool for enhancing your musical expression.
"Casual Understanding is Enough": There's a tendency to believe that kind of learning the shapes is sufficient. However, mastery of the CAGED system requires time, patience, and consistent effort. It's not about memorizing the shapes once and then leaving them behind. Instead, it's about returning to these concepts repeatedly, continually finding new ways to apply them to your music. This system isn't a quick fix; it's a lifelong tool that will continue to enrich your guitar playing as your understanding deepens.
By addressing and debunking these misconceptions, you're already on your way to making the most of the CAGED system. It's a journey that requires patience and persistence, but trust me, the rewards are well worth the effort.
The First and Second Step
You might be under the impression that the initial step to mastering the CAGED system is to learn each shape both as a bar chord and an arpeggio. While these are crucial components, there's a step that should be considered of even greater importance: understanding how each shape connects with the others. This connection is the crux of the 'Big Picture' mindset we discussed earlier.
Take the concept of the 'Big G Chord,' for instance. It parallels the idea of the 'Big D Chord' we explored, but with the chord shapes and root notes adjusted to reflect all the G Major chords across the fretboard. This exercise is an excellent starting point as it allows you to learn the individual shapes while simultaneously grasping how each shape interlocks with the others.
Remember, although we use the acronym 'CAGED' for simplicity, the sequence of shapes on the fretboard is circular and can start with any shape. For example, if we begin with G, the sequence becomes GEDCA. It's this cyclical nature that makes the system so versatile and comprehensive.
As you practice this 'Big G Chord' exercise, I encourage you to use a metronome to help maintain a steady rhythm. As you play, give particular attention to the locations of the root, third, and fifth of each shape. This attention to detail will significantly enhance your understanding of the chord structure, which is vital to your progression in the CAGED system.
So, begin by learning the shapes as bar chords and arpeggios, but always keep your focus on how these shapes fit together and how they map out the entire fretboard. Remember, it's all about perceiving the 'Big Picture.'