The CAGED system

Something to understand before getting into the discussion  – this stuff makes way more sense when you actually do it on guitar than when you read about it. Getting these under your fingers makes a huge difference to understanding.

So, try playing the C form below, and then move the Root Note up and down the 5th string to make it a different scale – even though it is the same shape. 


The CAGED system is a way to understanding the fretboard by using shapes as a shortcut to playing  scales up and down the neck.

Each shape – which is also call a Form – is related to a chord.

This form – the C in CAGED – is based on the C Major chord. Note: the Root notes are coloured red, while the 3rd and 5fth are in grey. All the chords in the forms illustrations are different versions D Major.

This is the ‘C Form’ in the Key of D Major

This is the A form.

This is the G Form

This is the E Form.

And the D Form


In the illustration below, all the fingerings are for D Major, and the first fingering is based on the chord shape C.

You probably know the C Major scale, it’s usually the first scale we learn on guitar. Take C Major and move it two frets higher on the fretboard; you wind up with the D Major scale.

Compare how these forms flow one to the next and look at how the Root note overlaps from one form to the next. Make sure to actually try playing the chords (at least as close as you can to get the idea), and then try these patterns for the scales.



Start by learning the C form because you probably already the C Major scale in the open strings. Then learn the A form to see how the scale works from the 5th string.

You should then learn the G form which gives you the shape used in the first pentatonic scale – the Blues pentatonic.

Then keep filling in your knowledge.

Once you learn all the patterns, change the key every time you sit down to practice them – that way you don’t get stuck being able to only play one key.

In case you hadn’t guessed, move the fingering to where the Root note is the key you want to play – ie with the example above, moving the whole fingering up two frets means you’re now playing in E; move up another fret you now in F, and move up another fret you’re playing in F#.


Is the CAGED system the ‘perfect’ way to learn the fretboard? No, it is just one of the ways that systematically builds up your knowledge of the fretboard.

For shredding, a ‘three note per string’ pattern may be more conducive to fast playing. I’ll try and get that lesson written up soon.

–> Let’s See Where Major Pentatonic Scales Fit In

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