Ever heard of the system called CAGED? If you’re into guitar playing, you have probably already heard about it one way or another. It is actually a very simple thing, basically the nature of the standard tuned (EADGBE) guitar, explained through the basic shapes of chords.
Being caged the good way
The CAGED system suggests you to learn only 5 chord shapes that you can then tailor to your likes and needs, depending on what kind of chord you want to play, keeping the same shape up and down the fretboard. The name CAGED comes from the name of the chords when they are fretted at the lowest playable part of the fretboard, right at the nut, down at the headstock of the guitar. It of course means that when you play these chords down there, you have the help of the nut, so you don’t have to lean your fingers across multiple or even all six strings at a given fret to hold down these chords, and the same thing applies when you use a capo, unless you move out of these positions.
Let’s go through the major version of all 5 chords:
Now let me give you an example for each one of them when they are fretted elsewhere on the fretboard:
It’s rather easy to memorize these shapes by their geometrical diagrams, kind of like plane figures. Imagining each one of them in a certain color can help too:
So as you can see, all you have to do is memorize these chord shapes, then you can play them everywhere on the fretboard, in every key.
We have already discussed the 5 major shapes of the CAGED chord system, now let’s check out the 5 minor shapes.
For minor chords, the same principle applies as in the case of major chords: you have 5 different chord shapes available in the 0th position, having the help of the nut (or a capo) to barre the strings; you can also move these shapes and play them at any fret you want.
But what is a minor chord? What do you have to change in the 5 chord shapes you already know to get the minor versions? Well, a minor triad consists a root note, a minor third and a perfect fifth. It means you only have to change one note, the third – from major to minor – to be able to play the minor versions of your familiar chord shapes. Between the minor third and the major third there’s only a half step difference; a half step on the guitar fretboard means the distance of one fret. Thus, all you have to do is move the finger that’s holding the third in your chord down towards the headstock one fret, to get the minor version of the chord.
Here they are, the 5 minor chords of the C-A-G-E-D (the C shape can be quite hard to fret for people with smaller hands, especially near the nut, but don’t worry; playing only the first three notes of it is enough to form a proper C shape minor chord):
And these are examples for each one of them when they are fretted elsewhere on the fretboard:
Finally, for easier memorization, let me show you all 5 chords with a colored diagram drawn over them:
Most people usually stop examining this chord system way before they get to the seventh chords, though it’s actually quite a helpful way too look at all kinds of chords, including the seventh ones.
Our first group of chords are the major seventh ones. The major seventh chord consists of the root, a major third, a perfect fifth and a major seventh note. Let’s have a look at them in the 0th position, right at the nut first (notice that I included a popular G maj7 shape as “type 2”, but it is pretty hard to move around this one on the fretboard). I also included these shapes fretted elsewhere on the fretboard:
The next bunch of chords are the dominant seventh ones. The dominant seventh chord has a root, a major third, a perfect fifth and a minor seventh. These are the CAGED shapes for all five of them:
And now let’s check out the minor seventh chords. The minor seventh chord consists of the root, a minor third, a perfect fifth and a minor seventh note:
You can see how we can tailor those original major CAGED shapes to any chord we want by changing the notes of the chord.
It has to be noted that once you know all of the notes on the fretboard, the CAGED system becomes somewhat pointless. Of course you can figure out any chord note by note going plainly by your ears. You may realize though that the power of this chordal system is that once you memorize certain chord shapes, it will allow you to play without thinking, which means your playing will become more fluid.