The CAGED Guitar Theory System

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Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a guitar system to easily allow you to visualize and connect the guitar fretboard up and down the neck? The CAGED guitar theory system does just that. It lays out the guitar fretboard in a logical manner, allowing you to easily navigate the fretboard.

Chords of the CAGED Guitar Theory System

The CAGED guitar theory system is built on the shapes of the C, A, G, E, and D chords, hence the term CAGED. Each of these chord forms can be played up and down the fretboard. Let’s first take a look at each of these shapes in their open forms. As always, the orange dot is the root note.

Open CAGED Shapes

CAGED guitar theory system open chord shapes

Each of these chord shapes can be played as a barre chord and moved up the neck to form other chords.

C Form

CAGED C form barre
By moving the C chord shape up to the 6th fret you form a D# chord.

A Form

A form barre c chord
By moving the A chord shape up to the 3rd fret you form a C chord.

G Form

CAGED G form barre
By moving the G chord shape up to the 6th fret you form a B♭ chord.

E Form

CAGED E form barre shape
By moving the E chord shape up to the 3rd fret you form a G chord.

D Form

CAGED D form shape
By moving the D chord shape up to the 6th fret you form an F chord.

Connecting the CAGED Shapes

Taking this concept of moveable chord shapes and applying it to a single chord is where the usefulness of the CAGED system is fully realized. This is what maps out the fretboard in a logical way because any given chord can be played all over the fretboard using the CAGED chord forms. Further, each chord shape connects to the previous following a set pattern, CAGED:

  • C form connects to A form
  • A form connects to G form
  • G form connects to E form
  • E form connects to D form
  • D form connects to C form and the pattern repeats

Let’s follow the C chord up the fretboard to see how it comes together.

CAGED C Form C Chord
CAGED A Form C Chord
CAGED G Form C Chord
CAGED E Form C Chord
CAGED D Form C Chord
CAGED C Form C Chord

In these diagrams you can see how the CAGED chord forms are interconnected across the entire fretboard. Again, these chord forms apply to any root note. The following diagram outlines the D major chord across the fretboard using the CAGED shapes.

D Chord CAGED patterns

CAGED System Scales & Arpeggios

The CAGED system doesn’t just apply to chord shapes on the guitar fretboard, but also major scale and arpeggio patterns. This makes sense given that chords are built from scales. The diagram below outlines the major arpeggio and scale pattern for each of the CAGED chord shapes.

CAGED scale arpeggio patterns

One important note to the CAGED system. While this lesson focuses only on the major chords/scale patterns, the CAGED system also applies to minor chord shapes and scale patterns. I’ll do another post on the minor CAGED system in the future, but if you learn the major version, going to the minor should be rather easy.

Wrap Up

The CAGED system is a useful system that lays out the guitar fretboard in a useful way. By learning the CAGED system, you can easily visualize the entire fretboard and play in any position on the neck using familiar chord shapes and scale patterns.

Book of scales thumbnail

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