If you’ve been exposed to at least a bit of guitar theory, you’ve most likely heard of the CAGED system. It’s a system that allows you to visualize the guitar fretboard by using common major chord shapes. The minor CAGED system is essentially the same. However, instead of using major chords to map the fretboard, you use minor chords to accomplish the same thing.
Learning the CAGED system greatly opens the door to understanding the layout of the guitar fretboard and how the notes and patterns are interconnected. This can be expanded upon to give you a more complete picture by learning the minor CAGED system as well.
CAGED Minor Chords
CAGED minor chords consist of the same open chords as the major CAGED system, on using the minor chord versions. With the minor CAGED system, we have the following chords:
- Cm chord
- Am chord
- Gm chord
- Em chord
- Dm chord
Minor CAGED Chords Up the Neck
Similar to the CAGED major chord shapes, these minor chord shapes are moveable and can be played up the neck to form other chords. Let’s take a look at each chord shape.
We can take the open Cm shape (Cm chord) and move it up two frets so the lowest root note is on the 5th fret and make a Dm chord. We can move this shape to position on the neck to create minor chords. This is why the CAGED system is so powerful.
Like the Cm chord form above, the Am form can also be moved to any position on the neck to create other minor chords. If we move this shape up so the lowest root note falls on the 3rd fret, we get a Cm chord. Again, we can use this minor barre chord shape up and down the neck to create other minor chords.
The Gm chord form is a little different in that its shape is a bit difficult to finger once moved out of the open position. For this chord form, we can modify it by removing the notes on the 5th and 6th strings, making it much easier to play up the fretboard.
If we move the Em chord form up three frets we get a Gm chord. This is a common barre chord shape that, again, can be used up and down the neck.
Here we have the DM chord form. Although the fingering of the Dm chord shape outside of the open position can feel a bit awkward, we can still move it up the neck to create other minor chords. If we move it up two frets so the lowest root note is on the 2nd fret of the 4th string, we get an Em chord.
If you find this chord form awkward to finger, you can always modify it by playing only the notes on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings or just the notes on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd strings. Both of this triad shapes are commonly used.
Minor CAGED Shapes Connected Across the Fretboard
The CAGED minor chord shapes are connected to each other up and down the neck. This allows you to easily visualize and map out a given chord in all locations on the fretboard.
The CAGED minor chord shapes are connected very much like the CAGED major chord shapes:
- Cm connects to Am
- Am connects to Gm
- Gm connects to Em
- Em connects to Dm
- Dm connects to Cm
The diagram below visualizes this concept.
To make it a little more clear, we can follow the Dm chord up the neck, starting with the Cm chord form up to the Dm form.
In this first diagram, we have a Dm chord in the Cm form chord shape.
The Cm chord form connects to the Am chord form via the root note on the 5th string.
In the diagram below, we have the Dm chord using the Am chord form.
The Am chord form connects to the Cm form above via the root note on the 5th string and the Gm form below via the root and 5th on the 3rd and 4th strings respectively.
Here we have the Gm form Dm chord. Since this chord form can be difficult to play in its full form, it’s been modified to only utilize the notes on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th strings.
The Gm form chord connects to the Am form above via the root and 5th and the Em form below via the root note on the 6th string.
Below is the Dm chord using the common Em barre chord form.
The Em form connects to the Gm form above via the root note on the 6th string and the Dm chord form below via the root note on the 4th string.
In this last diagram we have the Dm chord in its natural chord form of Dm.
The Dm form is connected above to the Em form via the root note on the 4th string. Below, the Dm chord form connects back to the Cm form via the root note on the 2nd string and the 5th on the 3rd string.
These chord forms continue to repeat up the neck.
Root Note Patterns of the CAGED Minor Chords
An easy way to navigate the minor CAGED chord forms is by learning the root note patterns for each shape. This will allow you to easily identify a chord form and be able to move between positions on the guitar fretboard.
The diagram below outlines the root note patterns for the CAGED minor chord forms.
CAGED Minor Scales & Arpeggios
The minor CAGED system doesn’t just apply to chord shapes. Given that chords are formed from scales, there’s an inherent relationship between scales and chords. This allows us to map these chord forms to arpeggios and scale shapes as well.
The diagram below outlines the relation between the minor CAGED chord form and the associated arpeggio and scale for that shape. For a thorough look at these relationships across the fretboard, check out my book Guitar Essentials: Foundational Fretboard Navigation.
The minor CAGED system is a great way to map out minor chords, arpeggios and scales across the guitar fretboard. It helps you to visualize how chords and scales are connected and allows you to move more freely up and down the neck.
In combination with the CAGED system for major chords and scales, the layout of the guitar fretboard becomes a clear grid of connected shapes and patterns that really help open up your playing.
The Improvisation Framework
Unlock Your Improvisation Skills!
The Improvisation Framework is a powerful method to simplify the improvisation process and easily improvise anywhere on the guitar.
Cheat Sheet: Minor CAGED System
Download the cheat sheet for this lesson: