Introduction and the C Shape (lesson)

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Hi everyone - this is the CAGED lesson I promised - part 1 of 2. I hope it is helpful, and welcome any feedback at all smile.gif



So what is CAGED, I hear you ask. In this first lesson we will answer that question, and more importantly start to understand what the CAGED system does for us and how we can use it to be better players at both rhythm and lead guitar. We will also explore the first of the CAGED patterns. The second part of the lesson will look at the remaining CAGED shapes.

Before we go any further, I suggest you review my lesson on Major Scales if you are not familiar with this subject. This lesson is really a follow up to that earlier lesson, in which we learnt how major scales were made up and that there are several different places up and down the neck that they can be played.

So What is it?

Simply stated the CAGED system is a framework to hang your understanding of the different major scales and associated chords on. There are 2 main parts - first, a selection of scales, and second some associated chord shapes that work in the same position as the scales. Knowing the scales will leave you able to play lead melodies up and down the neck, knowing associated chords will vastly broaden the options you have for voicing chords - you will no longer be stuck with just a couple of power chords and the standard open shapes!

A Mystery Solved

So why is it called CAGED? Well for a couple of reasons. Firstly, musical theorists like to give mysterious names to things so that something that is really very simple sounds more complex and technical! A better reason is that CAGED is an acronym for the associated chord shapes that we are basing the scales around as we move up the neck of the guitar - the chord of C, the chord of A etc. At this point, it is important to point out that there is a difference between the scale shape we use, and the actual scale that this makes. As a quick example, if we play a scale of C based around the C shape (which we will see shortly), then move it up 2 frets, it becomes a scale of D, but the scale shape remains the same (it is still the C shape). We would say that we are playing a scale of D, using the C shape. Think about that for a little while if you are confused - this is the key to CAGED.

Throughout this lesson and the next we will be working with a scale of D Major. There is nothing special about this but we have to start somewhere, and D works nicely as an example for our first scale. An important part of the CAGED system is that you understand and can work out the easiest way of playing a given scale. So, if for instance you wanted to play a scale of E, your could use any of the scales covered here, but just move them up 2 frets. The key is to locate the base note of the scale, which is marked in all of the diagrams, then move it up or down the neck so that it becomes the note of the scale you want, then use the shape as your scale. CAGED gives you many different options to find a scale that suits where you are playing on the neck.

Our First Scale - the C shape

Ok, enough talk, let's see some action. Our first scale is based on the C shape. What do we mean by this? Well, a standard open C chord looks like this:


If we build a scale around that C chord, using the notes in the chord and interspersing the correct notes according the major formula we learnt about in the Major scale lesson, we end up with a scale that looks like this (you should recognize this shape as one of the major scales covered in the previous lesson):


From now on, we are going to refer to this as our C scale shape for reasons which I hope are now obvious! As you can see, the notes we had in the C chord itself are all there, and we have added the additional notes in between the notes in the chord to make up a full major scale.

Now, suppose we want to play the scale of D that we mentioned earlier - and still use this shape. Well, D is 2 semitones or frets up from C, so we would use a scale that looked like this:


You can see that this is exactly the same shape of notes (except that the open strings are now no longer open, they are played at the 2nd fret). We can now play a scale of D using the C shape!

But there is more - remember CAGED is also going to help us to find chords. We can use the same trick of sliding up a couple of frets with our chord as well. We can take our open C chord, and play it like this:

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It then becomes a chord of D, played as the C shape. To actually play this, you would bar the 2nd fret with your index finger - check out Kris' lesson on Barre chords if you aren't familiar with this technique. Technically, the F# on the bottom E string is part of the scale and can be played, but it sounds better if you don't, allowing the D played on the 5th string to be the root of the chord.

But that's not all - it would be pretty boring playing a song using just the chord of D, so how can we add to this? Well, let's look at a few common chords in the key of C, since we are still looking at the C in the CAGED system. I'm thinking of F and G - these are important chords in the key of C, closely related to the chord of C itself, and you can play a heck of a lot of songs using just these three chords. We can apply exactly the same principles to F and G when we start using the CAGED system, to give us some extra chord options. Basic F and G chords look like this:

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In our key of D (2 frets up remember), the associated chords would be G and A. Using the C shape of CAGED, working with the key of D, which we now understand means moving up 2 frets, means that we can play G and A using exactly the same chord shapes, just moved up a couple of frets, like this:

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This last one is a little tough to play; once again, we would use a bar on the 2nd fret with our index finger, and use the index middle and pinkie to play the 3 additional notes.

The same is also true for any other chords in the key of C - we can move them up 2 frets to get the equivalent chords in the key of D - this is a very powerful way of enriching our chord vocabulary.

Moving Up

It doesn't stop there - in the 2nd part of this series we will be looking at the rest of the scales - the AGED in CAGED! We will see that not only are there more ways of playing the same scale, but also a corresponding plethora of new chord shapes we can use.

I hope you enjoyed part one - let me know!