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CAGED System - a Guide for Guitarists

By knowing and understanding the CAGED system this will help you to use the full fretboard and to find your way
around the fretboard more easily.
The CAGED system is based on the shapes of 5 open chords C, A, G, E, D
(spelling CAGED). The first thing you will need to learn are these 5 chords:
C

x x

Key

1
2

1 2 3

2 3

Finger number &


placement on string

Do not play this string

Open string - play


string with no fingers

3
1

1 1

Place finger flat across


(barre) the strings

When you know these 5 chords you need to remember where the root of the chord is (the first note). If you can
remember where the root, third and fifth are that is even better, but the root is the one you need to focus on. Here
are the chords with the root, third and fifths marked for you:
C

x x

1
2

1 2 3

2 3

2
3

3rd
Root
5th
Root
X
X

Root
5th
3rd
Root
5th
Root

Root
3rd
Root
5th
3rd
Root

5th
3rd
Root
5th
Root
X

3rd
Root
5th
3rd
Root
X

Once you have these chords and the root notes committed to memory then we need to turn these open chord shapes
into a closed position so that there are no open strings being played. These new closed positions are what makes
the shapes fully moveable around the fretboard. You will notice that to make these positions closed, on 4 out of the 5
chords we are using barre chords. Here are the new closed position shapes. It is important to mention that these are
no longer the original chords as they have moved on the fretboard, these are now simply shapes which we will use to
create new chords:
x

C shape

A shape
1

G shape

E shape

1 1 1

1 1

D shape

x x

2
2

2 3 4

3 4

3
4

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root
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Once you have learnt these new shapes then you can play any major chord on the fretboard, just by moving one of
these shapes and placing the root note position on to the new root note of the chord you wish to play.

Lets try a C shape:


For example, lets look at C. Play
the original chord:

C# Chord
(using C shape)

1
2
3

Now, by adding the barre and the


C shape we have moved the root
note to a C#/Db, so this is what
we would call a C# chord
(C shape).

1
3
4

Now try moving that whole position up one fret to


create a D chord (C shape) and then up another fret to
play a Eb chord (C shape).

Eb Chord
(using C shape)
x

1
2

1
2

3
3

Root

Root

Root

Root

Lets try an A shape:


So lets try this with a different
chord shape. Lets take the
original A chord:

Bb Chord
(using A shape)

A
x

1 2 3

Now, by adding the barre and


the A shape we have moved the
root note to an A#/Bb, so this is
what we would call a Bb chord (A
shape).

Root

Root

B Chord
(using A shape)

1
2 3 4

5th
3rd
Root
5th
Root
X
Now try moving that whole position up one fret to
create a B chord (A shape) and then up another fret to
play a C chord (A shape).

Root

Root

3rd
Root
5th
3rd
Root
X
D Chord
(using C shape)

1
2

C Chord
(using A shape)
x

1
1

2 3 4
2 3 4

Root

Root

Root

Root

Note:

Note: It is very useful to refer to the Guitar Fingering chart because if you do not know all the fret/note
names they will be on here for you to see clearly.

Have a go at the other shapes, moving the shapes up a fret to play new chords.
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Once you have had a go at this lets try playing a C chord, but with all the different shapes so you can see how this C
chord can move up the fretboard (fret no. indicated by a number/arrow):
C

C Chord
(using A shape)

C Chord
(using G shape)

C Chord
(using E shape)
8

1 1 1

1 1

C Chord
(using D shape)

C Chord
(using C shape)

x x

10

12

2 3 4

3 4

1
2

2
3

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

It is interesting to note that if you move up the fretboard with these C Chords, the order of shapes follows the CAGED
system spelling - i.e. the chords are in this order: C, A, G, E, D. So in the above example, we started with an open C
Chord, then moved onto A Shape, G Shape, E Shape, D Shape and then looped back round to C Shape.

You can start at any point in the CAGED Chords order - for example if we start on an open E Chord we would then
move onto a D Shape, loop round to C Shape, A Shape, G Shape and then end on the E Shape:
E Chord
(using D shape)

E Chord
(using C shape)

x x

E Chord
(using A shape)

E Chord
(using G shape)

E Chord
(using E shape)
12

1 1 1

1 1

2 3
2

2
2 3 4

3 4
4

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Root

Here is an example of how the chords interlock together on the fretboard - the example on the left is from open C to C
Chord, C shape, and the example on the right is from open A to A Chord, A shape. We have highlighted the
overlapped notes in red so you can see how they connect together.

Open C

C Chord
G Shape

C Chord
A Shape

C Chord
D Shape

C Chord
E Shape

Open A

C Chord
C Shape

A Chord
G Shape

C A G E DC

A Chord
E Shape

A Chord
C Shape

A Chord
D Shape

A Chord
A Shape

AG E D C A

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