Part 1: A Way to Expand the Fretboard with Chords You Already Know!
Guitar players who know the open chords C, A, G, E and D have the basic tools to begin unlocking the fretboard. The CAGED method is a way to begin conceptualizing the notes on your guitar through chords you already know.
When you think of a C chord you think of a certain shape. When you think of an A chord you think of a certain shape. When you think of a G chord you think of a certain shape, etc. An important concept to understand is that these shapes are not unique to the chords themselves. The open chord shapes that you’re familiar with will repeat all over the fretboard, once we close them.
Let’s take the C chord for example. In order to move our C chord up the fretboard we have to make it into a closed chord, meaning that there are no open strings. The open strings in a C major chord are G and E. Here’s what a closed or barred version looks like, moving chromatically up the fretboard:
As you can see, when we close the C shape, we can then use it to play other chords as well.
Here’s an example of how we move our A chord up the fretboard:
Again, once we close the shape we’re able to use it to play other chords as well.
The order is important. And it’s what makes this method so readily useful. If we start on a C shaped C chord, the next C chord we can play will be an A shape chord (4th chord chart above). The next C chord we can play after that is the G shape, then E shape, then D shape, then back to C. If we start with a G shaped G chord, the next G chord we can play will be an E shape, then D, then C, then A…you get the picture.
So the first step in implementing the CAGED method is to learn where your C-shaped C chord lives, where your A-shaped C chord lives, where your G-shaped C chord lives, where your E-shaped C chord lives and where your D-shaped C chord lives. Here’s an example:
This might seem overwhelming, but trust me, it is worth it. Because once you learn how to move around with these 5 chords, you will be able to use them everywhere in every key.
Here’s how you can begin practicing the CAGED method:
Find the C chord in all 5 shapes (hint…the answer is above).
Find the A chord in all 5 shapes.
Find the G chord in all 5 shapes.
Find the E chord in all 5 shapes.
Find the D chord in all 5 shapes.
What’s truly beautiful about the CAGED method is that from these 5 shapes, you will access pentatonic scales, major scales, arpeggios, and more that accompany the chords. We’ll cover how to begin tackling that in the next section!
Part 2: Turning Chords into Scales
In the first section we covered some Caged Method basics. Namely, how the C, A, G, E and D-shaped chords (this method’s namesake) can be moved all around the fretboard. Remember, these shapes can be used in every key. You can play a C-shaped C chord, but you can also play an A-shaped C chord, a G-shaped C chord, etc.
After finding all the C chords in every CAGED shape, you’re ready to apply scales to these positions. Every chord has a pentatonic scale that goes with it. Every chord also has a major scale, arpeggio, and a lot more fun stuff associated with it. Let’s stick with the pentatonic scales for now.
I’m going to start at G. Which means we’ll find the G shape C chord, and then apply the scale. I like to start here because the G shape chord is the strangest to play but the pentatonic scale tied to it is the most familiar.
The G chord is the toughest to “close” out of all the CAGED chords. But there are two great work arounds. Instead of trying to bar an open G like the first diagram, try playing smaller versions of the chord like in the second and third diagrams. I don’t know any guitarist that actively uses the first diagram.
Here is the pentatonic scale that exists on top of this shape:
I have highlighted the G chord within the scale. Do you see it?
This is why the CAGED method is so useful. Your chords become your anchor points. When you know where your chords are, you know where your scales are.
Let’s move on, in order, to our next available C chord:
The E-shaped barre chord butts up next to the G-shaped barre chord. They share, in the key of C, the 8th fret. Here is the pentatonic scale that exists on top of this chord:
I’ve highlighted the E chord within the scale. Do you see it?
Following the CAGED order, our next C chord will be in the shape of a D.
The D-shape chord butts up against the E-shape chord via the 10th fret in the key of C. Here is the pentatonic scale that exists on top of this chord shape:
I’ve highlighted the D chord that lives inside of this pentatonic scale. Do you see it?
The next chord available to us is the C shaped C chord. We’ve reached the end of the word CAGED by tackling G, E and D. So now we start at the beginning of the word. Here is a diagram:
The C shape butts up against the D shape via the 12th and 13th frets. Here is the pentatonic scale that exists on top of it:
I’ve highlighted the C shape within the scale. Do you see it?
Finally, we have our A-shape C chord. I’m going to show this chord starting on the 3rd fret, and how it connects to the G-shape. However, you can continue up the fretboard to the 15th fret and do the exact same chord/scale there. Here’s the chord diagram:
The A-shape connects to the G-shape via the 5th fret in the key of C. Here is the pentatonic scale that exists on top of it:
I bet you see the A chord in here!
We have now completed a full cycle of the CAGED method in the key of C. We’ve used all 5 C Major chords and applied all 5 pentatonic scales that go with them. I hope you see that the chords and the scales are all connected. C touches A, A touches G, G touches E, E touches D, D touches C, etc.
I want to stress that although my example is in the key of C, this works for every key.
A good way to begin practicing is to find your major shape chord, play it, and then play the pentatonic scale tied to it. After that, find the next available major shape (like we did above), play it, play the pentatonic scale tied to it, and continue.
I hope this has been helpful! Always have grace for yourself while learning something new. Trust me, if I can understand this stuff, you can absolutely understand it too.