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The CAGED System Explained


Click here to watch our full CAGED video tutorial for rhythm guitar.

As you're learning how to play guitar, you'll likely hear players reference the CAGED system as being a great tool to utilize in your learning process.

To put it simply, CAGED is essentially a way of visualizing chord shapes on the fretboard.

The trick to using the CAGED system is to realize that it consists of moveable shapes that can become any chord depending upon where you put the root note.

The letters C-A-G-E-D refer to the open chord shapes.

Once you know the five basic shapes you can play dozens of chords.

In this CAGED system guitar lesson we'll break down what it looks like, how it all works, and how to implement it in your everyday playing and practice.

Basics of the Barre Chord

The CAGED system is nothing special and can be done on most fretted instruments, of course different guitar chords are used but the music theory is the same.

If your guitar is tuned to standard at EADGBE and you place your finger across the first fret you will raise the notes by one semitone, two frets will be two semitones and so on.

This placing your finger across the frets is called a barre and if the pattern is the same then the new chord will be easy to figure out.

If you are using a different tuning or even another fretted chordophone the same premise holds, just move up the appropriate semitones to find the right chord.

Musicians often use barre chords to make it easier to move around the fretboard.

The hardest part about barre chords isn’t finding the right one, but instead being able to play it.

Many people taking beginner guitar lessons struggle with the pressure necessary to hold all the strings down, here are a few tips for making barre chords:

The guitar needs to have decent action, if it is too high the barre chord could cause an injury. Sometimes it helps for an electric guitar player to start on acoustic and then later the lower action will be easier, otherwise make sure your guitar is setup right!

Keep a guitar tuner nearby as you play to double check the notes you are on, it will reinforce your memorization and understanding.

Make sure the flesh of your index finger presses down just right on all the strings, there should be no dead or muted strings that need to play.

Use partial barre chords at first, get your fingers used to a few strings at a time. Work on pressing the bottom and top and finding the right position that fits each string. 

It won’t sound great at first and will be a lot of work, barre chords can be a real hassle! Keep with it if you want to make any progress and have less pain in your index finger.

CAGED System Guitar Technique

The CAGED system simply uses 5 basic open chords to start memorizing the entire guitar fretboard.

The CAGED chords are all major and made up of the simple chord degree formula of 1 3 5, once we shift that pattern up we get the next chord.

Later you can memorize the notes for better soloing but for now just practice your barres and new chords.

C Major - CAGED

Open C major is X32010.

The first note is the root bass of C, and if we move it up one fret and play X43121 we will play C# major.

The second fret will be D major, then D# major, E major, and so on.

This is not the easiest shape and will require the use of your pinky.

As you go up the frets the shape will get harder so keep it low on the fretboard for the first practice.

A Major - CAGED

Normally open A major is X02220, so if we move it up two frets to X24442 we will have a B major chord.

One more fret will give us C major (as there is no note name between B and C) and so on up the musical alphabet.

This can be formed by using your ring, middle, and pinky finger on fret 222, then barring your index finger across the other strings, similarly to the E shape.

Or you can bend your ring finger and use the top joint to barre all three strings. This takes practice but is eventually the easiest.

G Major - CAGED

The open G major chord of 320001 is hard to play up the fretboard.

Most people will play the half barre of ---001 as that is still the 1 3 5 scale degrees.

Practice using the full shape but don’t worry if you have trouble.

Barring in this shape is difficult, and some great guitar players simply use that as a reference.

Keep trying as it is great for finger stretching and understanding the guitar in and out.

E Major - CAGED

Open E major is 022100.

Moving up one fret at 133211 will give us an F major which is one of the hardest barre chords to play as it is right by the nut.

Many players will cheat with this chord too by using the top portion of the shape if the action or strings are heavy (excluding the low E string).

However as we move up the frets, the full barre shape gets easier.

This E shape is probably the most common CAGED shape to use.

D Major - CAGED

The open D major is XX0232.

Moving this shape up the fretboard can be a little difficult for beginners or people without a long finger span.

Sometimes folks will move up with the 232 and call it good.

That works and can save your index finger.

However, the goal of the CAGED system is to achieve a wholistic understanding of the guitar and the fretboard.

Knowing what that barre portion of the shape sounds like and feels like will go a long way to develop your guitar skills.

Using CAGED in Real-Life


Click here to watch our full CAGED video tutorial for lead guitar.

Even if you struggle with forming these shapes, it is still great study for learning your notes and fretboard.

When you want to solo and create melodies it helps to know where you are going and with these 5 shapes you can find almost any chord you need.

Here are some tips to utilize this CAGED system and barre chords in daily guitar practice and performance:

Play chord progressions like the I-IV-V or I-vi-IV-V in different keys like G-C-D and C-Am-F-G. As you play the progressions try different locations instead of the open chords. The G-C-D can be played with the E shape on the 3rd fret and then the A shape also on the 3rd, next move the A shape to the 5th fret .

You don’t have to just play the CAGED chords, use this concept for all shapes. Easily movable chord shapes are also E minor, A minor, D minor, and D7, just remember that the chord moves up a semitone each fret.

If you are playing in a band and may not have much lead to play you can always fix that by using chords in the right range. Perhaps arpeggiating chords higher up the neck will stand out and sound cool. Knowing different octaves of chords can help change the sound up.

Since this process works for all tunings it can be a great way to get by with a new one. Instead of learning a ton of new chords just find the basic shapes and move them up the neck properly.

Being forced to check the chords and fingerings on your guitar fretboard will help build your music theory knowledge. As you are slowly strengthening your index and pinky, always pay attention to what notes are being played.

The CAGED system can take a long time to be able to successfully barre it with your index finger, but you can still use it to your advantage to discover the fretboard.

The main takeaway is cementing that semitone movement in your head that way you musically know what is happening.

If you are ever writing a song or improvising a solo, knowing how and where your chords move will make all the difference.

After that all you must do is practice a lot so you gain muscle memory!


What is the caged system of the guitar?

The CAGED system is a super handy way to visualize and learn the guitar fretboard. Imagine taking the open chord shapes of C, A, G, E, and D and moving them up the neck to create new guitar chords. It's like a fretboard roadmap.

Is the Caged guitar System good?

Oh, absolutely! It's a great tool for understanding how chords are constructed and connected across the fretboard. Plus, it opens up a world of possibilities for chord variations and voicings.

How hard is the caged system?

It's not super hard, but it does require a bit of practice and theory knowledge. Utilizing online guitar lessons like these is the best way to learn a new technique like CAGED. The key is to get comfortable with the five chord shapes and then learn to move them around the fretboard.

What are the disadvantages of the caged system guitar?

Well, it can be a bit overwhelming at first, and some guitarists feel it's a bit rigid. It's more about understanding the fretboard than creativity, so it might not be everyone's cup of tea.

Is the caged system for beginners?

It can be for beginners, especially if you're keen on diving into music theory early on. However, it's usually more beneficial once you've got the basics down. Check out the Core Learning System from Guitar Tricks to understand more.

Does caged work with all chords?

Pretty much, yeah. The CAGED system is based on major chord shapes, but with a little tweak, you can adapt it for minor chords and other variations.

Is it illegal to use the same chords in a song?

Illegal? Nah, not at all. It's super common in music to reuse chord progressions. It's more about how you play them and the melody you put on top that makes your song unique.

How do you practice the caged system?

Start by mastering each of the C, A, G, E, and D shapes. Then, practice moving them up and down the neck to different positions. Programs like Guitar Tricks often have guitar lessons specifically on the CAGED system, which can be a great structured way to learn it.

Why are bar chords impossible?

They're not impossible, just challenging for beginners. Barre chords (often misspelled as 'bar chords') require a bit of finger strength and dexterity. But don't worry, it gets easier with practice. Just keep at it!

What is the hardest chord to play on guitar?

This varies from person to person, but F Major is often a tough one for beginners because it's a barre chord right up against the nut of the neck of the guitar. Some jazz chords can be really complex, too, with funky finger placements.


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