so I've been practicing caged system and I can play arpeggios the the chord tone position,

scale and pentatonic in all 5 positions. but something that I've still having trouble. sure I can rip thru it all, I just start at the first note of the position and it's just basically muscle memory from their BUT

I'm still at C. but when I change keys then I get messed up quickly. I forget what shape is C A G E D and get mixed up with which positions i can play up and down the positions using arpeggios.

and there is another thing that I still don't really have a good understanding at. it's inversions. like being able to play like any triad in the bottom 4 strings and being able to make any chords and their inversions.

I can play traidic in the bottom 4 strings horizontal and vertical but I get messed up when im trying to build the chords and inversions from the triads.

so I'm clearly not knowing everything that is there to know. and it doesn't help if only my fingers know it. can someone tell me the list of things that I should know by heart? i mean you ask that question, I should be able to instantly tell you

  • 4
    There is no list of things to know ^^ I recommend to understand what separates your current playing from that of a guitarist you admire, and fill the gap accordingly (with the aid of a teacher possibly). Transcribing helps a ton too. Play actual music, not just systems!
    – moonwave99
    Nov 22, 2020 at 20:41
  • 2
    If you know all these things then it really may just be a matter of practice. They need to be in the muscle memory. "knowing" in your head does NOT equate to being able to execute with the hands. Reps, reps, and more reps.
    – user50691
    Nov 23, 2020 at 14:32
  • What is the connection between all the stuff about CAGED and scale positions and chord inversions? It's like the question title and body are about two different issues. Feb 17, 2021 at 18:44

6 Answers 6


It's just a game of maths as far as I'm concerned. For example, take the C major triad - C E G - and think about all the possible places where you can play those notes.

Looking at C. E string - 8th/20th fret A string - 3/15 D string - 10/22 G string - 5/17 B string - 1/13

You can figure out E and G yourself...

An inversion is just playing the same chord from a different starting note.

So C E G is the root, E G C is the first inversion, G C E is the second inversion.

There are of course other variations possible given it's much easier to span many octaves on a guitar compared to a piano.

A good practice for building inversions is to start with the root, so for example you can play C E G with: Low E 8th fret, A 7th fret, D 5th fret. Then as an exercise you can take away the low C and try to find the next C up to replace it - probably the 5th fret on the G string. Then you can either carry on doing this vertically up the strings or try doing the next inversion on the same strings but higher up the fretboard.

  • 1
    Also be aware that it's only the lowest note that denotes (sic) the inversion name.
    – Tim
    Nov 23, 2020 at 14:02

I'm not certain I understand what you're actually struggling with, but here goes.

You know 'the CAGED system' and use it to play chord shapes, arpeggios and pent. scales, but only in key C. For me, the CAGE(D) system works for chord shapes only. I must have learned everything else in other ways. Its use in chord shapes is that there are 5 basic shapes on guitar, based on the 'open chord' shapes - of C, A, G, E and D. They are movable - that's the whole point - and by knowing where the barre is on the neck, one can play say, C, in 5 different places. For example - C- open C shape; 3rd fret barre, A shape; 5th fret barre, G shape; 8th fret barre, E shape; 10th fret barre, D shape. That's maybe as far as you know so far. If not, forgive me!

You can move on from there, by moving up one fret with each. Now, you have 5 versions of C♯. Move another fret up (two from original) and you have all the D chords.

That's the systematic way of doing it. A more practical way is to use these chord shapes in your actual playing of songs. Let's take a simple sequence - C - F - G - C. In open position, the C and G are there. You need an E shaped chord for F, on 1st fret. So now the sequence can be considered C-C shape O, F-E shape 1, G- Gshape 0. Translate all that up 2 frets to C shape 2, E shape 3, G shape 2, and the shapes are the same (except barred). The last number in each case is the barre fret. To play the same in key E, move u two more frets, and so on.

There are actually easier shape combinations that are more frequently used, but hopefully that's got you on your way. For C - F - G - C try fret 8 (E), fret 8 (A) fret 10 (A).

What may be confusing is matching chord shapes to arpeggios. Sometimes a note played in an arpeggio is missed from a chord shape, as it's unreachable.



As mentioned in Tim's answer, CAGED is a mnemonic for 'linked' chord shapes that appear in a cyclic order along the fretboard ...EDCAGEDCAGEDCAG... over and over again. They can be used with different root notes after transposing the pattern.

Why? Because things like chords and scales are, in some sense, just made up of relative relationships called intervals. You could talk about them via notes though, like C-Major-Scale=(C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C), but it also makes sense to say Major-Scale=(2,2,1,2,2,2,1).

The first '2' in the major scale is the distance in semitones from C to D. If I add 5 semitones across the board to the C major scale, the scale intervals do not change because (for example):

(D+5) - (C+5) = (D-C) + (5-5) = (D-C)

Hence, you could use the major scale intervals to figure out what the F major scale is or you could raise every note in the C major scale by a perfect fourth ... (F,G,A,Bb,C,D,E,F) ... same thing.

So that's a gist of transposition. It works because things are made up of intervals, intervals are relative, and you're adding a constant delta across the board. One wrinkle for the guitar is of course transposing vertically, since going from G to B is 4 semitones not 5... it falls short by 1 semitone. (but easy enough to fix with some mental duct tape)

For an exercise, you could try to move an E-shape barre chord up two times while thinking about the B-string. (answer: the first move will turn it into an A-shape, the second a D-shape.)


A quick note on intervals: When you tune your guitar, you're matching things to more than the same note, you're matching them to the same pitch. More precisely, you're trying to hear an interval of 0 semitones, called 'unison'. If you then kept moving your finger up one fret on the 'second' string, you'd run across some useful interval patterns on the guitar:

Interval:  U  m2 M2 m3 M3 P4 T  P5
Semitone:  0  1  2  3  4  5  6  7

You might already know this, but just to be complete, diatonic triads are commonly built from diatonic scales (like the major scale) by selecting every other note (side-note, you can also build progressions like this by putting every other mode in parallel). Since the major scale, for example, only has neighbor intervals that go like 1-2 or 2-2, our triads will be made out of combinations of thirds.

Here are various diatonic triads described as stacks of m3/M3 intervals:

  • Major = (M3, m3) (width=P5)
  • Minor = (m3, M3) (width=P5)
  • Diminished = (m3, m3) (width=Dim5 .. 6 semitones)
  • Augmented = (M3, M3) (width=Aug5 .. 8 semitones)

Different intervals will pop-up in inversions, as the permutation of notes in a chord leads to a kind of 'negation' of the original intervals (in mod 12). Similar to Chris A's example, but in A minor:

Arpeggio:             Root Position  First Inversion  Second Inversion
e|-----------0- (E4)  -------------  ---------------  ----------------
B|---------1--- (C4)  -------------  ---------------  -1--------------
G|-------2----- (A3)  -------------  -2-------------  -2--------------
D|-----2------- (E3)  -2-----------  -2-------------  -2--------------
A|---3--------- (C3)  -3-----------  -3-------------  ----------------
E|-5----------- (A2)  -5-----------  ---------------  ----------------

Here are the intervals for the various chords in the example:

  • Root Position: (m3, M3) (width=P5)
  • First Inversion: (M3, P4) (width=M6 .. 9 semitones)
  • Second Inversion: (P4, m3) (width=m6 .. 8 semitones)

The order of the note after the root defines what kind of inversion a closed chord is. To build them and experiment, you can:

  • Use the intervals that show up in inversions to add a note.
  • Add the note directly using its name.
  • Play your chord shapes differently. (e.g. omit notes)
  • Select notes from transposable patterns like arpeggios.
  • etc...
  • Check your 3rd para.
    – Tim
    Dec 24, 2020 at 12:42
  • Edited the phrasing in the 3rd para.. I think that was the issue.. previously said the scale didn't change, meaning major doesn't turn into e.g. harmonic minor, but the notes do of course change, so made it clear it was in ref to the intervals.
    – Derek E
    Dec 24, 2020 at 17:53
  • I tried to point out that C>D is two semitones, not one, as stated.
    – Tim
    Dec 24, 2020 at 18:39
  • Ah, gotcha. I think it states 2, at least that's what was meant. Rereading, I see it's arguable. I was going for "semitone distance" as a short way to say "distance in semitones" rather than as a "semitone distance away". I'll make it clear in the answer.
    – Derek E
    Dec 24, 2020 at 19:22

perhaps you can start with fretboard memorization, so that you can understand what note in that fret and string. after that please try to learn about chord note e.g. C Major chord contain : C, E, G
so with the help of fretboard memorization and chord note pattern, you can easily learn about chord inversion


It seems like you are citing multiple problems that are unrelated. So perhaps this could be two or three questions.

I'll start with your comment on inversions, and playing all triads or 7th chords on the same set of strings. This is just muscle memory in my opinion. "Getting it" intellectually is one thing (you could draw them all in a box diagram or something) but to play them on the fly they need to be practiced until they are in the muscle memory. That means practicing walking chord lines up and down the neck. You say you can do arpeggios easily (or fast). How did that happen? I'm guessing not overnight but after committing the shape to memory and drilling it with the metronome. Believe it or not, decades ago, before everyone wanted to be Yngwie, drilling chord scales was a standard practice in the guitar curriculum. I suspect it still is with Jazz and classical but perhaps not as much with self taught rockers and shredders. There are tons of books out there that specifically emphasize this skill. For example you might play GMaj triad on every 3 string group (E, A, D), (A, D, G)... etc, all the way up and back. Then perhaps play all G triads in each of the C A G E D shapes in the key of G. The great thing is (but it might be hard to see) is that all these inversions (G, B, D), (B, D, G) and (D, G, B) are planted right inside the C A G E D forms, and the arpeggios you have committed to memory. It's just a matter of practice until the placement of the hand is automatic.

Now on to C A G E D. I interpret your comment as saying that your forget the shapes as you change key. If I'm wrong please comment. The beauty of C A G E D is that these should be "movable" forms of the open string chords. The fingering MUST be different as you move up to account for the lack of open strings. In essence you are using your index finger as a capo. Here is an example.

The open string C chord would be comprised of the following notes played on the 6 strings (X, C, E, G, C, X), where X means don't play (you could play the X too as open E is in the chord). The fingering would be (X, 3, 2, 0, 1, X) on frets of the same number (a coincidence). Because this is the open string C chord the shape is referred to as a C-form. To play E Maj in C-form move the lowest note up to the 7th fret of the A string. Now you play the following (X, E, G#, B, E, X) on frets (X, 7, 6, 4, 5, X). The only thing is that now you need to use the following fingers (X, 4, 3, 1, 2, X). You can bar the X's with the index finger for more notes in the chord. Because of the fingering change it can feel confusing at first and one of my "old" Jazz teachers played the open string C chord with (X, 4, 3, 9, 2, X) and the index finger dangling over the nut.

Note also that the root position triad is just the first three notes (X, C, E, G, X, X), the first inversion, (X, X, E, G, C, X) and the second inversion (X, X, X, G, C, E). So these inversions are embedded in the chord, and are the same every where you place it.

I'd practice not only playing the C A G E D chords by arpeggiating the basic triads within them, and connecting all the forms in a single key. They overlap in the following sequence, E-form --> D-form --> C-form --> A-form --> G-->form --> E-form. If you start on G this will climb up the neck as follows, E-form on 3rd fret, D-form on 5th fret, C-form on 10th fret (pinky on 10), A-form on 10th fret (index on 10th), G-form on 15th fret (pinky on 15th), then E-form on 15th (index) which is the octave of where you started.


CAGED is the basic open chords. All the stuff I've seen for that is chords in root position. With CAGED chords you might get some explanation that not muting or skipping bass strings on some chords will in effect create and inversion, for example open C major normally doesn't play the open low E string, but if you did, it would create a first inversion C major chord. That is not a systematic approach to playing inverted chords. It makes sense that CAGED doesn't help you learn chord inversions.

Something I have tried is moving the placement of chord root into upper, middle, and lower positions and then noting the intervals/chord tones of the other voices...

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...the [*] is meant to be the chord root. Then to put it into action I played basic progressions like...

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...I used fingerpicking with those patterns.

I did something similar with close voiced chords...

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...the chart is a little different. [*] is the tonic of the key and I changed to different inversions by placing on the D, G, and B strings, then the primary chords are tonic in blue, subdominant in green, and dominant in red. Because these close voiced chords are on adjacent strings you can play them fingerpicking style or with a pick.

Some people associate those chord "shapes" with CAGED. I understand what they are doing, but thing it makes little sense. What good does do to think of some fingers as a G form, for example, when you are not necessarily playing anything G? I think the real important thing to aim for is placing a chord root or scale tonic on any string and then knowing the fretboard well enough to place intervals above and below to form chords. My charts attempt to do just that by showing all three inversions and practical voice leading contexts.

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