So I see a lot of people talking about how the CAGED system is good because it connects scales with chords; what I don't understand is that If I'm playing A major scale CAGED system helps me find all A chords all over the neck, but isn't that easy even if you're playing 3nps? Am I mising something? Also is the CAGED system useful when it comes to harmonic minor and other scales?

  • 1
    It sounds a bit like you've already progressed beyond what CAGED can teach you. It seems to be an excellent way of getting to know the fretboard in the 1st place though. I didn't know about it until recently - had to find it all for myself! I can see that if I'd known about it when I started out, it could have helped a lot. Sep 23, 2015 at 9:19

4 Answers 4


For me, it's more about finding chord shapes over the neck. The basic open shapes are C, A, G, E and in a 4/5 string version, D. All these chords work in open position (with some strings open), not always in root position, but that's not an issue. Those shapes can then be moved up the fretboard and a barre used to produce other chords. Or, put another way, say C open can be another C using barre 3rd fret with an A shape, barre 5th fret with a G shape, barre 8th fret with an E shape, barre 12th fret with a C shape, and barre 10th fret with a D shape. Works better with major chords, in my opinion.


CAGED is a cute mnemonic.

I think mneumonics too often substitute for learning a fundamental.

CAGED is a bad idea instead of just learning two simple chord voicing concepts: closed voicing like an open C chord, and open voicing like an open E chord. (Unfortunately, "open" is a bit confusing in the previous sentence, it is used both to mean "open strings used" and "open voicing" where the internal spacing of chord tones is larger than a third.)

Open E, A, and D all exhibit open voicing moving up in fourths.

Open G and C both exhibit closed voicing moving up in fourths.

CAGED literally jumbles those two voicing groups together and sets up a misunderstanding there are 5 unique shapes when there are really only 2 shapes involved with those chords.

...It connects scales with chords...

Whatever time needs to be spend conceptualizing adding tones to open E A D G C to get scales would be better spent understanding the diatonic scale is a single repeating grid over the entire fretboard with a half step shift between the G and B strings. A whole host of scales and modes is then derived from that diatonic pattern by altering particular tones by half steps.

At the very least don't use CAGED, it's litereally musical nonsense!

Use EADGC and start with harmony lessons about I IV V.

  • The CAGED chord shapes are different visually on the fretboard and they have different fingerings, and I think that’s what the whole point is. :) It might be helpful for (advanced?) students to realize that the sounding interval ”shape” is identical for the open E, A and D chords, and for the G and C chords. But you still have to actually place your fingers on the fretboard to make the sounds. :) +1 anyway, food for thought and a good point of view. Jan 24, 2020 at 2:42
  • Actually, my point is they are vistually the same shapes, shifted up the strings by fourths, but when the shift moves over the G and B strings there is a fret shift up on the B string. Open E and A are visually the same, the G# of the E chord fingered on the G string is simply shifted up a fret when it comes the C# of the A chord fingered on the B string. Yes, the fingering is different, but the placement on the fretboard is the same pattern modified. Jan 24, 2020 at 16:01
  • So maybe another way to put it is: CAGED encourages learning chords as memorized finger placements rather than relative fret locations. I think that is bad for both understanding good fingering and locating intervals on the fretboard. Jan 24, 2020 at 16:03
  • Any added abstraction distance can be too much for someone. The shapes are visually different - pictures of the dot patterns would not be recognized as the same shape unless you teach extra logic about the G B jump. It’s a quicker start if you don’t have to think about relative intervals, only concrete finger positions. There are people who are completely happy with memorized finger placements. That’s enough for accompanying songs, so you can concentrate on what’s really important like... lyrics. ;) Jan 24, 2020 at 16:32
  • Doesn't that just confirm my point: it's not a good system to learn the fretboard. It's not a real system. It's day one on guitar and that's all. I really don't understand why some are such adamant defenders of CAGED as a system. It's mnemonic for the five open chords. Jan 24, 2020 at 19:22

Don't confuse fretboard logic with the CAGED system. In my experience, only Tim actually plays the barred G. There are a number of different fretboard visualization systems each with their own advantages.

CAGED- physically based system, requires no stretching, matches up nicely with the Blues scale boxes and pentatonic major. All "expressive techniques" (bends, slides, vibrato, hammers, etc) can be performed with the wrist. Allows one universal hand position for thumb over the top players.

3 note per string- mentally based system, once you have the scale down you can gun fast repeating pattern figures on the fly. Requires stretches. If you want to shred eighties style with a more classically influenced hand position, this is for you.

Segovian- educationally based system, you learn the notes up each string which accelerates sight reading and development of absolute pitch.

Chromatic zone- another mentally based system designed to give the full palette of notes for all scales, largely for jazz improvisors (rather than having discrete 3nps patterns).

I'm sure I'm forgetting a bunch but those are the big ones. I teach rock, blues, and metal. Over the last 15 years the best student results have come from learning the scales via the CAGED system, and the chords as harmonized scales moving up the strings (I.e 6th string root, 5th sr, 4th string root).

Harmonic minor works great CAGED, and some of the patterns are pretty fun to play:


Disclaimer: That's a link to my site, its free, no ads or affiliate links, it serves over 40,000 page views a month so I'm not trolling for traffic. The link is also "rel no followed" so no seo benefit either.


Of course we all play part of the big "barred g" at times, but a more "ergonomic" and I think better sounding context is 4 note open voiced chords.

To be honest it's far more achievable to use that with 3nps fingerings because the guitar is usually set higher to accommodate stretching. With the guitar at waist level (which is when the CAGED system is most often used) that barred G form can become a threat to long term feeling in our fingertips.

Just like office ergonomics, we need to keep our wrists straight!

Ive never seen that chord form in any guitar book that predates fretboard logic. Just using the top four strings is a sensible approach for chord melody playing, it is not the full "barred g" which I find academic for the majority of CAGED system players.

  • 1
    @No one really plays the barred G'. Really? I do. But then, I'm Nobody. But nobody's perfect...
    – Tim
    Sep 23, 2015 at 22:33
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    You're the first I've met. I've updated my answer accordingly.
    – Jay Skyler
    Sep 24, 2015 at 9:42
  • I play it too and I bet you play at least part of it without relizing it. It's very common to see someone play the top 4 strings only in the G Barre chord, but I've used it on songs that use a capo just to play open chords on a different freat. Just because you don't use it doesn't mean no one uses it.
    – Dom
    Sep 24, 2015 at 12:31
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    I had to reply in the answer due to space. For the record, I often use absolute language in my replies because I feel music education is by definition biased and I would rather embrace that and answer confidently and definitively for the genres which I proudly and so stereotypically represent, rather than sneak my opinions in under the guise of being unbiased. It's never personal.
    – Jay Skyler
    Sep 24, 2015 at 21:57
  • The G Barre chord is not harmful unless your posture or tequnique is bad. Then anything you play will become harmful long term.
    – Dom
    Sep 26, 2015 at 19:04

I the CAGED system as a way to visualize a schale/chord pattern all over the fretboard.

Unlike the piano, which arranges all the notes from lower to higher, and clearly indicating which ones are "natural" and which one "accidentals" (ie: sharp/flats), the guitar has a certain geometry that seems to obscure this a bit.

All you get are 6 strings, with 19 to 24 frets each (depending on the guitar), and it's part of the learning process to understand which are the right notes to play when. It is all about developing mental patterns of where the right notes are.

CAGED is (for me) a very good entry point to develop these visual patterns (I wish I had learned it much earlier!). Also, if you play pentatonic, it aligns very nicely with the 5 positions or "boxes" of the pentatonic scale.

(as a side note, I saw a great progress when I moved from seeing "5 positions of the pentatonic" to thinking of a 3-octave scale instead).

You could argue that 3nps is a more advanced vision of the fretboard, but at the same time, it's not good for playing pentatonic (which, by nature, has 2 notes/string).

I think any model that helps you visualize the patterns on a guitar is helpful. Quoting an old software development motto: "All models are wrong, but some are helpful".

  • The comparison to piano has some problems. Obviously chord shapes can move up and down the frets without changing the shape, but they do change when moved across the strings in standard tuning. To a lesser extent something like that happens on piano where there are repeating chord shapes like G,C, F major or E, A, D major, etc. Jan 24, 2020 at 16:11
  • I think that the fact that chords change shapes across the strings (I like to think about it as "on what string is the root note?") is actually covered by the CAGED system, don't you think?
    – mkorman
    Jan 25, 2020 at 13:43

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