I've been studying the CAGED system for guitar, I know some people don't like it but to me it seems a great way to visualize the fretboard. Now, I understand what are triads and inversions but my question is... what happens if I remove the root and replace it with another notes from the scale? (moving it down one step to the 7, for example). It still sounds good but if there's no root I don't really know what I'm playing. Also, I've noticed that it's possible to play other CAGED shapes inside one shape just using the scale notes within that shape... here's a picture to explain it better:

enter image description here

This is the C shape MAJOR G shape MAJOR scale... but the highlighted notes are also the 2nd inversion of the D shape minor chord.. how can this be possible ? If I play this triad does it mean I've switched to a minor or can I still think about it as a major?

Any help making sense of this confusion would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  • This is pattern 1 (C shape) of the CAGED system. It's the G major scale because the roots are G notes. Sep 21, 2018 at 15:15

2 Answers 2


I prefer to think of CAGED as chord shapes - all open that can be barred at any point to produce new chords. Seeing lots of blobs on a fretboard picture can never be anything but confusing!

That apart, shown is G major scale, or possibly B Phrygian!! Scales are far more frequently played root to root, whereas the one shown gives every possible note reachable between frets 7 and 10 - even more confusing, as playing them all, in order, doesn't sound like a 'proper' scale.

However, what you are experiencing, if I read the question right, is that diatonic triads can have one note changed, then they make a different chord. Of course this will happen. In key C major, the chord C is spelled CEG, in whichever order - called inversion, but only those 3 notes.

For the record - C = CEG. Dm = DFA. Em = EGB. F = FAC. G = GBD. Am = ACE, Bo - BDF.

So, taking C, as CEG, and changing one note, will produce a different chord. Swap C for B, it's Em. Swap G for A, it's Am. Swapping the E for the note next will either make Csus2 or Csus4, which isn't really part of what you ask, even though it can be done - bearing in mind Csus2 = Gsus4...

From your diagram, using 6,2 and 4, in key G, that gives the notes E, A and C, making the ii chord in G - A minor. Look at the shape of the three notes on the top three strings - it's the same shape as an open Dm chord that beginners may play.

Minor chords are just that - minors; majors, majors. Within any key, there can be found 3 major and 3 minor chords (plus a less used diminished). So, in conclusion, taking notes from the major scale won't merely give major chords. I'm sure you're not the first person to consider this as confusing!


What you have discovered is that there are Diatonic chords for each key. A diatonic chord is simply a chord that is made up of notes that are in the key. So in the key of C major you can make the following chords from just notes that are in the key:

C Maj, d min, e min, F maj, G Maj, a min, and b diminished. (you could extend this further by adding the next 3rd up to get all the diatonic 7th chords.)

The relationship for all major keys will be the same: Maj, min, min, Maj, Maj, min, Dim.

In the key of G major the diatonic chords are G Maj, a min, b min, C Maj, D Maj, e min, f# dim.

(the diagram above is not C major, but G major) On the 7th fret for example you have, on the highest 3 strings (3, 5, 7) which is a B minor triad, diatonic to the key (of G), it is the 3rd chord, the iii (3 minor)! If you kept looking you would actually find shapes for all of the diatonic triads.

Now take your "caged shapes", lets start with the A major shape on the 2, 3, 4 strings (b,g,d strings). If you find the A shape on the 7th fret you have a D major triad (which is diatonic to the key of G (D major is the V or 5th).

Now take your D shape on the top three string. On the 2nd fret it is a D, on the 4th fret it is a E, 5th fret it is a F and then on the 7th fret it is a G! Boom, there it is, in your diagram as a G major which is clearly diatonic as it is the I (1 major).

If you want to play a chord that is not in the key, you can do that by playing a known shape but just know that you are playing notes that are not marked in your diagram above. For example you can play d minor (not in the key of G) by taking your D major chord (using the A shape in my example above, 7th fret on the g,b,d strings) and flat the f# on the b string, 7th fret moved to the 6th fret), notice that this minor is the same shape that you would play an open A minor chord just slid up to the 7th fret, just like we played the D major with the A major shape slid up to the 7th fret.

One more point of clarification: The chord you are playing at the moment doesn't change the key you are in, since each key has many chords. What key you are in has more to do with the tonal center, where you feel the song is at rest (G in G major for example). You can play A minor > D major > G major and you will feel strongly that you were in the key of G since that is a ii > V > I cadence.

  • Just to clarify, i know the scale on the picture is G major because the roots are G... however the SHAPE is based on the open C chord, that's why i called it C shape. I understand how adding notes to a major/minor triad creates new chords like Sus/maj7 etc what confuses me is what happens when the root is removed but i'm still playing notes within that scale. Sep 21, 2018 at 15:19
  • There are "formulas" for chords just like there are for scales. A major triad chord has a root, major 3rd, perfect 5th. Minor is root, minor 3rd, perfect 5th. Both of those chords can be found in a key. A scale is a series of notes that is whole step, whole, half step, whole, whole,whole, half. So, in the key of C you can play a d minor chord which has notes d, f, a but no C so it is missing root of the KEY. It's still a d minor chord which is diatonic to the key. You could also play a B, D, F and it could be a G7 chord without the root or a b diminished chord. Depends on the context.
    – b3ko
    Sep 21, 2018 at 15:53

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