Most guitarists only ever learn to play open chords and two types of barre chords. The latter can be used all along the fretboard by sliding your fret hand up and down, which gives you two, maybe three different options to play the same chord. But what many players don’t know is that with only three extra chords, you can actually play each chord in five different ways. This is called the CAGED system.
Regardless of style, the CAGED system provides a framework that can be used to play chords on every single fret of your guitar. We don’t want to overload you right away, so in this blog we’ll stick to the more practical major chords and, if you aren’t versed in the language of music yet, our blog about chord theory should be able to help you out!
Fingers, Circles, Dots and Crosses
Let’s start with the basic building blocks for chord diagrams. The fingers of the left hand are numbered, while the thumb is indicated by a T. In addition, it’s important to know which strings to play or not. The white circles show the root notes while the black dots show the other notes of the chord. Also, pay attention to the fret position.
Open Guitar Chords
As you might’ve guessed, the CAGED system is based on five open chords: C, A, G, E, D. As a quick reminder, we’ve included these above.
Barre / Slidable Chords
Now let’s take a look at the five slidable CAGED chords. If you already know your barre chords, the E and A variants probably look familiar, but the C and G chords here also include a barre. This means you’ll need to barre several strings with either your first and third finger. If you’ve never tried this before, it’s a smart idea to start with the E and A versions and slowly master laying down a barre. The last piece of the puzzle is the D-shape. Make sure your left hand is warmed up and nice and supple before you give this one a try.
Off to a Practical Start
To set you off on a practical start, we’ve included a chord progression example in five positions. You can use it to play I-IV-V progressions in C. The Roman numerals indicate the position of the root note and, to get the hang of it quickly, take a look at the last image below. The circle is a visual aid that can help you determine the rest of progression from the first chord onwards. On the right, there’s a visual representation of a fretboard with all the notes up to and including the twelfth fret. You can use it to look up the root notes of the chords.
This is already quite a big chunk of information and we didn’t even dive deep into the theory. We recommend you start by getting to grips with the fingering of the chords first before you try the five CAGED positions. Next time, we’ll be taking a look at the CAGED minor chords. Here are a few interesting books you can check out in the meantime: