Lessons and Training

CAGED Chords and Scales Primer

Major Triad Caged
Major Triad – CAGED

(As per the norm with many guitar lessons I used the common key of C for the examples – as all the shapes are moveable this should prove no obstacle for those wishing to explore this system in other keys)

The CAGED method takes it’s name from 5 simple open chords that everyone should know – C A G E D. In each case the formula of a major triad is 1 3 5. This means that in order to form a major triad in any key you take the root note, the major third (4 frets from the root) and perfect fifth (3 frets from the major third). Chords are formed from these triad notes “stacking” vertically across the fretboard:


Note – stacking diatonic thirds is not the only form of harmony but the less commonly used forms such as quartal or secundal harmony aren a bit beyond the scope of this article.

Looking at the first diagram of a C chord with a “C shape” you will immediately notice that your C major chord is formed from the root, third, fifth, root and third intervals – C E G C E. It’s important to remember these intervals as your ability to form further chords hinges on the knowledge of these intervals in location to the root note.

SO far so good – the “C shape” is instantly recogniseable but where do the other shapes come from? How does the knowledge of these chords allow you to move around the fretboard making chords?

Play your open C chord again, and slide it up a fret – play the same strings and you’ll notice that it immediately sounds disonant as the intervals that the open strings form in relation to the root have also changed. In order to move this shape about you will need to use your first finger to barre the frets where the open strings would actually be so you need to move your fingers around to accomodate this new chord voicing.

Play the C with your pinky, the E with your third, and the next C (up an octave) with your second – this leaves your first free to barre and you have a moveable C shape. Take a glance at the other shapes and you can see how their original open voicing has been modified in order to make moveable forms which interlink (all guitarists should be familiar with the E and A shapes as they are the most common chords in use today).

Hopefully you can now see that you are able to play ANY major triad in ANY position on the neck simply by using these five chords and memorising the position of the roots. By extension because you all know that a minor triad is formed by taking the first, flattened third and perfect fifth degrees of a major scale (1 b3 5) you can now also play any minor triad as above because you simply need to lower that major third by one fret….oh…problems?

Some of these voicings aren’t ideal in their basic form as in some positions they can leave you with uncomfortable stretches or a clutter of notes that you might prefer to simplify. For example – the open G chord has a number of different voicings depending on it’s position on the neck and the repetition of the major thirds/fifths according to taste:

Open G voicings

How you choose to voice your own chords is an important factor in your playing style and I can only recommend that you experiment with what I consider to be the very minimum – three chords to address the 6th, 5th and 4th string roots. Going beyond that to learning how all the positions interlink, experimenting with fretting notes with the thumb, using open voicings and how you deal with inversions adds a great deal of colour to your compositions.

Major Scale CAGED

As you can see, the top diagram is the (corrected) C major triad over the whole neck. The next down is the C major scale over the whole neck, and the following are diagrams showing each CAGED scale shape in relation to each chord position.

Chord tones are marked with a triangle shape (triad) and the usual chord voicings are connected via the lines to give you an idea of how they all fit together. Knowing each chord+scale shape is an excellent way of traversing the neck but I’ll throw in one last diagram of the three Notes per string scales to show you how that works as well.

Note – I have listed each scale shape with two different referrences – the “position” refers to the major scale. Position 1 is the root position, position 2 links directly onto that etc The modal nomemclature refers to the fact that each of these positions is also a root position for a mode – I’ll cover modal theory more thoroughly in a later lesson.


More CAGED Chords

So what else can you accomplish with a few chord shapes and a handful of chord formulae…how about being able to play every chord in every position?

That’s a lofty goal, so let’s settle for understanding some further simple chord types to further illustrate the principle:

7 – dominant seventh; a major chord with minor seventh on top:


maj7 – major seventh; a major chord with a major seventh on the top:


m7 – minor seventh; a minor chord with a minor seventh on top:

m7b5 – minor seventh with a flattened fifth – a diminished triad with a minor seventh on top:


A few further chord formulae:

6 – a major chord with a major sixth on top
m6 – a minor chord with a major sixth on top

mM7 – minor/major seventh; a minor chord with a major seventh on top
dim – diminished triad
dim 7 – diminished seventh chord, also called fully diminished chord, or simply diminished chord; a diminished chord with a diminished seventh on top, built entirely of minor thirds
aug – augmented triad; built of two major thirds – ex. Eaug, or E+ – E G# B#
sus2 – a triad with a root, second, and fifth; is neither major, nor minor
sus4 – a triad with a root, fourth, and fifth; is neither major, nor minor –
7sus2 and 7sus4 – same as the above, but using a 7 chord.

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July 24th, 2011

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