How the CAGED System Works
The CAGED system for guitar is a way to help you learn to play on the entire length of the guitar neck and to help you learn “bar” chords on guitar. The system gets its name from the names of the chords you use as the foundation of the system: C, A, G, E and D. These chords are played using certain fingerings called “shapes”, which can then be applied to the whole length of the guitar fretboard.
Here is a visual representation of the 5 chord shapes used for the system:
If you have never played these chord shapes before, go ahead and try them. The fingers you will use are your choice, but see if you can find a way of playing these chords that works for you. There are no “wrong” ways of playing the chords, but you can see the recommended fingerings which are probably easiest.
Applying the CAGED System to Playing Guitar
Once you feel comfortable playing the CAGED chords with the fingering of your choice, try them all using only your 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers, leaving your first finger unused. It is these fingerings that will enable you to move these chord shapes up the neck of the guitar using your first finger as a “bar” to press down on all of the strings across the neck of the guitar. By far the easiest chord to start with when doing this will be the E chord.
Using the “E” Chord Shape to Play “Bar Chords”
Using the E chord as your first “movable” chord, you will be able to create 11 new major chords by moving the E chord shape up the neck of the guitar, one fret at a time. Start by playing the E chord as follows:
- put your 2nd finger on the 3rd string at the 1st fret
- put your 3rd finger on the 5th string at the 2nd fret
- put your 4th finger on the 4th string at the 2nd fret
Now strum the strings to make sure the chord sounds right. If not, adjust your fingering to achieve a clean sound.
Playing Bar Chords Using the CAGED System
Next, do the following:
- put your 2nd finger on the 3rd string at the 2nd fret
- put your 3rd finger on the 5th string at the 3rd fret
- put your 4th finger on the 4th string at the 3rd fret
- put your entire 1st finger across all the strings at the 1st fret
You may have to press really hard to make it sound clean. This is now an F bar chord. If you repeat this procedure moving up one fret at a time, you will play a new chord on each fret!
This is, in a nutshell, the way the CAGED system works. If you feel confused or overwhelmed, don’t worry, a Toronto Guitar School teacher can help you sort out the details. Good luck with your guitar studies!