Bedrock Guitar Theory of the Pros Lesson #3: The Secret to Building Chords


CAGED Chord Forms

There are literally thousands of different kinds of chords and chord shapes that you can play on the guitar, but did you know that most are related in some way to just five core forms? In the open position the five forms are:

  1. C
  2. A
  3. G
  4. E
  5. D

What’s that spell?

CAGED. With the guitar CAGED chord system, you form versions of the open position chords around the neck playing different chords in other positions.

CAGED Guitar Chord Forms in C

These neck diagrams feature C major chord tones covering the whole fretboard with the notes marked in red outlining the most recognizable CAGED shapes. Click to enlarge.

Now, if you try reforming open position chords in other areas on the fretboard, you’ll quickly find out that it’s hard to do! But it’s not a problem, because…

Guitarists don’t use the chord forms in their entirety. Instead, they break the chord shapes up into more manageable pieces. These pieces also change how the chords sound, so you can get more variety out of them.

What does this variety sound like? You’ve been hearing it all along in the music you listen to! Check out the audio track below for some familiar examples.

CAGED Chord Songs Audio Samples

Arpeggio Patterns

The CAGED system doesn’t end with making chords. The notes from each chord shape are used to play arpeggio patterns. An arpeggio pattern is simply the notes of a chord fretted and played one at a time in scale-like fashion.Arpeggio patterns look a bit different than their related chord shapes because each chord shape is usually surround by unused chord tones. The arpeggios have uses for both rhythm and lead guitarists.

Chord Tone Soloing

When you play guitar solos, you can use CAGED arpeggio patterns to target chord tones while using scale patterns. This technique is called chord tone soloing.

When you use chord tones as your guide while you work through a progression, you connect your lead lines more closely to the music. This approach is sometimes better than just randomly playing scales through a set of chord changes. You can apply this technique to improvising, as well as to composing guitar riffs, melodies, and bass lines. It’s a slick trick that can make you sound like you have really good note choice. 😉

Added Chord Tones and Extensions

Once you get a handle on forming major and minor chords, you can add additional chord tones and extensions to each shape. As you introduce new notes to chords, you create new types of chords with richer harmony. These chords include major 7, minor 7, sus4, and add9, just to name a few.

Coming Up Next in Lesson #4: Chord Progressions

Coming up in lesson #4, you’ll take a deeper look at chord progressions. This includes an understanding of the number system – how to use the major scale to learn the chord pattern of every key. Other musicians will LOVE playing with you if you know this.

Songwriters, also take note: you’ll know how to compose coherent and catchy songs with ease, once you master chord progressions. ?

CAGED System Chords Preview

You get to know CAGED system chords in depth in the Fretboard Theory guitar theory video series. In Chapter 3, you work with all the different chord shapes that are derived from the five forms. This involves playing different chord voicings, chord inversions, covering the whole fretboard, and of course, learning which familiar songs make use of the shapes. Watch the free video promo below to get a better idea of what this whole process is like, then visit the Fretboard Theory page to learn how you can get access to the full video.

Fretboard Theory

If you want to learn how to unleash your own personal chord style on the guitar, so you create a sound that’s unique to you, get the Fretboard Theory video instruction.

guitar theory lessons

Will Using the CAGED System Harm My Guitar Playing?

While we’re on the topic of CAGED, I have to unfortunately address the accusations that the system is harmful. There are a few overly-critical opinions about the CAGED system promoted on the Internet that come up frequently in search results. To hear my response to these criticisms, please read my article, Why the Guitar CAGED System is Not Bad For You.