There are 5 chord shapes in standard tuning that can act as a framework for all of the others. They are C-A-G-E-D. This is the 'CAGED' system. We will go in the order of most common usage [E & A first, then D, C, G]. E & A, D are similar; C & G are similar.
These 5 chords can be a basis creating all other fingerings for every known chord. We first create the Major types that move up the board, then we can alter those to create other types [minors, 7 types, etc.]. This is just one way to learn a whole bunch of chords and to understand our fretboard [another is linear versions]. Once we know a chord, a chord is just a chord; not necessarily a chord based on another. By using this method, every closed fretted entity gets 12 for 1 [movable to every position, and keeps its quality]. CAGED is a valuable thing to know & doesn't interfere with creativity; rather, itprovides a framework for figuring out every chord.
First, let's move each of these chord types up one fret and provide fingering options. We start here with showing you all of them. For a more in depth explanation, see each chord shape's individual tab. When we see a 1 finger in the tablature on the nut, this is showing us the fingering that will move onto the board. This isn't necessary, just a way to understand how the shape is configured, based on the nut.
For the tablature, the big numbers are frets, the little numbers are fingers. Vertical lines mean to bar [also the curved line with dots or the same finger indicated multiple times]. The red diagonal line is that an active finger in the first chord is moving to a new location in the second. Empty strings are inactive.
Here's CAGED proper...the shapes moving up one fret. These images are shown on each forms tab.
For our fingering/voicing selection in the tablature, we are showing the fingering for the first chord as it is fingered for the chord when it moves up a fret. This isn't the normal way to finger it [except the D fingering is acceptable]. This is the last step before we move it. So, you will see a 1 finger on open strings. We have also left strings that will be muted, when moved, empty. Blank strings mean those strings will be muted [or not played].
We are also going with what it most common, or 'easy' for the moved chord shape. To do this, we leave out strings/fingers on the first chord [in the tablature] for all 5 of the chords in this lesson. Just keep in mind that there are other options. These are our preferences. Once you see how these shapes really work, it is up to you to determine your fingering/voicing preferences. And, voicings are style specific.
The E shape is probably the most popular bar chord on our planet. It is also commonly broken down into other usable pieces.
We are laying our 1 finger across the nut as it will cover all the stings once we move it. With E, the fingering at this point is actually usable and somewhat common [3, 4, and 2 fingers fretting 5, 4, and 3 strings respectively]. Once we get into the shape, it is then movable to every position. 12 for 1 is good mileage.
This is the most common bar chord in existence. Sometimes it is called a power chord, whether fully fingered as shown, or fretting just the bottom tones [the 6 and 5 strings - and the 4 string can be added as well]. We don't have to press all 6 strings. We can press the tip of the 1 for the 6 string, used a curved finger and press just the 2 and 1 strings. This saves our hand unnecessary tension and saves energy.
For what the chord is named at every position, please see the E row on the Names tab.
Let's begin our shape shifting with A. This is a common chord voicing. It is considered a bar chord.
To show the shape, we are putting our 1 finger on the nut at the 5 string and barring the fretted tones with the 3. It is now ready to move. It can be moved to 12 positions, yet depending on the type of guitar we are playing, the higher versions may or not be comfortable. Determine where the boundary is; where the chord is no longer a viable option.
For the tablature, the big numbers are frets, the little numbers are fingers. Vertical lines mean to bar. The red diagonal line is that an active finger in the first chord is moving to a new location.
For the A chord, we show it being barred with the 3 finger. It is typically barred with with the 1 or the 2 when we are playing the basic a chord. We have labeled with the 3 because this is the last step in our process before we move the shape onto the board. It can also be barred with the pinky [this is common].
We have also muted the 1 string since it won't be included when we move. It could be [barred with 1 finger, once moved; we can opt for fretting the 'bar' with 2, 3, 4 on 4, 3, 2 strings if we want this], but we are going with what it most common, or 'easy'.
We can also mute the 6 string with the tip of the 1 finger. It could be barred with the same fret number as the 1 finger, but I'm not a true fan of the resulting sound [it's possible and doable and sometimes used in rock music however].
For what the chord is named at every position, see the A row on the Names tab.
The C shape isn't the most popular in usage as we are showing it in the tab and grid. It is playable however. And, it can be broken into more usable chunks. The most shape from the C form is dropping the pinky and just fretting the 4, 3, and 2 strings, but then we have the 5 string to mute or leave open. If left open, it sounds great in some positions and not so great in others.
We are showing the C fingered as it will move onto the board. The 1 finger is on the nut at the 3 string. Once we get into the shape, it is then movable to every position. 12 for 1.
The one finger is 'being the nut'. We don't have to do this. Yet, by doing this we can see how the index takes care of the open string, once we move it.
For what the chord is named at every position, see the C row on the Names tab.
The D shape moving is a great sounding chord. It has a sweet ring to it.
We are fingering the D chord as it will move onto the board. This isn't the traditional D as we normally play it as a triangle. Instead, we have moved the high F# into the bass [6 string]. This will make it a slash chord [D/F#]. Our 1 finger is on the nut at the 4 string. Once we get into the shape, it is then movable to every position. 12 for 1.
Again, we have moved the 3rd of the chord into the bass on string 6. This makes it a slash chord = D/F#, where D is the chord and F# is the tone that is in the bass. It is a good passing chord [e.g. as in G - D/F# - Em]. This is a sweet sounding chord in every position.
For what the chord is named at every position, see the D row on the Names tab.
The G shape is the least common among these 5 chord shapes. Yet, is does have some functionality. Since it is almost like an A chord [shares the same bar], it is often thought of through the A lens.
We start with showing how to play G. We then follow the process to get the 1 finger onto the nut. It is common to leave off the pinky on the 6 string so that only the inside 4 strings are active.
Once we get into the shape, it is then movable to every position. 12 for 1 is knowing 12 things for knowing 1!
And, again, it is common to eliminate the root tone that is being fingered with the pinky [included in the tab/voicing]. It would then be just the inside four strings. And, it could be labeled as a slash chord. For G, if we left off the 6 string, it could be called G/B. For the A flat, Ab/C.
For what the chord is named at every position, please see the G row on the Names tab.
An example: at fret 5 for an A form, the index will be at a D tone, so the chord will be D Major.
Every flat name has a sharp equivalent [enharmonic, same thing, different name]: A flat = G sharp, B flat = A sharp, D flat = C sharp, E flat = D sharp, G flat = F sharp. Yet, for Major type chords, all of them are typically flat names except G flat/F sharp, where both are used.
Here we can see that if we have a 5th string root, to the back is a C shape, while to the front is an A shape. When we have a 6th string root, to the back we have a G shape. And, to the front, an E shape. For the 4th string root, to the front we have a D shape [to the back is still the E shape].
This also demonstrates the linear cycle for any given root. They always cycle linearly in word/letter order [CAGED]. For lefties, the fronts/backs are opposite.
Double shapes are borders (shared tones) between chord forms.
The CAGED guitar architecture definitely provides a template for learning all of the possible fingerings for any type of chord [we need to memorize the chord components within each form, so that we can modify tones by using formulas]. Below is the linear cycle of chord forms for the C Major chord broken into pieces. We have dropped some tones in some forms to make the fingerings easier.
C begins is own cycle, and we can see its fretted version 12 frets higher on the first fretboard layout above.
R, 3, and 5 are indicated on the edge of each form above. You will want to memorize the chord components, so when we modify new types of chords to these, we know where the Root, the 3rd, and the 5th are located.
It is also good to notice the shared borders. Take a look at the G and A forms. We can clearly see that they share a 3 string bar on strings 4, 3, and 2. Like pentatonics, borders are where forms share common tones.
A common question is 'why is there not a B or F shape?' The quick answer is that there are, if you want there to be. It all depends on how technical we are about it. This is interesting to think through [and we can learn a great deal about chords], yet we really just want to know how to play the chords. So, read on, if this sparks an interest. Each of us gets to decide how to view our board.
For the B 'form', we can look at it different ways. It does sneak in behind the C form if it is a hybrid [mixed A and C shape, more on this in a moment] or Major 7 [probably a BMaj9 = x2132x], or Dominant 7 [your basic B7 x21202] type chord. So, if your chord system says one of these carries more weight than the C form, the B form exists.
For the hybrid just mentioned, the B would be x2144x which is kind of hard to finger [2 string bar with the pinky or using 3 and 4 fingers which is a spread]. Yet, that shape can even move down one more fret to B flat = x1033x. So, the hybrid may just be a B flat form! In this instance, it just may not matter which tone names the form as much as it is just a 5 string root chord system. Everything is fingerable around the 5 string; it just depends on which finger we put on the root. If we think like this and use C and A form language, it is C to the back of the root and A to the front. In hybrid language there are 3 forms: 6, 5, and 4 string roots. And while we are at it, why not a 3 string root as well [3rd string based shapes can be found inside one of the others - AGEDC forms].
For the F 'form', we again can look at it different ways. The 3-2-1 shape that it has can be viewed as deriving from the E form [2-1-0]. Yet, it is kind of like C and G in fingering and shape. I know many folks which view the F as its own thing. This is fine. You are the boss.
And, yet again, we can think of it as a hybrid. When we consider the E and G as a 6 string root chord system [everything revolving around it, just depends on the finger], F [1032xx = 5th-less] would actually be the form when we run that flag up the pole. F sharp Major would be kin to the B chord we mentioned above and the F would be in the same position as the B flat.
We could call each of the chord forms, an origin, or a heel [as in loaf of bread]. Once the heel is recognized, the other slices (forms) always go in the same order [CAGED, or AGEDG, etc.].
Here, we have the origins for each tone [chord]. The C shape starts the C and Db's cycle. The A starts the A, Bb, and B's cycle. And so on.
|CAGED Form||The Heel for...|
|A||A, Bb, B|
|E||E, F, F#|
This is the most advanced thing [the fixed position cycles] that I have discovered for standard tuning. This can come across kind of heavy, so you may want to circle back to this after exploring the basics of the CAGED system. We have covered the linear cycles on previous tabs. They are included in the chart below, but we will also take a look at the fixed position cycles.
Here's the CAGED nutshell: We can build chords from a given tone. Chords can be fingered on the guitar in standard tuning based on a C, A, G, E, & D form [shapes at the nut]. When forms move up, the index acts as the nut [takes the place of it, keeping the fret spacing the same]. There are 12 tones [positions] & 5 chord forms [CAGED]. We can play every chord like a C, like an A, like a G, like an E, & like a D. We have options for how we finger the forms when they move up the fretboard [we call these preferences]. We can also drop fingers/strings, as well as leaving strings open [see C Chord Shape Moving or E Major Shape Moving].
CAGED forms always go in order [letter order] up the fretboard for a given tone. For any of the 12 tones, one of the shapes starts the cycle at the nut. Whatever letter that is, the next way to play the same type of chord will be whatever the next letter in the word CAGED is. Example - as in line 1 above: C is played like a C at the nut. The next way to play C will be like an A [in 3rd position - P3], then like a G in P5, then like an E in P8, then like a D in P10.
The rows above reflect linear cycles of chord forms.
When playing alphabetical chord scales in a fixed position, the chords also follow the CAGED cycle of chords. When we play an ascending chord scale [C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C], the cycle goes in reverse [DEGAC], & when descending, the cycle is in word order [CAGED]. Since there are 7 letters in the musical alphabet, we have to repeat forms. We have options here, yet, the repeating chord forms line up with the half-steps in a Major scale [between 3-4 & 7-8]. We could also repeat forms between 6-7.
Example: the diatonic chord scale for the key of C Major is C-Dm-Em-F-G-Am-Bdim-C [I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-viidim-I]. When we play this in P1, the cycle of forms is like the first column of forms above. The chord forms for this chord scale in P1 are C-D-E-E-G-A-C-C or even better - C-D-E-E-G-A-A-C.
Each of the 7 Major scale patterns have a fixed position chord cycle within them which follows the CAGED letter order [with repeats since there are 7 chords in a Major key, but only 5 chord forms].
The columns above reflect fixed position cycles of chord forms.
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