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Lesson Series

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Lewis Turner - Back To Basics Part 16: CAGED Chord System

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 40 **

Ah, chords! The so important yet overlooked part of many a guitarist’s knowledge! Why is that? As a guitarist you will spend the majority of your time being part of a rhythm section, either playing chords or riffs. Yet many players overlook this vital area to concentrate on their shredding lead chops, which is all well and good but to be a well rounded musician one must study or at least look into all areas. The CAGED system is a tried and tested method for visualising both chords, scale shapes and arpeggios. In this lesson we are concentrating on the chord aspect, namely major chords. Be sure to check out the accompanying video where I demonstrate the various shapes, how best to play them and how they could be applied.

Let’s take a moment to look at the humble C chord. I will assume that we all know how to play your basic C chord in the open position, and it works just fine. The CAGED system will give you five different positions to play that same C chord. “But why!!??” I hear you cry, why would you possibly need to know more than one C chord? Well you could quite happily go through your playing life only knowing that one shape, and let’s face it no one is going to die, but ask yourself how versatile is that C chord in its open position? Does it sound great on an acoustic strummy song? Yes. Does it sound great in a funk/punk/rock/jazz context? Possibly not always. Here is the problem: it's all about sonic space. If you are playing in a Funk setting then you will have a bass player at least outlining the root notes and possibly a keys player playing big chords, so where will your chord fit in? That big ringy shape that you know will get lost in the mix, but if you know a higher voicing for the same chord, say a D shape around the 12th fret then that's going to cut through the mix and make your part stand out much better. It's not just about learning five shapes to say “I can play C in 5 different places” it's about learning how to use them.

CAGED is a system that takes the basic open chords of C,A,G,E,D and shows you how to move them around the fretboard using Barre shapes to get different chords depending on where your root note is. For example playing an E shape with a Barre at the 5th fret will give you an A Major chord. The order always stays the same, so if you are on an E shape the next shape along will be a D shape then C etc. As with all these things it takes a while and perseverance to get your head around, but I urge you to get really familiar with the CAGED system as it will really open up your fretboard, help your visualisation and make you more aware of where you fit sonically. I go into more detail on the video and seeing it should help you understand it better, you will also find the shapes written out on the attached TAB.

As always, start slowly and make the aim to understand what you are doing not just learning the shapes parrot fashion, then apply them musically. Next time we will look at the accompanying Major scale shapes.

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