Learning chords on the guitar usually begins with open chords such as G, C, D, Em, etc. Next you add in an occasional barre chord such as Bm or F#m. Finally, you learn how to move major and minor barre chords all around the neck. From this point guitarists will continue their chord studies by trying to memorize every odd shape they come across whether they actually know what it is or not.
If you’re a beginner trying to learn the basics I recommend you visit the page for beginner guitar. If you already know the basics and want to develop a deeper understanding of how chords are made on the fretboard, then you need to learn the CAGED system.
There are literally thousands of different kinds of chords and chord shapes that can be played on the guitar, but did you know that most can be traced back to just 5 common open forms? The 5 forms are C, A, G, E, and D. What’s that spell? Caged. Each one of these chords can be turned into a barre chord and moved around the fretboard. Each barre chord can be played as an arpeggio pattern. These arpeggio patterns can then be broken up into all sorts of unique chord shapes and interesting chord voicings.
Major chords are made up of three notes. Notes can be repeated, stacked in any order, and played anywhere on the neck. Just like with playing scales, guitarists must learn how to map out the notes of chords on the fretboard. These are called “arpeggio patterns.”
Chord Inversions and Voicings
Arpeggios show you where all the chord tones are located for a given chord. When you can visualize all the notes of a chord in each position, you can grab the notes in a variety of ways and do so anywhere on the neck. A chord inversion, for practical intents and purposes, is simply a re-arrangement of the notes from one shape to another. For example, a C major chord includes the notes C-E-G. These notes are available in this order but only in some spots. In other areas you might find them stacked E-G-C or G-C-E. Each combination produces a slightly different sound or “voicing.”
Guitar CAGED Chord System
Map out all the notes of a C chord across the entire fretboard you’ll end up with a big, abstract scattering of notes. Break this giant pattern into 5 pieces and you’ll have arpeggio patterns. Reduce each pattern to its fundamental shape and you’ll recognize something very familiar. One position resembles an open C chord, the next an open A chord, followed by G, E and D. Hence, the CAGED Template Chord System.
Great Rhythm Guitar
Great rhythm guitar players don’t necessarily use strange chords, they just know how to freshen up common chord progressions with different shapes and voicings. Take the song “Jack and Diane” by John Mellencamp for example. Each section of this tune sounds unique but the whole song is actually just variations of the SAME THREE CHORDS! Do you want to know how to get all this sound from just three chords?
C Form Barre Chord
The first step is to turn an open C into a barre chord. Doing this is similar to using a CAPO. A CAPO is clamped onto the guitar neck so that you can reproduce common open chords at different frets and play in new keys. When playing barre chords, your index finger reaches (barres) across the neck just like a CAPO. Then your remaining fingers build the chord shape. Of course, this is not an easy thing to do but it’s the beginning of using the CAGED system. For more detailed instruction see Fretboard Theory Chapter 3 The CAGED Template Chord System and The CAGED Template Chord System DVD.
The C form barre chord is tough to play in its entirety. You can make it easier by leaving some notes out. This also creates unique shapes and interesting voicings. Below are some sample partial forms. These examples are taken from Fretboard Theory and are also taught in The CAGED Template Chord System DVD
C Form Arpeggio Pattern
Below you can see the barre chord turned into an arpeggio pattern. This pattern is played one note at a time, in series either ascending or descending like a scale. Once memorized, you can duplicate the pattern at any fret. It’s not necessary to know the notes but they’re indicated in the first diagram in case you’re curious. Below the diagrams you’ll find the same arpeggio patterns in notation and tablature. This content is taken from Fretboard Theory and is also taught in The CAGED Template Chord System DVD.
More Notes, Shapes and Voicings
The arpeggio pattern shows you where all the possible chord tones are. As you can see, there are three notes in the arpeggio that were omitted from the barre chord but are still related to the form. With the addition of these notes there’s even more chord shapes and voicings that can be created. For more details see Fretboard Theory and The CAGED Template Chord System DVD.
C Form Songs
Below is a small list of the many songs that use shapes and voicings based on the C form. Learning actual songs will show you exactly how to put this new information to good use. Many of these examples include other forms which are taught in Fretboard Theory and The CAGED Template Chord System DVD.
Subscribe to the free previews and you’ll also receive free tab for many of these tunes. I’ve included special details along with the notation that correspond to what you learn in Fretboard Theory about chords. These songs range from beginner level through advanced and make perfect exercises for developing chording technique. The better you learn these and play along the more you’ll train your ear too!
“Take It Easy” The Eagles Gtr. Intro
“Stairway to Heaven” Led Zeppelin Gtr. Intro
“Sample in a Jar” Phish Gtr. Intro
“Down Boys” Warrant Gtr. Intro
“Free Ride” Edgar Winter Group Gtr. Intro, Verse
“Let It Ride” Bachman-Turner Overdrive Gtr. Intro/Verse
“You Ain’t Seen Nothin” Yet” Bachman-Turner Overdrive Gtr. Intro/Verse
“Funk 49″ The James Gang Gtr. Intro/Verse
“Domino” Van Morrison Gtr. Intro/Verse
“All Right Now” Free Gtr. Intro/Verse
“Firehouse” Kiss Gtr. Intro, Verse/Chorus
“What I Like About You” The Romantics Gtr. Intro, Verse/Chorus
“Jack and Diane” John Mellencamp Gtr. Intro, Interlude
“Change the World” Eric Clapton Gtr. Verse
“Crazy Train” Ozzy Osbourne Gtr. Verse
“Plush” Stone Temple Pilots Gtr. Verse
“In Too Deep” Sum 41 Gtr. 3 Verse
“In and Out of Love” Bon Jovi Gtr. Verse, Bridge
“Wait” White Lion Gtr. Verse, Interlude
“I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” ZZ Top Gtr. Chorus
“Stay Together for the Kids” Blink 182 Gtr. Chorus
“Cult of Personality” Living Colour Gtr. Bridge
“316″ Van Halen Gtr. Throughout
“Start Me Up” The Rolling Stones Open-G tuning, Gtr.
“Honky Tonk Woman” The Rolling Stones Open-G tuning, Gtr.
“Brown Sugar” The Rolling Stones Open-G tuning, Gtr.