10 Levels of The CAGED System: Fretboard Visualisation 101

The CAGED System

In this post I’ll be discussing and demonstrating 10 levels of The CAGED System. CAGED has revolutionised my approach to the guitar beyond what I could have possibly imagined.

When I first discovered CAGED, I thought that it was just a beginners tool. It wasn’t until one of my guitar heroes emphasised how important it is that I took it seriously, and I hope that I’m able to relay that emphasis to you today!

The order in which I present the 10 levels does not reflect how I recommend you to practice The CAGED System, but instead it is designed to demonstrate the increasing complexity that can be achieved by learning The CAGED System.

For a structured and systematic practice plan of how to practice CAGED, see my CAGED Fretboard Visualisation Masterclass. Now, let’s delve into those 10 levels!

Level 1 – The CAGED Shapes

This level focuses on building and navigating between the 5 core CAGED shapes, which are based on familiar open chord shapes.

The CAGED shapes are designed to be transposable shapes, which can be put together by replacing the nut (open strings) of each open chord with the index finger.

Below is an example of each CAGED shape transposed to a D major chord. The yellow notes represent the notes you should play. Grey notes are neighbouring notes that belong to the triad.

C Shape:

A Shape:

G Shape:

E Shape:

D Shape:

Level 2 – Minor CAGED

In this level, we minorise the major CAGED shapes by flattening all 3rds. It’s noticeably more difficult to play these shapes because the finger positions can be awkward, so whilst it’s important to be aware of the notes you should play, it’s best to omit the notes that are difficult to lay your fingers on.

Level 3 – Basic Chord Progressions

Now you know the CAGED shapes, you can start using the CAGED shapes in a musical setting!

Here’s a challenge for you to try. Take a familiar chord progression that you would likely play using barre chord shapes. Now try to transpose those chords to one single position of the neck.

In the video, I demonstrate a I-IV-vi-V progression in E major using various CAGED voicings. Each of the chords are played within a 5-6 fret span of the neck. This will not only help build your chord vocabulary, but will later become very helpful when improvising through arpeggios and scales 😉

This level emphasises practical application.

Level 4 – Triad Arpeggios:

Here, we move from chords to single-note melodies built from the triad tones. Remember those grey notes from the diagrams in Level 1? Both Grey and Yellow notes from the diagrams show you the notes of each CAGED position that belong to the corresponding triad arpeggio (D major).

Once you’re confident playing these notes from each position, both ascending and descending, you’ll begin adding more melodic depth to your playing.

Level 5 – Triad Chords

Now that you can identify the triad arpeggios that belong to each position, you can begin grouping the notes from neighbouring strings together to form 3-note (Triad) chords. This is what’s known as closed voiced triads.

This is where your chord vocabulary will begin to grow exponentially, which is very exciting!

Level 6 – Spread Voiced Triads

We explore more advanced triad voicings that are spread across non-consecutive strings. This can be achieved by taking the middle note from closed voiced triads, and playing it an octave higher or lower.

Music that comes to mind when I think about spread voiced triads is the opening of Cliffs Of Dover Live from Austin Texas (0:00 – 0:50 in this video):

This technique is great for chord-melody playing and adds a touch of sophistication to your arrangements.

Level 7 – Extended Arpeggios

Building on the foundation of triads, we can begin to add extensions like the 7th, 9th, 11th, and 13th degrees of chords. This level introduces new chord flavours, and enriches your harmonic vocabulary tenfold!

To achieve this level of playing, it’s important to work from the notes you’re most familiar with – the triad. For example, to find the 11th degree (4th), you should first identify where the 3rd is before moving a whole step up to the 11th/4th degree.

Once you can begin identifying where the extended tones are, you can start to play each of the notes sequentially to form more exciting and colourful arpeggios.

Level 8 – Building Scales

Scales are a small extension beyond the arpeggios. A simple place to start is the major scale, followed by the natural minor scale, but there’s much more to learn beyond this!

Once you become proficient at identifying intervals quickly on the neck, it will become very easy for you to build scales on-the-spot. This is an essential skill for improvisation, especially over more complex harmonic changes.

Level 9 – Extended Chords

Playing notes in sequential order is not nearly as difficult as playing groups of notes together! We’re limited to 4 fingers, and 6 strings, so it’s necessary to make quick decisions about the order of notes, and which notes to omit.

This level requires an understanding of chord construction. In the video provided, I demonstrate chord voicings and accompany them with an improvised melody, showcasing the harmonically rich sounds of extended chords.

Level 10 – Melodic Freedom:

In this final level, you have complete freedom to visualise the guitar neck and play both melody and harmony without a struggle!

CAGED will alleviate the trial and error of finding notes on the neck, and will instead allow you to communicate more effectively from your brain to your fingers 💪

Summary

I hope this demonstration gives you insight into the creative possibilities of the CAGED system. If you’re interested in a structured practice plan on how to master these skills and beyond, consider joining me here on Fretwise for a comprehensive learning experience! Keep practicing and have fun exploring the vast possibilities of the CAGED system!

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