The CAGED Positions
Finding The Positions
Let’s go ahead and learn how to find and identify the location of each CAGED position, and how they all connect together. We’ll stick to the key of D, as we previously began to explore in the last lesson.
Each of the CAGED positions connect to their neighbour in some way by using pivot notes. Some positions have more pivot notes than others. It is important to note that the order of the CAGED positions will always remain the same, both forwards and backwards, and repeat infinitely into the surrounding octaves until you run out of frets.
To make it absolutely clear, we will start by playing each position in its open form for reference, before transposing it to the correct key (D).
You’ll remember from the previous lesson that we started off with the C-shape D chord, which we found by moving the open C-shape up a whole step:
The yellow notes represent the notes of the parent shape, and the grey notes complete the additional triad notes that exist within that position.
You’ll notice that for this position, and every position that you encounter, you will need to trade the open strings/nut with a barre (your first finger) when transposing the open-shape to the destination key.
For this demonstration we are beginning on the C-shape, but it is not always necessary to start with this shape. We could start this sequence on the D-shape, by playing the open D chord. However, since the open D chord has an open string, we will overlook that shape because it is not transposable without putting a finger in place of the nut.
Let’s move on to the next position in the sequence, the A-shape. I encourage that you begin with the open a chord shape, before replacing the nut with a barre (first finger), and then moving the shape up to the D note (5th fret):
You’ll notice that the C-shape and the A-shape have a note in common, which is the root note. It should be easy for you to pivot between the C-shape and A-shape by using this note as your reference.
At this point I would like to clarify the terms “shape” and “position”. “Shape” refers to the geometrical layout of the notes, in relation to their original open position. “Position” refers to the entire section of the CAGED system that you are in.
Next in the order of positions is the G-shape. Once again, I encourage that you begin with an open G chord, before replacing the nut with a barre (first finger), and then moving the shape up to the D note:
You’ll notice that the A-shape and the G-shape have 3 notes in common, which are the 5th, Root, and 3rd, on the D, G, and B strings. You will be able to use this as a visual aid, rather than having to count your way up the neck from the open position to the desired root note/key.
The next shape in the sequence is the E-shape. We’ll begin with our open E chord, before replacing the nut with a barre (first finger), and then moving the shape up to the D note:
Just like we did with the C-shape and the A-shape, you will be able to pivot on the primary root note between the G-shape and the E-shape.
The last shape in the sequence is the D-shape. We have already established that the open D chord is perfectly fine and in key, so can be left as it. But to demonstrate how this shape can be transposed, we will move this shape up an octave:
The common note between the E-shape and the D-shape is the Root note on the D string. You will be able to use this as a visual reference when transitioning between these two shapes.
From the D-shape, you can continue moving up the neck by following the order of the sequence from the C-shape again:
Once you have reached the highest position of the neck that you can comfortably play, try to descend the sequence back down to the original C-shape, D chord.
It’s in your hands now to practice these shapes in their respective order, both ascending and descending the neck. Focus your attention to the pivot notes which connect each of the shapes together. This visual reference will allow you to play the CAGED positions in any key that you choose, and understand how each position connects to the next.
To clarify what we have done in this lesson, we have simply played a D chord in 5 different positions of the neck. Each position has a different layout, which you can consider the frameworks of a fretboard map.
Below is the full fretboard diagram of the CAGED positions (triads), within one octave. I have outlined the positions so that it’s clear to see the notes that each shape has in common:
Once you’ve got the hang of how these shapes connect, try this yourself in a different key!
I’d like you to both ascend and descend the neck, passing through each CAGED position sequentially until you either run out of frets or reach an octave. Do this with 3 different chords of your choosing.