The CAGED System (Guitar Lesson)

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Chris Liepe

The CAGED System

Chris breaks down the CAGED system and its chord chemistry. He covers both major and minor chord forms.

Taught by Chris Liepe in Rock Guitar with Chris Liepe seriesLength: 35:06Difficulty: 3.5 of 5
Lesson 5: Intro to the CAGED System

This lesson not only covers the basic "CAGED" forms but also breaks them apart in a way that helps players use these shapes to generate different types of chords and 'mini' positions that are easier to apply in everyday playing. When first learning the neck in this way, it is easy to stop at the "learning the chords" stage. Don't stop here! Use these shapes as a starting point towards more creative chord and lead playing.

The lesson begins with the basic major shapes. Refer to the accompanying TAB to see the full positions charted out in the key of C. Some of these are easier to play than others. As demonstrated in the video, practice playing the entire chord, but also practice playing part of it. You'll find some very useful three string 'mini' chords. I've suggested fingerings in the video, but make sure you experiment with different fingerings depending on how much of the chord you are playing, what your chord progression looks like, and what feels most natural.

Practice moving these basic shapes around to different keys, and learn how you can play basic I-IV-V progressions using neighboring forms.

Next, you want to look at the "chemistry" of each chord. In other words, how is the chord built? Where are the root notes located within the chord? Where are the thirds and fifths? In the basic major positions, that's all we have to worry about note-wise, but learning how the chord is built helps you generate different types of chords by simply moving notes and adjusting your finger position accordingly. It is beneficial to learn chords by studying a chord book or pages of charts, but learning how to figure out new chords based on positions you already know will help you learn how to apply them more appropriately in your playing.

This lesson shows you how to figure out different chord extensions and suspensions, but I have intentionally not tabbed out all the chords that are covered, because the goal is to learn the method of modifying familiar chords for various musical ideas rather than simply sharing a list of chords. Let's look at the chemistry of this "C" form C chord played at the 12th fret:

C Form at the 12th Fret

The root is on the 5th string. The third is on the 4th string, and the fifth is on the 3rd string. There is another root on the 2nd string and another third on the 1st string. When written shorthand, the chemistry of the chord looks like this: R35R3

We know that if a major third is lowered by a half step, it becomes a minor 3rd. So, if we look at the position written above and lower the third that is present on the 4th string and then eliminate the third on the 1st string for ease of playing, we've created a C minor chord based on the 12th fret, C Major "C" form chord. Here's what the chart looks like with some suggested fingerings:
B_13_finger 3
G_12_finger 1
D_13_finger 2
A_15_finger 4

You could create a Csus4 chord (a chord with the root, fourth and fifth, but without the third) out of the original position by raising the third on the 4th string one fret. Again, eliminate the third played on the 1st string to make it easier to play.
B_13_finger 2
G_12_finger 1
D_15_finger 4
A_15_finger 3

The video demonstrates various positions for sus2 and sus4 chords as well as some 7th and 9/add9 chords. Here is a list of the chemistry for those chords:
sus2: R25
sus4: R45
maj7: R357
min7: Rb35b7
7: R35b7
add 9: R359
By definition, a "sus4" chord removes the third and replaces it with the fourth. An "add" chord adds a note other than the 7th but retains the whole basic chord (R35). For example, an "add9" chord contains, R359, but a chord that contains R3579 would be called a "major 9" chord.

As you're modifying the 'CAGED' shapes, be conscious of what notes you are changing. Start with the duplicate chord tones as demonstrated in the examples above. If you must remove one of the three fundamental chord tones, (R35) start with the 5th.

Experiment, make music, and have fun!

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

100percentbajan100percentbajan replied

A very interesting and helpful lesson thanks for explaining the benefits and practical application of this method

Southern CashSouthern Cash replied

The chord chemistry is awesome and yes, i do own the infamous book title "Chord Chemistry" but i had to put it down due to it's advanced nature. I understand completely the logic and theory of your lesson, however learning and applying will take years. Great lesson!

chrisbourgeoischrisbourgeois replied

Thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from exponentially Chris's explanation of chord chemistry as it applies to the Caged System. I've been fiddling with the guitar for years, but in this last year especially, I have grown so much more than I could on my own. Thanks for sharing your expertise. Thanks, Chris

kingpinned89kingpinned89 replied

Hey chris at the end of the lesson you have asked us to play the dominant 7ths but the chords are not given in the supp content.. please provide or look into the matter thanks..

elishelish replied

Hi Chris. Why the supplemental content has a clear chord shapes for the major shapes in the CAGED system, but there is no such for minor chords? I do see list of various Cm shapes across the neck but I was looking for something more generic like the shapes. Am I missing something here? Thank you.

rockingoutrockingout replied

Chris, are these new C chords that you went over Csus2, Csus4, Cmajor 7th etc. do these fall into chords that can be played in the Key of C?

hummonkeyhummonkey replied

Chord chemistry lesson is tops. Been through lessons many times and finally feeling easy about rummaging around the neck. Hope it holds off my decrepitude.

donnydarkodonnydarko replied

Chris, this is all based off of the major scale system, right? I'm still pretty new to theory so it a little tough to hold back a stupid question.

Chris.LiepeChris.Liepe replied

yes, not a dumb question at all

jasperkinsjasperkins replied

Good stuff but the having the mic mounted on your throat and hearing you swallow and gulp every time makes me want to kick my cat.

mycarmycar replied

This one of the best explanations of the caged system I've ever seen. Chris, you really seem to have a talent for teaching theory in an accessible way. Even though I'm an acoustic finger picking guy, I go to your rock lessons for the theory stuff.

john_john_103john_john_103 replied

One the supplemental content link it shows C - "E" form on the 8th fret. It says 5th string root. Shouldn't it be 6th string root?

Chris.LiepeChris.Liepe replied

yes, it should, sorry about that!

john_john_103john_john_103 replied

Sorry about the way my previous comment sounded. I'm new to the stuff and confused. Just trying to work my way through it. I think your training is excellent!!! Thank you so much.

Chris.LiepeChris.Liepe replied

no problem!

bugeyes22bugeyes22 replied

Chris is a fantastic teacher. He has the talent of breaking complex ideas down into familiar concepts, this is awesome stuff...

byronmatherbyronmather replied

dammit back to phase 1 for me

dearlpittsdearlpitts replied

love your lessons-thanx

theguitarlegendtheguitarlegend replied

Nice Man! very informative,great lesson as always! Keep Rocking! ;)

rhoadsfreakrhoadsfreak replied

Great lesson Chris

Rock Guitar with Chris Liepe

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Instrumental Rock carries with it many creative aspects both in writing and playing. By the end of this series, Chris will have covered almost everything you will need to know to create and play your very own melodic instrumental rock piece, with emotion!

Rock Essentials IntroductionLesson 1

Rock Essentials Introduction

Chris Liepe introduces his Phase 2 Rock Essentials lesson series. By highlighting specific instrumental rock styles and techniques, Chris will help you become a more melodically creative player.

Length: 3:57 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
3 on a String ScalesLesson 2

3 on a String Scales

Chris Liepe starts off his Rock Essentials series with a lesson on 3 on a string scales. Utilizing 3, 4, and 6 note sequencing, Chris begins to dive into instrumental rock style phrasing and provides several...

Length: 37:00 Difficulty: 3.5 FREE
Pentatonic Scales, Sequencing, and Lick IdeasLesson 3

Pentatonic Scales, Sequencing, and Lick Ideas

Chris introduces the pentatonic scales as well as some of their basic applications.

Length: 19:35 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Chord NumberingLesson 4

Chord Numbering

Chris Liepe takes some time to explain chord numbering. Understanding how chords are built will only help in your overall knowledge of the guitar.

Length: 16:25 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
The CAGED SystemLesson 5

The CAGED System

Chris breaks down the CAGED system and its chord chemistry. He covers both major and minor chord forms.

Length: 35:06 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Sweep PickingLesson 6

Sweep Picking

Chris digs into the sweep picking technique. He uses the C, A, and E forms introduced in the previous lesson to help with finger synchronization.

Length: 27:15 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Introduction to ModesLesson 7

Introduction to Modes

Chris moves on to the subject of modes. He explains where modes come from, how they sound, and how they are used.

Length: 30:04 Difficulty: 4.0 Members Only
Modal Pentatonic ScalesLesson 8

Modal Pentatonic Scales

This lesson demonstrates how to modify the old trusty 5th fret A minor pentatonic position to make it sound modal.

Length: 10:30 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Modal Chord ProgressionsLesson 9

Modal Chord Progressions

How do you know which mode to use? There are giveaways with every chord progression, and Chris covers them in this lesson.

Length: 17:12 Difficulty: 4.0 Members Only
Complete Major / Minor Scale Using Penatonic ScalesLesson 10

Complete Major / Minor Scale Using Penatonic Scales

Chris demonstrates how to complete the major and minor scale by using pentatonic positions based on the roots of the I, IV, and V chords.

Length: 14:52 Difficulty: 4.5 Members Only
Melodic DevelopmentLesson 11

Melodic Development

Chris Liepe utilizes everything he has taught in the series so far to demonstrate how to create catchy lead lines over a backing track.

Length: 15:30 Difficulty: 4.0 Members Only
Implied TonalitiesLesson 12

Implied Tonalities

Chris Liepe delves into the world of implied tonalities. This lesson details how a single arpeggio can be implied over various chordal sounds.

Length: 25:40 Difficulty: 4.0 Members Only
Series Introduction Solo Lesson (Composed Soloing)Lesson 13

Series Introduction Solo Lesson (Composed Soloing)

Chris teaches the solo that was used in the introduction lesson for this series. He uses the solo as an example of how to effectively compose your own solos.

Length: 22:09 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
2 Hand TappingLesson 14

2 Hand Tapping

It's time to give the right hand hand some work with two hand tapping on the guitar neck.

Length: 31:26 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Thoughts on PracticeLesson 15

Thoughts on Practice

With so much material out there, what should you focus on? How much time do you spend on a certain topic? How do you progress? How do you measure progress? Chris covers all of these topics in this lesson.

Length: 17:16 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Get to Know Chris LiepeLesson 16

Get to Know Chris Liepe

Chris Liepe offers up some insight into his past. Hopefully this lesson will help you further your own goals as a guitarist.

Length: 11:42 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Chris Liepe

About Chris Liepe View Full Biography Chris Liepe was born on September 17th, 1981 in Portland OR. His first instrument was piano which he pursued until discovering his love for the electric guitar in high school. He became fans of such groups as Soundgarden, Collective Soul and U2 inspiring him to start singing, songwriting and helping others in their musical endeavors with teaching, co-writing and album production.

Having moved to Colorado with his family, he began gigging, recording and teaching in a number of music stores as well as out of his apartment until deciding to pursue music full time. He moved to Denver, CO to complete a Bachelors in Music Technology and was then hired on by Sweetwater Productions, a division of Sweetwater Sound and one of the largest, most successful recording studios in the Midwest.

Chris spent nearly 4 years at Sweetwater as a producer, recording engineer, studio musician and writer. During this time he had the privilege of working with many artists including Augustana, Landon Pigg, Jars of Clay, and Mercy Me. He also wrote for and played on numerous independent albums and hundreds of radio/TV commercials.

Wanting to get back to his favorite State in the world (Colorado) and feeling the urge to 'go freelance', Chris moved to Greeley, CO and opened his own recording and teaching studio. He continues to write and produce music for artists and agencies and is happy to be among the proud instructors.

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