The CAGED System for learning how to play guitar is used for learning music theory with a guitar, but at its core, it’s a hands-on, practical system. Theory is great, but it is the application of theory that actually makes it useful.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty and learning songs as soon as you can is the way to go, in my opinion. Theory can always be revisited.
So if the CAGED System appeals to you in any way, but you have felt the approach was too heavy on theory and light on action, then I have seven songs for you to put the CAGED System to work.
- “Take A Picture” – Filter
- “Slide” – Goo Goo Dolls
- “Scar Tissue” – Red Hot Chili Peppers
- “Miles and Miles” – Matt Mayfield
- “Multiplied” – NeedToBreathe
- “So Damn Lucky” – Dave Matthews
- “Crazy Train” – Ozzy Osbourne
1. Take A Picture – Filter
There are two approaches to playing this song on the acoustic guitar. The first is the more authentic way, which is to tune to Drop-D (D-A-D-G-B-E) and play the chords as seen in the tutorial video. The second is to play in standard tuning which sounds just fine, it’s just missing those unique tonal identifiers.
Filter – Take A Picture (Acoustic Guitar Lesson)
A standard “A major” is made using the “E shape” from CAGED. When keeping the second and first strings open, this creates “Aadd9”. For a more open sound with a lower “A” note, simply open the fifth string. In drop-D, one can simply make a “D major” chord by essentially making a “C” two frets up.
The A in “Take A Picture” is embellished by sliding to it from two frets below. Both the D and the A will use the suspended 4 extension to give the chord some movement.
Using CAGED and a little technique (embellishment), the A to D chord progression has been given more life and become something much more unique and flavorful.
If you wish to not worry about dropping the tuning of your 6th string, a normal D and Dsus in the open position is perfectly acceptable.
2. Slide – The Goo Goo Dolls
John Rzeznik likes to play in open tunings, but for our purposes, we will approach this song in standard tuning. CAGED is useful here because, in order to play this song in the original key, a capo is needed. CAGED can be helpful in locating a capo position and determining which relative key or set of chords will be used.
If one were to learn the notes by ear, the chords would come out:
//: Fm7 – Eb / Db – Ab ://
It doesn’t take an advanced player to figure out that this is a very unfriendly guitar key as each of these chords must be barred.
Apply the E-shape to the Fm7, the D-shape to the Eb, the C-shape to the Db, and the G-shape to the Ab. What is produced is:
//: Em7 – D / Cadd9 – G :// only they are up one fret each.
That still doesn’t sound good because the open strings are a half-step too low, making the chords sound horrible. Placing the capo on the first fret makes the adjustment of the open strings to accommodate our key.
The Intro definitely is easier to play with the capo.
Here’s a basic lesson video:
Slide Goo Goo Dolls Guitar Tutorial 🎸Guitar Lesson |Easy Chords + TAB|
One thing that can be altered from this video is the part for the pre-chorus. Instead of playing an open position D major, we can apply the C-shape as we did with “Take A Picture”, and slide up from the third fret for a little embellishment.
Playing the PreChorus this way helps to retain the unique sound from the original recording which uses an alternate tuning.
3. Scar Tissue – Red Hot Chili Peppers
The ideas used in this song have CAGED written all over them and this is a common theme with the guitar work of the lead guitarist, John Frusciante.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers “Scar Tissue” Guitar Lesson
This song’s intro is simply F major to D minor: //: F / Dm ://
Playing the first- and open-position chords just doesn’t seem to cut it though, right? That’s because these chords are played way up the neck with only key notes being isolated to highlight the melody. Using CAGED, one can find these chord voicings which are the only chords that can be used to create these sounds.
By isolating the root note and the major third of the F and the minor third of the Dm, the melody can be played.
4. Miles And Miles – Matthew Mayfield
“Miles And Miles” is a great example of using the same chord shape for multiple chords to create a more open sound with a musical consistency between the chords. The key of E major is a perfect guitar key for this.
In the case of this particular song, the guitar is tuned a whole step down, making it in D major, but the relative positions of the chords are that of the E major key. In other words, tune the guitar down a whole step (D-G-C-F-A-D) and play the E major chords.
The actual chords being used are D, G, A, and Bm. Tuned down, the relative chords are E, A, B, C#m. The same method of using CAGED for finding a capo position can be used for drop tuning as well. Drop tuning is essentially a “reverse capo”.
It’s no tutorial, but this video will help give you a visual of how these chords are being made:
Matthew Mayfield “Miles and Miles” | indieATL Session
Two shapes dominate this key – the E and A shapes. Occasionally, shapes can be combined. The chords in this chart will be written as the original performance, dropped down a whole step using the actual chords. The relative chords will be in parentheses. Annotations are provided above the chords, indicating the shape being used from CAGED.
This key (E for standard, D for dropped) is very versatile as it uses a lot of open strings, making the chords and their various shapes very accessible.
5. Multiplied – NEEDTOBREATHE
Having performed this song about as much as the band, I can just about do this one in my sleep. This is an example of using chord shapes other than open position, but also incorporating open strings. Here’s a video I did many years ago showing how to play this song. Man, I was just a kid!
How To Play: “Multiplied” by NEEDTOBREATHE
Capo on the third fret and use A and D shapes.
The capo allows the first string to remain open for the hammer-on used for each chord for the song’s signature guitar part. This song is fingerpicked, so that could add a slight degree of difficulty if your fingers are not used to this playing style, but as finger-picked songs go, this one is a pretty simple pattern.
6. So Damn Lucky – Dave Matthews
Like him or not (my oldest son is named after him), Dave is a fantastic guitar player. This song’s unique approach to the simple E and A chords shows just what can be done using the CAGED System. Just look at how a chord can evolve.
This shows the journey of the E chord from its open position up to the A position. Then it morphs to a first inversion which is part of the G shape. The G and A shapes are similar here, so it’s a bit of a hybrid. The note on the third string (the E octave) is moved up two frets which is the 9th note of the scale, thus the Eadd9 is created.
“A” has a similar evolution, creating an even more unique sounding A chord. These chords are used because while they have a couple of note changes, they share many chord tones in order to create a motif, which is an important concept in songwriting.
As with other songs, when chords come together with embellishment, great things happen. Here, a simple hammer-on creates the melodic and rhythmic movements that give the song its unique voice.
Take a look at this tutorial video to get more description and to learn more of the song:
So Damn Lucky-Guitar Tutorial-Dave Matthews Band
7. Crazy Train – Ozzy Osbourne
I dare say this song is a requirement if you want to learn how to play the electric guitar. There is an in-depth video lesson series on this song, part one of which can be seen here:
Ozzy Osbourne – Crazy Train Guitar Lesson Pt.1 – Main Riff & Verse
The CAGED System can be used here to learn the main riff along with the intro chords. First, with the riff, learning the basic minor scale helps. Each chord shape has a corresponding major scale shape.
Each major scale has a relative minor scale:
C major = A minor
A major = F# minor
G major = E minor
E major = C# minor
D major = B minor
In the case of “Crazy Train”, the key of the song is A major, with the riff being played in the relative minor of F#m. All “relative minor” means is that the notes of the major and minor scale are the same, only the root note changes from the “one” (major) to the “six” (minor).
F#m as a chord is typically played in the second position which is based on the Em shape. The scale shape of E minor can then be used. The Em scale shape is the relative minor of the G shape (see diagram above).
Notice these first 8 notes correspond with the G-shaped A major scale, only instead of the root note being “A”, it’s “F#”. This uses the relative minor shape (Em) to form the scale shape of this key.
Admittedly, this can be a complicated way of figuring a scale or which scale position to use, but it works for some people. I have found that learning the 3-note-per-string method and using it in partnership with CAGED works great.
The chords used in the second half of the intro are E and D, but they employ the C-shape while keeping the low A (open 5th string) as the bass note.
Here’s the hook line of the song using the scale:
And here are the chords in action:
Try learning some songs on your own by ear, or with the help of some video & tab, and use the CAGED System to help guide your way as you work up and down the guitar neck. While CAGED is not the end-all-be-all for learning songs, it can certainly help guitar players of all levels to better navigate the disordered fretboard when trying to learn their favorite songs.