The CAGED System 2: The Major Scale and the Minor Pentatonic Scale

In CAGED Part 1, we saw how the CAGED system can be used to help beginner-intermediate players to visualise the chords shapes across the fretboard. Today we’ll apply the same idea to scale shapes.


As we’ve seen (see CAGED Part 1), for fingering patterns to overlap we need to ensure that the roots link up properly. As long as we know our root octave shapes we can build ANY shape scale, chord or otherwise, around it. So lets begin by simplifying the CAGED system to its barest – the octave root shapes.

Simplified CAGED Shapes

The CAGED shapes as we know it so far, with the full chords:

fig-1

Stripping the above chord shapes of everything but the roots (marked ‘R’) gives us the following:

fig-2

The Major Scale

You should already familiar with this basic major scale shape:

Fig 3

The positions of the roots in this scale match the ‘E’ shape in the CAGED system.

Accordingly there are four other standard major scale shapes which fit around the roots of the remaining shapes ‘C’, ‘A’, ‘G’ and ‘D’. Here is a complete diagram of the major scale shapes in the CAGED system. Each scale fits perfectly within the octave shapes

fig-4

Below is the same diagram but with a few notes added in grey. These grey notes are outside the octave shapes but are still notes of the scale.

Fig 5

The Minor Pentatonic Scale

The minor pentatonic scale is one of the first scales we learn, and is certainly one of the most common scales in the majority of guitar music. Its definitely a good idea to learn the minor pentatonic in all CAGED positions. Note how these shapes also built off the CAGED octave shapes.

fig-6

If you just want to know the scale shapes then the above diagrams are all you really need to know, but those interested in knowing how I arrived at those shapes can read on.

(Very Brief) Theory

For a fretboard map of the C major scale, we need the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B in all of their different possible occurrences on the fretboard. (Understanding which notes belong to what scale is beyond this article but I’ll make a post on major scale construction in the near future).

By referring to ‘Finding the Notes Part 1′ and ‘Finding the Notes Part 2′ you can locate every possible occurrence of the seven notes of the C major scale.

But realistically there will be precious few readers who can actually be bothered figuring it all out on their own, so here is a complete diagram to move things along (complete for for 25 frets).

fig-7

This large fretboard map is a little difficult to comprehend as a whole. The next step is to break it down into its logical parts – one scale for each octave root shape.

Fig 8

… And Ta-Da we’ve found the CAGED shapes!

P.S. Terminology

The CAGED shapes can also be referred to by position numbers, however the numbering system isn’t very intuitive since the numbering starts from the letter ‘E’ in CAGED, rather than sensibly starting with the letter ‘C’.

So…

  • Position 1 refers to the ‘E’ shape chord or scale
  • Position 2 refers to the ‘D’ shape chord or scale
  • Position 3 refers to the ‘C’ shape chord or scale
  • Position 4 refers to the ‘A’ shape chord or scale
  • Position 5 refers to the ‘G’ shape chord or scale

Why is the numbering system and the CAGED system so un-intuitively incompatible? I honestly don’t know and unfortunately we’ve just got to accept it and deal with it.

Although many people will use the numbering system from time-to-time, on this site I generally refrain from using it. Using the numbering system instead on the CAGED system can get very confusing very quickly – especially when we study the 3NPS scale fingerings which are numbered slightly differently again!

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8 Comments

  1. Gianfranco says:

    I think you have mislabelled the E and G shapes respectively. E should be G and viceversa.

  2. Julle says:

    Hi ! wanted to say thank you for your kind way of explaining the scales and modes. Was looking a lot on the net to have a simple picture and clear explanation and I finally found it here, and it took a while to find accurate information.

  3. Jay Cee says:

    Hey Ty,

    Thanks for literally connecting the dots. I had the wrong idea about the shape relationships, it’s about the roots shapes, not the chord shape the CAGED position is named after. Also appreciate you relating the CAGED shape to numeric positions. This is really going to be helpful…

  4. applebase says:

    hey..
    thanks man, this is proving to be a useful resource.
    Nice one.

  5. Pavel Ghosh says:

    On the 2nd set of diagrams from top (where you only show the root notes), in the C-shape the relative positions of the two root notes are not correct! They should be one fret closer to each other.

    But I should thank that it is a really nice website to convey somewhat not so clear ideas in very simple terms.

  6. Ryan Lepianka says:

    As noted above, your C position diagram has an error in it. The B string root note should be raised a half step. Otherwise very nice, helpful explanation. Thank you so much for taking the time to create this and put it out there for us beginners!

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