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Guitar Lessons • Practical Uses Of The CAGED System • Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd), Still Got The Blues (Gary Moore)
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I have been teaching guitar professionally since 1992, when Don’t Fret Guitar Instruction was established. Over the years, I have taught countless students (beginners to advanced) how to play or improve their chops.
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The CAGED system is a way of relating Major scales to different chord shapes. It can unlock the entire fretboard when studied with diligence. However, it is a huge study and students tend to get bogged down during the learning process. In it's simplest form, it is the major scales associated with the open chords of C Major, A Major, G Major, E Major and D Major. This is an excellent starting point and quite easy to understand. Some genres are closely associated with the CAGED system. Country players use it all the time, because they tend to go with the chords as opposed to applying one scale to a progression, as blues players commonly do. That is, country guitarists change scales to match the chords. For example, if the chord is C Major use the related C Major scale. If the movement is to the fourth, F Major, move to the F Major scale. This is definitely harder than maintaining one scale shape, say Cm Pentatonic as a blues guitarist would do.
I have transcribed a solo in the style of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb as the first example. Of course you could play this in one position, but moving into different parts of the fretboard aids in visualizing the movement and keeps the solo flowing with repeated fingerings. Much easier to memorize this way.
In The Style Of Comfortably Numb Solo • Measure One
I have notated the chord first and then the corresponding scale for each measure. This D Major shape is the same as the common open shape down at the other end of the fretboard. Even though there is only two notes played from the scale, I have transcribed the whole scale shape. Try strumming the chord and then play the scale. Be aware of where the two notes fall in the scale. This is the important part of the exercise, visualizing the melody within the scale shape. It should be easy in this measure. Scale spelling low to high is: E F♯ G A B C♯ D E F♯ G A B C♯ D E F♯ G
In this measure the chord movement is to A Major. This is the D shaped A Major chord along with the related scale. The last three notes of the measure outline an A Major triad: C♯ (third), A (root), E (fifth). All of these notes are still in the key of D Major, but it is much easier to think of this as an A Major. Scale spelling low to high is: B C♯ D E F♯ G♯ A B C♯ D E F♯ G♯ A B C♯ D
The shift is back up to the original scale position.
This measure moves back to the A Major scale shape. Since there is no G♯ being played (the seventh degree of the A Major scale), you could think of this run as being contained in D Major.
Measures Five and Six
Even though the chord movement is C Major to G Major in these two measures, the melody stays in D Major. I have illustrated the G shaped D Major chord and the related scale. Scale spelling low to high: B C♯ D E F♯ G A B C♯ D E F♯G A B C♯ D. Something to note here, in measure five there is an F♯ being played on a C Major chord. This is a flat 5th and should sound dissonant. However, the ear is already used to hearing the parent scale (D Major) and the sound is more pleasing than dissonant. Also, the phrase does not resolve on the F♯.
The shift back to the original scale position.
This measure has modulated to the key of G Major, with the C♯ moving to C natural. The chord shape is the common open shape on the twelfth fret. Scale spelling is low to high: E F♯ G A B C D E F♯ G A B C D E F♯ G.
In The Style Of I've Still Got The Blues • Measures One and Two
This is a variation of the main guitar melody from Gary Moore's I've Still Got The Blues. I think this is a better example of these scale shapes in action, definitely easier to see.
The chord shape is the common root 6 barre shape (the E shape)
The melody notes are voiced along the third string and the ascending runs are scale wise. The first target note is the dotted eighth F natural in measure two. I have approached this note starting on the fifth of the C Major scale: G. Once again I have included the full C Major scale pattern on the grid. Scale spelling low to high is: C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E.
Measures Three and Four
Measures Five and Six
Measures Seven and Eight
The last notes of this exercise are all from the C Major scale of measures five and six.
The fingering patterns for these scales can be found at Music Theory For Guitarists • Key Signatures • CAGED System. As I stated previously, all of these example could be played in one position. Learning these patterns and moving around the fretboard will open up the guitar. Pattern playing can get stale, try not to get bogged down in it. If you learn a lick, work it out in as many different octaves, frets and fingerings as you can. Something that might be very hard to play in one position, might be much easier in another.