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How To Apply The CAGED System For Guitar • Sharp and Flat Key Signatures, Scale Patterns, Video Lessons, In-depth Theory

Updated on March 22, 2020

Music Rudiments

The Basis of Music
The Basis of Music
This is the book I used for my Grade two theory. Compact and to the point, and very inexpensive.


Because the guitar is such a popular, easier to learn instrument, most guitarists have little knowledge of music theory. I remember reading an interview with Eddie Van Halen. He said he had no theory background, and even went so far as to state that he has no knowledge of scales. I believe this is not true. Granted, his playing has always been off the wall and very untraditional, but he MUST have some idea of what he is doing and where he is going on the fretboard.

When you are playing in position, you are working within the confines of a scale. Even if you play notes outside of the scale, you are simply moving into another scale. Certainly, some musicians are strictly ear players (they play what sounds good), but they are still playing patterns that work for them, patterns that they have played before, with a slight variation in timing or phrasing to make them sound new. I really do not believe in all-out improvisation. We simply rework what we know.

The Circle Of Fifths

This wheel represents the all the sharp and flat key signatures. Clockwise for Major and related minor sharp keys, counterclockwise for Major and related minor flat keys. It is a visual representation of the relationships among the twelve tones of the chromatic scale (on guitar, this is a distance of one fret), their corresponding key signatures, and the associated major and minor keys. The diagram aids in composition and changing keys (modulation) within a song. The movement is an interval of a fifth. For example: start with C Major, move clockwise up five scale steps in the major scale (C D E F G) an you arrive at the next key on the circle, G Major.

When moving counterclockwise, the movement is ASCENDING fourths. For example: F Major to B flat Major is the ascending interval of a fourth. The keys overlap at the bottom of the diagram. These keys are said to be enharmonic. They sound exactly the same, but are written differently (in the same way F sharp and G flat sound the same, but notated differently).

Traditionally, the circle of fifths is used in the analysis of classical music, whereas the circle of fourths is used in the analysis of jazz music, but this is not exclusive.

The Circle Of Fifths

The CAGED System

This is the foundation for the 'CAGED System' (Major scale fingerings have a related Major chord shape). CAGED is the designation for the following keys: C Major, A Major, G Major, E Major, and D Major. Play the related open position chord before and after the scale. When these scales and chords are moved into closed shapes (no open strings), the entire fretboard will be unlocked. This is a monumental task, and requires much practice, but is well worth the effort.

CAGED System • Chords And Related Scales

C Major CAGED System

The C Major chord notated in five positions, in the designated shapes, with the related Major scale patterns. Fingering is essential. You may find the fingering difficult at first, especially if you are not used to employing your fourth finger, but practice will make the difference. This first, second and fourth finger, five fret stretch, is standard and should be practiced until it is comfortable and the fret hand is static (don't move your hand, stretch your fingers). For the open position scale, use the same fingers as the frets. All these patterns and more are covered in the Berklee series: A Modern Method For Guitar. For other chords, simply determine the position on the fretboard, play the chord and then the related Major scale. The shapes and patterns will be the same.

C Major CAGED System

Video Description

Here is the video for the five positions notated. I have strummed the related chord before and after performing the scale. the scales are played at a slow and then a moderate tempo. These are great warmups. Once you have mastered the key of C Major (correct fingering and frets), move to G Major, D Major, etc. The scale shapes and fingerings will remain constant, only the fretboard positions will change. I have included an alternate fingering for Guns N' Roses Sweet Child O' Mine (key of D Major, tenth position). I find it easier to play in this position (although the finger stretches are challenging).

Guitar Video Lesson • Caged System In C Major

Sharp Keys

The silly saying for the order of sharps is 'Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle'. The key of C Major is the only key that does not contain any sharps or flats in the key signature. All the notes are natural: C D E F G A B C. The major scale MUST always follow this format: Tone (on guitar, a distance of two frets), Tone, Semitone (on guitar, a distance of one fret), Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone. This is the major scale structure and the reason behind key signatures. In the key Of G Major, one sharp must be added in order to have the arrangement of notes maintain this structure. It is quite simple actually:

C Major

C (tone) D (tone) E (semitone) F (tone) G (tone) A (tone) B (semitone) C

G Major

G (tone) A (tone) B (semitone) C (tone) D (tone) E (tone) F sharp (semitone) G

The way to find the key, if it contains sharps, is 'one semitone above the last sharp is the key name' For example: one semitone above F sharp is G, the key is G major. The only key that needs to be memorized is C Major, because there are no sharps or flats.

Flat Keys

In order to find the order of flats, simply reverse the silly saying for the order of sharps. Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles Father. The way to find the key, if it contains flats, is even easier than sharps. It is the second last flat. For example: the key of B flat Major contains two flats, B flat and E flat. The second last flat is obviously, B flat, that is the key name. The only flat key it does not work for is F Major, because it contains only one flat: B.

Flat keys must follow the same intervallic structure, because they are still Major scales. This is somewhat confusing for some students. Memorize the pattern: Tone Tone Semitone Tone Tone Tone Semitone.

I could not have said it better, great job on this video

© 2012 Lorne Hemmerling


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    • Lorne Hemmerling profile imageAUTHOR

      Lorne Hemmerling 

      7 years ago from Oshawa

      Yes, my friend, music is music, that will never change. Both instruments are written in the treble clef (although, keyboard music utilizes the bass clef also). If she understands the composition of chords on the guitar, she can relate that to keyboards. For example: C Major is C, E, G, find those notes on a keyboard, and it is still C Major. Refer to my hub, Harmonizing The Major Scale. That should help her relate the keyboard to the guitar.

    • zanaworld profile image

      SA Shameel 

      7 years ago from Bangalore

      My daughter is trying to pick up some keyboard lessons. Is there any similarity in learning guitar & keyboard.

      The drawing and notes in this pages look some what similar to keyboard one!

    • Lorne Hemmerling profile imageAUTHOR

      Lorne Hemmerling 

      7 years ago from Oshawa

      Thanks again, Rob!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This page is great too. Who needs guitar lessons with a site like this??? Thanks for the effort here.


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