Guitarists, Don't Get CAGED, Part 3

Why You Need to Stop Dividing Your Fretboard in 5 Today

Some experts claim to use a specific number of scale positions on a fretboard, do you know more than one? Do you think you need to learn more of these? And why am I even asking this question?

One of the ways many people are taught scales on the guitar fretboard is dividing it into a number of sections to learn separately (and later, hopefully, combine them together again). This is called it "position playing". However, it isn't without problems: for one, the number of sections players should break their fretboard into. While it doesn't seem like a big deal, this number can actually make a significant change in the way you play guitar.

Almost all scale systems use "position playing" to teach the scales. The one we are going to talk about here (as you can see from the title of this column) is the infamous CAGED system.

As it happens, when confronting most CAGED enthusiasts with a different chord/scale system, they are quick to say CAGED is the correct one, because the fretboard "naturally" divides into the five simple shapes used by the CAGED sys- tem (but more on this below). They will also tell you that this is a "consequence" of the standard tuning of the guitar.

In reality there are many reason why saying that the fretboard divides naturally in 5 "pattenrs" or "section" is a stretch. To keep from waxing too poetically I'll look at only two of the main ones:

  1. Simple math would tell you that the fretboard cannot be divided into five shapes. Surely it does if you only use five-note scales, like the pentatonic. . . but then the 7-note scales, such as minor and major scales, don't fit. If you try hard enough you can separate the fretboard in five sections when using seven-note scales, but what you get is a far cry from being natural.
  2. Not all CAGED systems divide the same way. While some say five section is the natural number of divisions, there are dissenters. The Joe Pass CAGED system utilizes six shapes, as said in his book. And the Berklee CAGED System uses seven shapes. So is 5, 6, or 7 being "natural"?

Below is a video that will go more in-depth on these topics:

Logically and technically speaking, trying to divide the fretboard into five equal parts regardless if you are playing diatonic scales, pentatonic scales, and triads is just fraught with problems and inconsistencies.

To go more in-depth on this topic, and answer some of the questions I'm sure you might have at this point, see also to the last two videos in this series: CAGED Sucks part 1: Right Hand Consistency and CAGED Sucks, Part 2: Scales- Arpeggio Integration.

Tommaso Zillio is a professional prog rock/metal guitarist and composer based in Edmonton, AB, Canada.

Tommaso is currently working on an instrumental CD, and an instructional series on fretboard visualization and exotic scales. He is your go-to guy for any and all music theory-related questions.

Tommaso Zillio

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