STOP! Don't waste another second of your time learning the guitar scales by using the CAGED system. Read the rest of this article and learn exactly why you are hurting your guitar playing (not helping it!) when you use the CAGED system:
Reason #1: Your Use Of Arpeggios Will Suffer, Regardless Of Your Musical Genre
It doesn't matter if you play rock, metal, or blues - your ability to play arpeggios is one of the keys to learning to play seamless and creative guitar solos. Why is this? Because arpeggios are simply chords that are played one note at a time. So the speed at which you play them (or the tone you play them with) doesn't matter. Arpeggios are used in every style of music because chords are used in every style. You need to be able to understand how these arpeggios fit into the scale positions you use for soloing and be able to visualize this. This will help you find the best notes to play over each chord (more on this below). This applies equally to all styles of music.
The CAGED system will not help you achieve either of these goals because it bases itself around the major open chords that move up and down the fretboard. While this may work for playing open chords, non-open chord arpeggios become nearly impossible to play under this system. Because of this, the arpeggios that occur in the CAGED system are unable to played at hight speeds comfortably. You will be able to recognize this shortcoming when you compare the CAGED arpeggio shapes to the traditional arpeggio shapes.
Worse yet, if you start working with a high-quality guitar teacher who knows how to teach you the best fingerings for the arpeggios all over the guitar, these shapes will not work within the confines of the CAGED system. This is because the notes in arpeggios follow the logic of how the scales WORK in music. They are not meant to fit into the random 5 chord shapes of CAGED. This results in a huge disconnect in your ability to understand and visualize the entire fretboard and limits your musical creativity.
This causes CAGED users to think that music theory is useless or difficult to understand when actually the problem doesn't lie with music theory. Watch this music theory video lesson to start understanding how music theory can make you a better guitarist.
Reasons #2: Your Guitar Solos Will Bore People To Death
If you want to play great guitar solos, don't use the CAGED system. Let me explain. Guitar players who solo using the CAGED system typically play in one box at a time and the result is extremely boring (worse yet, the transitions between the boxes are painfully obvious). The problem here is that, by using the CAGED system, you are limiting your view of the fretboard. Instead of just looking at in different vertical boxes (from the 6th string to the 1st string), you need to also learn to view it as one continuous horizontal from the 1st fret to the last fret.
Viewing the fretboard in the boxes is the reason that guitarists fail to play awesome solos using the CAGED system because:
1. The CAGED scale shapes are limited to 5 patterns that make it impossible to fully map out the fretboard horizontally from the nut to the highest fret.
2. Without the 5 shapes of CAGED the user is lost and can't visualize the scales on the fretboard anymore.
Using the 3 note-per-string system will make playing creative guitar solos much easier. Using this system is one of the biggest reasons that many of the guitar students studying with me have become such great players so quickly.
Reason #3: You Will Struggle To Easily Improvise Guitar Solos Using The Whole Fretboard
One of the biggest problems that I see developing in my new guitar students that use the CAGED system is the ability to solo all over the neck of the guitar, fluently. This problem can be very hard to correct in CAGED system users because the CAGED system is far from a complete system of scales. In fact, it's not even complete for just the major scales. CAGED teaches the major scales based on five different scale patterns that are based on chord shapes. The problem here is that each major scale is actually made up of seven different interconnected shapes. You can see how this would be problematic. By leaving out those two shapes, CAGED leaves you with only 71% of the available scale shapes to play in any given major key. Does that sound 'complete' to you? Didn't think so.
What makes it even worse is that the five shapes that CAGED actually does use make it impossible for you to easily convert these scales from major to natural minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor or modal keys. If you want to learn these scales you are forced to abandon CAGED completely and memorize completely new patterns that are totally different from the CAGED box patterns.
Contrast these limitation of CAGED with the 3 note-per-string system of playing scales that I mentioned above. This system makes it incredibly easy to see which notes of the major scale are being adjusted or omitted to create the other scales. Using this system, your total mastery of how scales musically work becomes much easier to achieve.
Reason #4: Your Guitar Speed Is Going To Suffer Tremendously
Because there are so many reasons that guitar players can't play guitar fast, the CAGED system isn't the only reason your guitar speed is suffering. However, if you are using the CAGED system and you're also struggling to play guitar as fast as you'd like, here's why:
With the CAGED system, you are learning scale patterns that contain both 2 note-per-string and 3 note-per-string fragments. This will cause 3 problems that interconnect to kill your guitar speed:
A. Since you have to learn a brand new picking pattern for each CAGED scale, it takes you longer to memorize. Your speed is being limited mentally.
B. The awkward scale shapes in the CAGED system make your picking hand's job a lot harder so playing fast is out of the question. Your speed is being limited physically.
C. Because of these limitations, using optimum picking hand technique becomes impossible. Now your guitar speed has been limited in yet another way.
Instead you should start using 3 note-per-string scale patterns that use 3 notes on every string. This solves all 3 of the above problems because 1) you now only have to learn one picking pattern to play every major and minor scale and 2) the 3 note-per-string patterns open the door for implementing directional picking so your guitar speed increases even faster.
Reason #5: You Guitar Solos Will Lose All Emotion
What is the easiest and most reliable way to achieve maximum emotion when playing / improvising guitar solos? The answer consists of the following steps:
The easiest way to achieve as much emotion as possible in your guitar solos is by first understanding what your emotional "choices" are while playing a guitar solo over different chord progressions, then learning to use these options to your advantage when playing a guitar solo over each and every chord.
CAGED users find it almost impossible to do this because CAGED only focuses on visualizing major chords and it ignores minor, diminished and many others. This makes it hard to target the notes of any of the chords that aren't major while you are in the middle of a guitar solo. Typically, you start by figuring out the key, moving the scale to the correct position on the fretboard, and mindlessly play notes hoping that you get lucky and some of them sound emotional over the chords. This "on-and-off" approach to soloing destroys your ability to play an emotional guitar solo.
Reason #6: You Won't Be Able To Write Great Songs Consistently (Except For The Occasional Idea That You "Stumble Upon")
Even though CAGED affects a lot of your guitar ability, it also greatly squashes your ability to be creative. By not knowing how to use the five major chords in CAGED (C major A major G major E major D major) musically, you are killing your ability to write great songs. One of the biggest flaws with CAGED is that these five chords are taught as if they have some sort of musical connection when they don't at all. None of these chords fit into any standard major or minor key and this makes writing songs especially tricky. Writing terrible songs is a very common problem I see with guitar players who study the CAGED system.
Reason #7: Your Musical Communication Skills Will Take A Turn For The Worse
You need to understand that the biggest weakness of the CAGED system is that it is not based on how scales actually work in music for all of the instruments. It is a system specifically for guitar players. So if you are not a guitar player this system is not possible for you to understand. This means that when you want to write songs with other musicians who are not guitarists, you will find it very difficult to communicate your musical ideas to them.
When I explain all of these problems to my new guitar students that are CAGED users, most of them understand and begin to work with me towards reaching their musical goals. My guitar students have experienced big results after applying the ideas in this article. But there will always be the 1% that try to defend the CAGED system.
Defense Of The CAGED System #1: "___________ (fill in the blank with any guitar player's name) uses the CAGED system all the time and he/she plays great! So the system can't be all that bad if he/she uses it."
My response: First of all, if you can't prove that he/she actually does use the CAGED system then I would suggest that you stop believing everything you read. It is better to be skeptical when taking advice from anyone who is not a proven and successful guitar teacher. Secondly, even if you could become a great guitar player using the CAGED system, that doesn't make CAGED the best way to get there. So make a choice: Choose the fastest, easiest and most proven method for learning scales on guitar or struggle to achieve musical greatness against a broken system.
Defense Of The CAGED System #2: "All systems of learning scales are equal. It can't hurt me to know the CAGED system, because it's just another way to visualize the scales on the fretboard. The more systems I know, the better I will be."
My answer: Yes, you can learn the CAGED system, but should you? Absolutely not. If you're truly serious about becoming the best guitar player you can be in the shortest amount of time possible, then you don't need to be wasting your time learning a system as terrible as the CAGED system. :) Besides, the CAGED system actually HURTS your playing. Don't keep justifying the CAGED system. You should be spending your time and energy working towards accomplishing your musical goals in the most efficient way possible.
Defense Of The CAGED System #3: "I can just modify the CAGED system. The system is fine, it just has to be taught correctly."
My response: While it's true that you can modify CAGED and adjust for it's limitations this doesn't change the fact that it's just a bad system overall. To make these modifications you would be starting over from step 1 and basically creating a new system (that wouldn't resemble CAGED at all in the end). It makes so much more sense to learn to play scales in the best and most logical way from the beginning instead of trying to "patch up" the CAGED system.
Now that you see all of the problems with the CAGED system and how it holds you back from being great, let me show you how truly easy it can be to get where you want to go as a guitar player. Get started today by going to this online guitar lessons page. I want to hear a lot more about your guitar playing goals.
Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world.
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