The caged chord system is based on all of the common open chords. You probably already know all of these, but just to be clear they are outlined below.

Now the important thing to note is that these chords can be moved from their open position to create closed position chords. By keeping a common root note you can completely cover the entire neck of the guitar by going through these chords in order.

In the following example I’m using all the “caged” chords in C. So while all these are C chords they are not all the common C shape or form.

The first chord is your garden variety C. This is called a C form C chord because it is shaped like an open C chord.

The second chord is still a C chord but it is shaped like an open A chord. This makes it an A form C chord. Make sense?

The third chord is shaped like an open G chord of course making it a G form C chord. It is a bit of a stretch but this is theory.

It goes on like this for the next two chords and then repeats all over again starting with the C form C chord at the 15th fret.

The great thing is, even if you start from anywhere this order “caged” always applies.

The root notes for the G and E form chords are always found on the E string. The root notes for the C and A form chords are always on the A string. And the root note for every D form chord is always found on the D string.

So basically the idea is to be able to find all 5 forms of the same chord all over the neck. Just pick a letter (A thru G#) and go.

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Now this is where it gets a bit more interesting. We have used major chords for all of the examples so far, but you could use any chord. Major, minor, dominant, 7#11chords, literally any chord you can think of. Every chord that you currently play falls into one of the 5 forms. Some chords are completely impractical to physically play, but it does give you different and interesting chordal ideas. Plus you don’t have to play all of the strings to get the chord sound, like the G and C form chords in the next example.

Here are all the “caged” chords using E minor.

But that’s not even where it ends. Going back to major for a bit here we can see that around every chord there is a scale and an arpeggio. So you can just as easily cover the entire neck of the guitar with not only the chord forms but the scale forms and the arpeggio forms. In the example below I have used a C form D chord.

The First fret board is just a C form D chord for demonstration purposes. This way you can clearly see how the major scale shown in the second fret board follows the pattern of the C form.

The third board is just the arpeggio with the exact same shape.

You could play all three and not really move your hand up or down the neck, it’s all right there.

If you knew all 5 chords, scales and arpeggios in one key then you would effectively cover your entire guitar's neck with these 5 simple shapes.