Why The CAGED System Is Killing Your Guitar Playing

Author: Tom Hess

Author: Tom Hess

CAUTION: If you are a guitar player who uses the CAGED system…STOP NOW or you will start to develop the following 7 problems in your guitar playing:

Problem #1: Your Guitar Speed Is Going To Suffer Tremendously

There are tons of reasons why playing guitar fast is difficult for so many guitarists and the CAGED system isn’t the only reason your guitar speed may be 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:

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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 2 limitations, you will not be able to use proper picking technique. 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) 3 notes-per-string allows you to use directional picking which will help your guitar speed in big ways.

Problem #2: You Will Not Be Able To Use The Entire Fretboard EASILY In Your Guitar Solos

The CAGED system is a complete system for all scales, right? WRONG. It’s not even close to “complete”. Even though CAGED teaches you to play the major scales based on FIVE scale patterns, there are actually SEVEN shapes that interconnect and cover the entire fretboard…not five. That means only 71% of the major scale shapes are able to be played in any given key. I don’t know about you, but 71% doesn’t sound like a complete system to me.

…and it gets worse.

The 5 shapes that CAGED does use are not easy to transform from major scales to any other scales (natural minor, harmonic minor, exotic, etc). If you want to use these kinds of scales, you have to stop using CAGED entirely and use patterns that aren’t in the CAGED system anyway. By using the 3 note-per-string system of playing scales, you make it EASY for yourself to see which notes of the major scale are changed. The makes mastering how scales work in music a lot easier to achieve.

Problem #3: 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. Implementing this system is one of the reasons that so many guitar students that study with me have become GREAT guitar players very quickly.

Problem #4: You Won’t Be Able To Use Arpeggios In Your Guitar Solos In A Creative Way (This Applies To Blues Guitarists Too!)

Arpeggios are essential to your guitar solos regardless of your musical style because are arpeggios are simply chords played one note at a time. Because of this, they are obviously used in all styles of music. But you have to do more than just play them. You must be able to visualize how they fit into the scale positions that you are using for soloing. Once you can do this, improvising solos over chords, and finding the right notes to play over those chords, becomes easy. But the CAGED system is holding you back from doing just that because of 2 reasons:

1. Since the CAGED system is based around major open chords that move up and down the fretboard, playing non-open chord arpeggios on all of the strings becomes virtually impossible. So the CAGED system arpeggios are awkward to play fast – especially if you try sweep picking.

2. Working with an experienced guitar teacher who teaches you the best and easiest fingerings to play arpeggios on guitar, makes working those shapes into the CAGED system impossible because arpeggios follow the logic of how scales actually WORK in music. The result: You have a very hard time applying your musical skills in a creative way.

Unfortunately this is why most CAGED users think music theory is too hard. They should be blaming the ineffective CAGED system itself! Watch this video to understand why applying music theory is actually one of the best things you can do to become a great guitarist.

Problem #5: You Guitar Solos Will Be Emotionless – And I Can Prove It

If you use the CAGED system, you will not be able to do the most important things that give your guitar solos emotion:

1. Know what your emotional “options” are when you play guitar solos over different chords.

2. Learn to take advantage of all of these options when you are soloing over each chord and apply them to you guitar solos.

Since the CAGED system only focuses on visualizing the major chords and it completely ignores other chord forms (minor, diminished, 7th, etc.), it is very hard to target the notes of those kinds of chords when you’re playing a guitar solo. This results in you haphazardly playing notes in a CAGED scale shape and just hoping your solo is emotional. Obviously, this makes playing an emotional guitar solo impossible.

Problem #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 understanding how to use the five major chords that make up the CAGED system (C major A major G major E major D major) in a musical way you are crushing your ability to write great songs. One of the biggest flaws with CAGED is that these 5 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.

Problem #7: You Will Not Be Able To Effectively Communicate With Other Musicians

The CAGED system is promoted for guitar players only. Therefore, if you are a CAGED user and you plan on interacting with other musicians to write songs or form a band, I strongly suggest you ditch CAGED altogether because you will not be able to communicate with anyone who doesn’t play guitar and they will have a really hard time communicating with you too.

Even though I explain all of the things I have talked about in this article to my guitar students that use CAGED, there are always a few who rush to the defense of CAGED with arguments like:

Pro-CAGED Argument #1: “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. So stop trying to justify the CAGED system and work on reaching your musical goals in the most efficient way you can.

Pro-CAGED Argument #2: “I can easily modify the CAGED system so that I adjust for all of its limitations. So it is fine to learn it, if it’s correctly taught.”

My answer: Oh sure, you can do anything you want if you make enough changes, just like with enough time, energy and frustration you could turn a Volkswagen Beetle car into a Mercedes Benz S Class sedan :) Adjusting for the numerous restrictions of CAGED wastes an enormous amount of time you could have spent becoming a better guitar player by learning a far more effective and efficient system for playing scales in the first place.

Pro-CAGED Argument #3: “___________ (insert any guitarist’s name) used/uses the CAGED system all the time and he plays great! So the CAGED system can’t be all that bad if ____________ used it.”

My answer: Unless you can really prove that a certain guitarist actually does use the CAGED system I would recommend that you stop believing everything that you see online. Learn to be skeptical of musical advice given by someone who is not a proven guitar teacher.

Second, even if your guitar hero actually did become a great guitarist using the CAGED system, does it that make the best, easiest and fastest system for reaching your musical goals? Of course not.

So I leave you with a choice: You can decide to learn scales the fast and easy way, or you can continue to struggle with the CAGED system and just hope it gets you where you want to go. :)

Understanding how the CAGED system holds you back from being a great guitarist is just the first step. Let me show you how easy it CAN be to reach your musical goals and become the guitarist that you have always wanted to be. Check out these guitar lessons online and tell me more about your guitar playing.

About The Author:

Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, recording artist and composer. He teaches guitar players from all over the world in his online rock guitar lessons. Visit his website tomhess.net to get free guitar practice resources and to read more guitar playing articles.

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