Guitar chords: CAGED or unCAGED, that is the question

What people usually mean by 'guitar chords' has very little to do with chords themselves.


guitar chords CAGED system

These shapes look very different from each other. But t's really five fingerings and two voicings of just one chord: the major triad. Fingering ≠ voicing ≠ chord.

But the fretboard obscures things a little, so we conflate the two. Fingering = chord. Apparently.

Lazy, sloppy thinking. But still, we get so sensitive. We don't like having real musicians —keyboard players and such— in the room with us who know their instrument properly. Makes us uncomfortable.

So I will do my best to persuade you to revise your thinking about chords, on the fretboard, in hopes that you'll try something different to what you've seen out there.

The problem with the CAGED approach to the fretboard, and so many others, is that in these boxes you'll find nothing but 'here, put your fingers here.' It's actually meant that way:

"(the author) became aware that there was a guitar-specific pattern organization that was completely separate from the various musical considerations such as theory, technique and style. He eventually came to the conclusion that the issues of this pattern organization should take first priority over the issues of music or style..."

Straight from the horse's mouth. This is the book on CAGED telling us why it sucks so bad. Think about it:

You → CAGED → music

Small wonder we're uncomfortable, people. This way of thinking introduces a step in the middle that is completely separate from the various musical considerations such as theory, technique and style.

A needless step between you and the music you want to make! What the hell for?

No matter, say you. I'll learn to translate the shapes, in my head, into actual music. All is good. But when the heat is on, live, improvising, reading, writing, the extra step kills your flow. CAGED, dead, done for. But don't let the keyboard player in the band find out about it: crank up the volume, they won't notice!

You're playing something, trying to feel your way around. You sense that the sound you want is just around the corner, somewhere, if you just knew where. But none of the chords fingering formulas you know take you there. Shit, stuck in a rut! This sucks, BIG TIME!!

"I'll go learn 300 new shapes, one of them sure fits my song!"

Good luck with the needle in the haystack.

Now, just for a minute imagine you've got a systematic approach to the fretboard —not just guitar chords— that cuts out the extra step:

You → music, directly on the fretboard

You've got visual, tactile, kinesthetic confirmation of what you hear. You've got all the connections right there, at your fingertips. You can actually sense your way around this time. Wow. Feels good to know what you're doing, on the fretboard, doesn't it?

→ Enough theory, I'm ready for action!

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Play guitar chords and triads with ease

Learn guitar chords easily by understanding how they are built

If you try to learn guitar harmony and chords by rote, you will spend hours of uninteresting, boring study, repeating patterns you don't understand.

It's best to understand chords and how they are built. There are different kinds of chords, the most common of which are 3 part and 4 part chords. In fact, if you understand these two types of chords and how to use them, you can derive all other interesting variants from here.

More complex guitar harmonies are built using precisely these building blocks, so don't let making sense of the intervals within triads and four-part chords scare you. Forget all about chord bibles and the like, and focus on really getting the basics.

Guitar chords are the basis to accompaniment in rock, blues, Jazz, and many other styles. And you definitely need to know how to play rhythm guitar before you become an awesome lead guitarist, so take your time and explore this section until it all clicks...

Guitar Harmony and Chords: this subject, as most we'll cover in these pages, can be viewed from many angles. You can go as deep as you want, so take it all in one piece at a time!
Ironically, the fastest and most effective way to learn is to go slowly: rushing never helps!!!

The most basic definition of 'chord' is very simple: two or more musical tones played together. In practice, however, the term is more often used in reference to structures that contain three or more tones (the 12 tone tempered system —on which the guitar is based— allows combinations of up to 12 tones).

The 'Grandmother Chord', invented by Nicolas Slonimsky, includes all 12 tones and 11 different intervals. It cannot be played on a guitar!!!

The chords most widely used in most musical styles are triads (three-part chords) and 7th chords (four-part chords). They are built by stacking notes a third apart (major and minor thirds).

These are the guitar chords you really have to know in order to make sense of the underpinnings of the vast majority of guitar music: once you have mastered their use, you can use triads and 7th chords in many different ways. You can even use them as assumed roots to play implied harmony of up to seven simultaneous parts.


Chord Chart 1: Major Triad Inversions
Chord Chart 2: Minor Triad Inversions
Chord Chart 3: Diminished Triad Inversions
Chord Chart 4: Augmented Triad Inversions

7th Chords, Drop2 Vocings:

Chord Chart 5: Maj7 Chord Inversions
Chord Chart 6: Min7 Chord Inversions
Chord Chart 7: 7 Chord Inversions
Chord Chart 8: b5m7 Chord Inversions
Chord Chart 9: Dim7 Chord Inversions

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