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How To Apply The CAGED System For Guitar • Sharp and Flat Key Signatures, Scale Patterns, Video Lessons, In-depth Theory

As a guitar, electric bass, ukulele instructor at Long & McQuades, I have taught countless musicians how to play or improve their chops.

music-theory-key-signatures

Music Rudiments

Intro

Because the guitar is such a popular, easier to learn instrument, most guitarists have little knowledge of music theory. I remember reading an interview with Eddie Van Halen. He said he had no theory background, and even went so far as to state that he has no knowledge of scales. I believe this is not true. Granted, his playing has always been off the wall and very untraditional, but he MUST have some idea of what he is doing and where he is going on the fretboard.

When you are playing in position, you are working within the confines of a scale. Even if you play notes outside of the scale, you are simply moving into another scale. Certainly, some musicians are strictly ear players (they play what sounds good), but they are still playing patterns that work for them, patterns that they have played before, with a slight variation in timing or phrasing to make them sound new. I really do not believe in all-out improvisation. We simply rework what we know.

The Circle Of Fifths

This wheel represents the all the sharp and flat key signatures. Clockwise for Major and related minor sharp keys, counterclockwise for Major and related minor flat keys. It is a visual representation of the relationships among the twelve tones of the chromatic scale (on guitar, this is a distance of one fret), their corresponding key signatures, and the associated major and minor keys. The diagram aids in composition and changing keys (modulation) within a song. The movement is an interval of a fifth. For example: start with C Major, move clockwise up five scale steps in the major scale (C D E F G) an you arrive at the next key on the circle, G Major.

When moving counterclockwise, the movement is ASCENDING fourths. For example: F Major to B flat Major is the ascending interval of a fourth. The keys overlap at the bottom of the diagram. These keys are said to be enharmonic. They sound exactly the same, but are written differently (in the same way F sharp and G flat sound the same, but notated differently).

Traditionally, the circle of fifths is used in the analysis of classical music, whereas the circle of fourths is used in the analysis of jazz music, but this is not exclusive.

music-theory-key-signatures

The CAGED System

This is the foundation for the 'CAGED System' (Major scale fingerings have a related Major chord shape). CAGED is the designation for the following chords: C Major, A Major, G Major, E Major, and D Major. Play the related chord shape before and after the scales. When these scales and chords are moved into closed shapes (no open strings), the entire fretboard will be unlocked. This is a monumental task, and requires much practice, but is well worth the effort.

C Major CAGED System

The C Major chord notated in five positions, in the designated shapes, with the related Major scale patterns. Fingering is essential. You may find the fingering difficult at first, especially if you are not used to employing your fourth finger, but practice will make the difference. All these patterns and more are covered in the Berklee series: A Modern Method For Guitar. For other chords, simply determine the position on the fretboard, play the chord and then the related Major scale. The shapes and patterns will be the same. It should be noted that the G and D shaped forms of the major chord shown here are rarely used for practical purposes, because of the difficulty of execution. The C, A, and E shaped are used all the time and are very common shapes for the Major chord.

Berklee Series

C Shaped C Major Chord and Scales

C shaped C Major Open Chord

C shaped C Major Open Chord

music-theory-key-signatures

A Shaped C Major Chord and Scales

A shaped C Major chord fingering #1

A shaped C Major chord fingering #1

A shaped C Major chord fingering #2

A shaped C Major chord fingering #2

music-theory-key-signatures

G Shaped C Major Chord and Scales

G shaped C Major chord with first finger barre

G shaped C Major chord with first finger barre

G shaped C Major chord with Capo

G shaped C Major chord with Capo

music-theory-key-signatures

E Shaped C Major Chord and Scales

E shaped C Major chord

E shaped C Major chord

music-theory-key-signatures

D Shaped C Major Chord and Scales

D shaped C Major chord

D shaped C Major chord

music-theory-key-signatures

Sharp Keys

The silly saying for the order of sharps is 'Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle'. The key of C Major is the only key that does not contain any sharps or flats in the key signature. All the notes are natural: C D E F G A B C. The major scale MUST always follow this format: Tone (on guitar, a distance of two frets), Tone, Semitone (on guitar, a distance of one fret), Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone. This is the major scale structure and the reason behind key signatures. In the key Of G Major, one sharp must be added in order to have the arrangement of notes maintain this structure. It is quite simple actually:

C Major

C (tone) D (tone) E (semitone) F (tone) G (tone) A (tone) B (semitone) C

G Major

G (tone) A (tone) B (semitone) C (tone) D (tone) E (tone) F sharp (semitone) G

The way to find the key, if it contains sharps, is 'one semitone above the last sharp is the key name' For example: one semitone above F sharp is G, the key is G major. The only key that needs to be memorized is C Major, because there are no sharps or flats.

music-theory-key-signatures

Flat Keys

In order to find the order of flats, simply reverse the silly saying for the order of sharps. Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles Father. The way to find the key, if it contains flats, is even easier than sharps. It is the second last flat. For example: the key of B flat Major contains two flats, B flat and E flat. The second last flat is obviously, B flat, that is the key name. The only flat key it does not work for is F Major, because it contains only one flat: B.

Flat keys must follow the same intervallic structure, because they are still Major scales. This is somewhat confusing for some students. Memorize the pattern: Tone Tone Semitone Tone Tone Tone Semitone.

music-theory-key-signatures

© 2012 Lorne Hemmerling

Comments

Lorne Hemmerling (author) from Oshawa on June 24, 2013:

Yes, my friend, music is music, that will never change. Both instruments are written in the treble clef (although, keyboard music utilizes the bass clef also). If she understands the composition of chords on the guitar, she can relate that to keyboards. For example: C Major is C, E, G, find those notes on a keyboard, and it is still C Major. Refer to my hub, Harmonizing The Major Scale. That should help her relate the keyboard to the guitar.

SA Shameel from Bangalore on June 23, 2013:

My daughter is trying to pick up some keyboard lessons. Is there any similarity in learning guitar & keyboard.

The drawing and notes in this pages look some what similar to keyboard one!

Lorne Hemmerling (author) from Oshawa on January 07, 2013:

Thanks again, Rob!

Rob on January 07, 2013:

This page is great too. Who needs guitar lessons with a site like this??? Thanks for the effort here.

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