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Blues Guitar Institute

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Play Bluesy Chords All Over the Fretboard (Using the CAGED Shapes)

Lesson ID: TB388

The guitar fretboard can be overwhelming.

With so many chords and scales to memorize, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. But there’s a simple system that makes it easy to play chords up and down the guitar neck.

It’s called the CAGED system.

In this lesson, we’ll review the basics of the CAGED system. Then, we’ll leverage the system to create bluesy chords you can use all over the neck. With just a few simple shapes, you can access the entire fretboard and begin playing blues chords anywhere on the neck.

Let’s go!

Who is this for?

This lesson is perfect for any guitarist who:

  • Wants to break out of open chord shapes and play all over the neck
  • Wants to play bluesy seventh chords in any position
  • Wants a system to navigate the fretboard confidently

The CAGED system is a solid system for organizing things and cutting down on fretboard confusion.

The Power of Moveable Chord Shapes

The CAGED system is based on mastering five familiar open chord shapes:

These shapes are likely the among first chords you learned on the guitar. They’re familiar to us which is great because we’re going to leverage that familiarity by viewing the chords as shapes.

Each of these five chords is played with a different finger pattern on the fretboard. Think of the pattern as it rests on the fretboard as a shape. These common major chords then give us the five shapes on which the CAGED system is built.

C Shape is from the C Major chord, the A Shape is from the A Major chord and so on.

Let’s leverage these shapes by making them movable starting with the C Shape as an example.

When you play this shape in the open position, the root is on the 3rd Fret, 5th String – a C note. It’s helpful to think about this as playing a C Shape, C Major chord.

Remember: CAGED is all about the five shapes.

You can make this C Shape moveable by adjusting the fingering of the chord. Barre with your index finger to replace any open strings. Think of your index fingers now as a moveable nut.

Note the fingerings below the diagram (0 = Open, 1 = Index, 2 = Middle, 3 = Ring, 4 = Pinky)

The C Shape is now moveable.

Move the shape – as re-fingered – along the fretboard. The note at the 5th string will give you the name of the chord but you’ll still be playing a C Shape.

For example, move the entire re-fingered shape up two frets to the 5th Fret and you’re playing a C Shape, D Major chord.

You can do the same thing with each of the other four chord shapes. Try this on your guitar!

This system helps you play chords all over the neck while only memorizing a few shapes.

Cool.

But, this isn’t all that bluesy…

Modify the Shapes for Bluesy Seventh Chords

To get a bluesy sound, we need Dominant 7th chords, or 7th chords for short. Fortunately, we can leverage those familiar chord shapes and convert each of them into a dominant 7th chord.

Then, same as the major chords, we’ll re-finger them to make them moveable. Here’s what you get:

By the way, did you encounter some tough chord shapes in CAGED when working on the major chords? The C, G and D shapes can be difficult.

Good news for the 7th chords – most of the 7th chord shapes are even more comfortable to fret than the major chord shape it comes from.

Except for one – the big G7 Shape.

This one is difficult to fret if you play the shape across all six strings. In practice, I rarely do that. In fact, for each of these shapes, I’ll often use a stripped-down, four note version of the shape.

Just play the top four strings and avoid the hand cramp!

These closed shapes along with the G7 adjustment make the CAGED system more user-friendly and useful in a blues progression.

Putting it All Together

Now we’re ready to use our movable 7th chord shapes in a real blues progression. Here’s an example based on the jam ​in the video​.

Keep these tips in mind while using these shapes.

  • Mix and match shapes → Example: use E and A shapes on a G7 chord
  • Throw in embellishments → Example: slide into shapes for effect
  • Break shapes into 2-3 strings → This isolates key tones and makes the shapes manageable
  • Alternate between 7th chords and major triads → Do this to keep the music moving

With these new chord shapes, you’ll be ready to jam the blues all over the neck without the hand cramps!

Try these bluesy 7th chord shapes in your next jam instead of open chords and big barre chords.

When you are ready, there are two ways I can help you:

Back Porch Blues Course:  A proven system to fingerpicking the blues.  This step-by-step course guides you through building fundamental fingerpicking skills.  Plus, you’ll learn three levels of a delta blues style performance study to put your new skills into action.

Become a myBGI Member: Membership comes with access to Back Porch Blues plus over 70 step-by-step courses.  Get proven results with one of myBGI’s structured Roadmaps.

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