CAGED Sucks. Part 3: The "Natural" Division Of The Fretboard

Tommaso Zillio

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How many scale positions do you know on your fretboard? Is it better to know more or less? Why is this question even important?

One popular way to learnt the fretboard is to "break it up" in various "sections" so that we learn to play in each "section" before we put them together. This is called "position playing". One of the problems associated with position playing is: in how many "sections" should we break our fretboard? It may seem irrelevant, but it is an important choice with very real consequences on your playing.

Practically all scale systems use "position playing" as a pedagogical tool to teach scales on the fretboard. This includes the now infamous CAGED system, which brings us to today's topic.

Many CAGED apologists, once confronted with a scale/chord system that is different than CAGED, retort that CAGED is the correct system because "the fretboard divides naturally in 5 shapes", and the standard CAGED system has 5 shapes (more on this later). They also insist that this 5-part division is "inherent" in the standard tuning of the guitar.

There are in fact many problems with the notion that such division of the fretboard is "natural", and I limit myself to highlight only two, lest this article becomes inordinately long:

  1. Some system called "CAGED" (there is more than one) divide the fretboard in a different number of shapes. The Joe Pass CAGED system (as described in his book) uses 6 shapes. The Berklee CAGED system (as described in their books) uses 7 shapes. Which one is the "natural" one?
  2. The fretboard simply does not divide naturally in 5 shapes :-) Or better, it does only if you use a 5-notes scale (such as the pentatonic) but it does not if you use a 7-note scale (like major and natural minor). It is *possible* to divide the fretboard in 5 part using a 7-note scales, but this is not the same as the division being natural

To understand what this is all about and why it is important, please watch the following video:

As you can see, insisting on a single 5-pieces division for different "musical structures" (diatonic scales, pentatonic scales, triads) is counter-productive and creates many logical and technical problems - and the argument has nothing to do with tuning anyway. On this points, see also the first two video of this series: CAGED Sucks Part 1: Right Hand Consistency and CAGED Sucks, Part 2: Scales-Arpeggio Integration

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