The CAGED System

The CAGED System 3: Exploring Scales

We’ve seen how CAGED is essentially a fretboard map. By simplifying the neck down into easy to grasp pieces we make the neck easier to navigate. But simply understanding the system won’t improve our playing, we need to find ways of applying the fretboard map. This post looks at CAGED as it applies to scale shapes.


Once a player can effortlessly move through in any shape and play in any key anywhere on the fretboard, they begin to see the fretboard as a single coherent whole,and accordingly, their improvisations and melodies become more free and less formulaic. Most importantly the player begins to develop a direct relationship between what they hear in their head and what comes out through their fingers.

So the goal of this post is to link up each of these scale shapes by finding ways to transition from one shape to the next.

For these examples we’ll use the E and D shape minor pentatonic scale as its one that most people will be familiar with (E and D shapes are aka patterns 1 and 2). And we’ll work in the key of A at the fifth fret.

E and D Scale Shapes

Shifting Between Shapes

The most direct way of joining these shapes together is to develop hybrid scale patterns which begin in the ‘E’ shape but finish in the ‘D’ shape. A common way of moving between these two shapes is by shifting on the g string (the third string).

Moving from the E Shape to D Shape

So in this example we begin in the E shape and when we reach the last note on the ‘G’ string, we slide our third finger up into the ‘D’ shape position.

Of course we could also join these two positions up by making the shift with the index finger, not the third finger.

Moving from the E Shape to D Shape with First Finger

Shifting Along Other Strings

To develop a complete fretboard map, we also need to practice shifting on the other five strings. The following example includes all possible ways of shifting between the two positions. For each string we can shift with two different fingers, which totals 12 possible ways of playing the scale.

All Possible Transitions from E Shape to D Shape

Of course these examples only cover linking up the ‘E’ and ‘D’ positions – you should link up the other positions, too. (If you need help figuring out basic scale shapes you might like to revise your diatonic scales. Next week I’ll make a bunch of pentatonic and blues scale charts as well.)

Other Possibilities

Once you have a solid understanding of the fretboard, you can test your knowledge by ascending and descending with the shifts in different places.

Ascending and Descending Patterns

Or try changing direction (ascending or descending) several times throughout the scale:

Changing Direction Mid-scale

Also you could try linking three or more shapes together. This example links up the ‘G’, ‘E’, and ‘D’ shapes.

Joining Three CAGED Shapes

Incidentally, this pattern is one of my favorite ways of fingering a minor pentatonic scale, since none of the notes that are a tone (whole step) apart are on different strings. This means it is well suited to whole-step slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs. You should also try and develop other fingerings that you personally find appealing.

Maximise Your Musicality

Like I said earlier, the reason to develop such a strong understanding of the fretboard is to strengthen the connection between what you hear in your minds-ear and what comes out through your fingers. To this end, I suggest that you take your favorite riffs from your trick bag and, using your new scale knowledge, begin translating them and re-interpreting them for other parts of the fretboard, and transposing them into different octaves.

Hopefully thats given you some ideas on building your fretboard knowledge for scales, melodies and soloing. Next time we’ll look at expanding our chordal knowledge to spice up our harmonies and rhythm work.

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