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How to play guitar chords across the entire fretboard

Guitarist
(Image credit: Manish Sethi / EyeEm / Getty)

Guitar lessons: The CAGED system makes it easy to access any chord across the neck; here, we’re applying the approach to major and minor chords.

If you already know the five essential open chord shapes C, A, G, E and D, then you are already halfway there, because the CAGED system simply moves these shapes around the neck as barre chords. Moving between the five shapes will help you create more engaging, interesting and even unusual rhythm parts.

The trick is seeing how the CAGED shapes link together, sharing notes on certain frets. Barre chords have no open strings, and this makes them ‘movable’ shapes, so you can move each shape to any fret and play in any key you wish.

It doesn’t matter if some shapes are tough to play; just don’t fret all the strings and play a ‘partial’ chord.

Major chords

chord

(Image credit: Future)

Start with the open ‘C shaped’ C major chord above then ascend the neck to play C chords in the other positions indicated below, first using an ‘A shape’, then a ‘G shape’, an ‘E shape’ and so on. 

Strum the full chords first, and then pick each string to check that all of the notes are clean.

chord

(Image credit: Future)

chord

(Image credit: Future)

chord

(Image credit: Future)

chord

(Image credit: Future)

Minor chords 

chord

(Image credit: Future)

These five shapes are based on open position minor chord shapes. You do not always start with a C shape; but the sequence of shapes always remains the same. 

Here, we start on an Am chord, followed by a ‘G minor-shaped’ Am chord, then an ‘E minor-shaped’ Am chord, and so on.

chord

(Image credit: Future)

chord

(Image credit: Future)

chord

(Image credit: Future)

chord

(Image credit: Future)

Try out the chord shapes

Click on top right of tab to enlarge 

(Image credit: Future)

This is a simple two-chord progression based on C and Am chords. The C chord is in bars 1 and 2, but notice that it runs through all five CAGED shapes. 

We’ve done the same with Am in bars 3 and 4. Try creating your own parts by moving the CAGED shapes up and down the fretboard to access other keys.

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