The CAGED System

The CAGED system was introduced in the 70's to help people play scale tones on the fretboard. The main criticism of the CAGED system is its "boxy" sound, as players spend too much time in one shape and they're unable to move smoothly between shapes. Here are shapes one and five of the CAGED system.

Shape one and five of the CAGED system without the Freedom Block Outlines.

Here are all five CAGED shapes.

Shapes one, three and five of CAGED system.

As soon as we add Freedom Block outlines the shapes are much easier to visualize.

Check notation.

Moving from shape one to five would be a big jump if you didn't know how to move horizontally with Freedom Blocks.

Check notation.

With CAGED shapes you don't have to worry about the B string shift. It's hardwired into the shapes. Consequently the shapes are "locked" to the low E string and you can't start a CAGED shape on any other string.

Creating CAGED Shapes Using Freedom Blocks

Let's recreate all five CAGED shapes using what you already know about Freedom Blocks. This exercise will cover every possibility that you'll run into when moving vertically. We'll start with the G minor pentatonic scale laid out on the low E string.

First Interval

The first interval of the G minor pentatonic scale starts on row 2 of a rectangle. You'll immediately rotate to a square, followed by a rectangle. Both rows of the rectangle shift up one fret because they land on the B and E strings.

(Notation: E3-6, A3-5, D3-5, G3-5, B string shift, B3-6, E3-6)

Check notation.

Second Interval

The second interval is row 3 of a square. Play those two notes, then rotate to a rectangle on the A and D strings. After the rectangle, rotate to a square and make the B string shift.

(Notation: E6-8, A5-8, D5-8, G5-7, B string shift, B6-8, E6-8)

Check notation.

Third Interval

The third interval starts on row 1 of a square. After completing the square you switch to a rectangle. Row 2 of the rectangle and row 1 of a square get shifted up one fret on the B and E strings.

(Notation: E8-10, A8-10, D8-10, G7-10, B string shift, B8-11, E8-10)

Check notation.

Fourth Interval

The fourth interval is row 1 of a rectangle. Complete the rectangle on the A string, then rotate to a square. Row 3 of the square shifts up one fret on the B string. Row 1 of the next rectangle maintains its relative position, aligning on the right side.

(Notation: E10-13, A10-13, D10-12, G10-12, B11-13, E10-13)

Check notation.

Fifth Interval

The fifth interval is row two of a square. Complete the square on the A string, then rotate to a rectangle. Finish with rows one and two of a square shifted up one fret.

(Notation: E13-15, A13-15, D12-15, G12-15, B13-15, E13-15)

Check notation.

Can you figure out why these two stacks look the same?

Same interval #5 plus the same stacked Freedom Blocks starting on fret 1 of the low E string. So the interval to the left of interval one is interval 5.

You have just played every note in the G minor pentatonic scale up to 15th fret using stacked Freedom Blocks. Congratulations!

(Answer to my question: the fretboard repeats itself starting on the 12th fret.)

"Some solos are just sequences in different positions, and they never seem to break out into freedom." — Micheal Lee Firkins

Shapeless But Not Clueless

Once you understand Freedom Blocks, all you need is a root note.

(Location of A roots: E5, A0-12, D7, G2-14, B10, E5) (Key: A minor pentatonic)

Show location of A root notes on the entire fretboard. The locations by string and fret are E5, A0-12, D7, G2-14, B10, E5

Once you're sitting on root note in the key of A minor pentatonic, you're ready to move.

Cartoon character meditating on top of a red A root note.

If you move left, you're in a square; if you move right, you're in a rectangle heading to another square. It's that simple.

A root note with a square and an overlapping rectangle. The root note is in the second row, right side of a square and in the second row of an overlapping rectangles.

You can move about using stepping squares, overlapping rectangles, side-steps and stacking blocks. Let the groove be your guide and keep an eye out for the B string.

Showing all the possible ways you could move from either a square or a rectangle.

From a distance Freedom Blocks can look like a traffic jam, but that's not your viewpoint.

Instead you're sitting in one square or rectangle, deciding which direction you want to go, and jamming as you move on out the "fretway".

Cartoon man driving his Freedom Blocks saying "See Ya"

"Each step you take reveals another Freedom Block." — Confucius Says

   He didn't say that, but you get the idea.

Solo Inspiration

Scales are a good starting point, but once a backing track starts, it's time to get creative. You can repeat notes, go up three notes and back two, repeat a series of three or four notes, slide, bend, slow down and speed up. Ian at suggest watching Gen Kelly dancing in the movie, Singin' in the Rain, for inspiration on soloing.


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