cgrocks CAGED system

CAGED System: C Shape

This lesson delves into the C shape of the CAGED system and how it helps to learning classical guitar pieces.

C shape Chord


So how does learning a box shape system, normally associated with rock guitar and improvisation help us learn classical guitar pieces? That is what this lesson will explore using a segment from a great piece by one of the foremost composers for guitar (and all in the month of his 132nd birthday), Agustin Barrios, and Las Abajas.

First lets go over some CAGED system knowledge. If this is all new and strange check out this introductory post on the CAGED system. It will explain CAGED fully and show how to use it to memorize pieces.

Shape & Scales

The C shape is derived from one of the first chords ever learnt on the guitar – C major. This shape also has two scale systems associated with it – the diatonic and pentatonic. Check out a basic play through in the video above.

C shape Scales

C shape Scales

Once they are learnt in the open position with the C tones it is possible to move that entire box up or down the fretboard. So depending on which key you are in, all you need do is find the home key note (the tonic) and everything you have learnt about that shape and in that shape travels with you. Cool, huh?

Take a look below to see the C shape transposed up a fourth into F major, which is where we need it to be for the Barrios Bees segment.

C Shape @ Fret V

C Shape @ Fret V


Barrios’ Bees

Written in down in two manuscripts, Las Abejas, was composed in 1921 in Uruguay and is dedicated to Barrios’ patron Martin Borda Pagola. The legend that has grown up around this piece is that Borda Pagola locked Barrios in his room when he was staying over, and ordered him to commit some of compositions to paper. Thus we have “The Bees”, as in industrious and hard working, a token of their friendship. It is a fantastic arpeggio study for both hands.

For Las Abajas, the key is F major and that means fret 5 C shape. Getting a handle on playing these means going through the scale and arpeggio shape until they are effortless. Also be able to say and play the scale and arpeggio tones: Tonic/root, 3rd etc.

F Major Scales @ V

F Major Scales @ V

Barrios shows he had an excellent handle of both in and across position playing, and it is all available here in the piece. He switches from scales to arpeggios effortlessly as he invokes a bee moving up and down the fretboard.

Below is the segment of Las Abajas that utilizes the C shape (bars 15 -18), if you don’t have a copy you could head over to or for the awesome book by Dr. Rico Stover that has this piece and more.

Las Abejas Bars 15 - 16

Las Abejas Bars 15 – 16

As you can see in these bars, Barrios sticks to the C shape diatonic notes, with a handy fifth fret barre, and then extends the melody up to fret 12 and the bottom notes of the E shape diatonic notes. (and yes technically it is the A shape he is in. The added B natural forms part of a chromatic fragment, Bebop scale if you are into Jazz, that ties the chord tones onto the main beats.

Thus giving the bee a little run and adding some sparkle to the piece. He then descends back to fret five and plays up and down the diatonic notes.

cgrocks website lesson

Las Abejas bars 17 – 18

Here Barrios leans on some suspended notes such as the E (maj 7th), Bb (4rth) and the G (2nd/9th). This gives this little run some suspense and stops it being totally in a straight F chord.


Free Download Below

Clink the link for a short cheat sheet to the CAGED System C shape.

C Shape Cheat Sheet

Classical guitarist who strives to share a little #6stringinspiration.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.