This second overview article delves into the CAGED system and will concentrate on the Pentatonic scale and its association with the CAGED chords. So by the end of it you will have a handle on the 5 note scale and how to hear it and play it across the fretboard.
Firstly, though this is the second part of this series, it is highly recommended that you go through: CAGED System Part One. Without it you will not be able to apply the pentatonic scale to the fretboard, so make sure you understand how the chords fit together before beginning this lesson.
With that said lets delve into the scale that shares its heritage with most of the worlds cultures. The pentatonic, Greek for 5 note scale, can be found in every form of music available today; from Africa to Asia, it is generally utilized in folk music. As guitarists we are familiar with its use in the Blues and Jazz idioms. It is also used in Classical guitar, especially in modern compositions, as we shall discover below, so it is worth learning and understanding.
Two Pentatonic Scales
There are two main pentatonic scales: a major pentatonic, and a minor pentatonic. These two share similarities and and as you will see below are learnt easily with one simple trick: first finger – sad, fourth finger – happy. (and yes it is an oversimplification!).
The major pentatonic is constructed with these notes:
- 1 2 3 5 6
Or if you prefer it’s a major scale minus
- 4 & 7
The minor pentatonic is constructed with these notes:
- 1 3 4 5 7
Or if you prefer, it’s a natural minor scale minus
- 2 & 6
These two are siblings because they are based on the major scale and its relative minor. So…
…when you are playing C major pentatonic, you are also playing A minor pentatonic.
This means, and this is where CAGED comes into its own, you only learn one shape but you apply it twice. Hence if we take the G shape pentatonic below. The major pentatonic starts on the fourth finger whilst the minor pentatonic begins on a first.
To get a handle on this dual application will require you learn the names of the notes and the root for each scale, but this can all be done mentally away from the guitar on long journeys, commutes or even boring office presentations. (See the mental practice section underneath)
Below is the free chart of the CAGED chord shapes and their associated pentatonic scale. This is just an overview and we will be looking at each shape individually in this series, starting with the C SHAPE in January. CAGED System part three deals with the diatonic scale and Julie Andrews, in just about equal measure.
This overview is mirrored in the free handout available to download at the bottom of this article.
First: step through each shape, inside your head, visualizing it on the fretboard first. Can you you see each shape? Then walk through each note slowly, whilst moving up and the down the fretboard. Can you see the entire system? And mentally walk through each shape? Do this for the major and then the minor.
Top tip: Concentrate on one scale, until you can get it clearly. Do not move on until you do. If that takes you 3 days, great! However if that takes you 3 months, keep at it. You will only need to learn it once. It will then be a case of brushing it off every now and then to maintain.
Only do one scale a day, or even a week, alternating each time.
Secondly: Learn the root notes for each scale. Can you mentally walk through the major pentatonic and say the note names as you do? Can you walk through the minor pentatonic mentally saying and playing the note names as they appear on the imaginary fretboard?
Third: (this is slightly tougher and will require a little effort to get) can you hear each note and its sound? Can you hear the major pentatonic structure? Can you hear the minor pentatonic structure? Stick with one shape and 1 octave until you can hear them. If you are brave, the extension to this exercise is can you sing them? Your voice is you natural instrument and well worth the effort and investment to learn to use. The great thing is you can use it any where, any time, even inside your head!
Free Download Below
Free download of the CAGED system chords in C across the fretboard, its pentatonic shape and the Cycle chart with each chord associated with the keys.