The “CAGED” Major Guitar Chords

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CAGED Major Chord Diagrams

Welcome Back to Another Crash Course in Guitar Basics

In the previous lesson we learned how to read guitar chord diagrams. This time we’re going to get you up and running with some basic chords and show you how those chords are combined to create songs. Sound good?
The chords we’re learning today have been used in hundreds of thousands of tunes. You’ve heard these chords before. Actually, odds are pretty good that you’ve heard these chords today. Guitar teachers often call them the “Open form major chords” because they contain open strings. Together the letter names of these chords spell out “CAGED,” so I like to call them “CAGED Major.”
They look innocent enough, but some songwriters have built entire careers on these:

CAGED Major Chord Diagrams
Click to Enlarge

The white dots in the C and G diagrams are notes that are technically optional. Though the white notes aren’t absolutely necessary, in practice they’re almost always used because they make these chords sound so much more full and fleshed-out.
If you’re having any trouble reading the diagrams above, you might find it helpful to review the tutorial on reading guitar chord diagrams. I’ve also included a photo of what each chord looks like when properly played.


Once you’ve got a chord fretted, go ahead and strum the strings with your free hand.

For each chord, the goal is to get every note to ring clearly. Press the strings against the fingerboard firmly enough to make sure every note is coming through, and make sure that each finger is only touching the string it’s responsible for—if you’re hearing any dead notes (thwack), it’s possible that one of the neighboring fingers is leaning against that string and choking off the sound.

Be patient with yourself. Soft fingertips might make certain chords uncomfortable to play at first, but within days your fingertips will begin to harden and the chords will sound better with less effort.

How to Read Chord Progressions

Below I’ve given you a few simple chord changes to learn. These changes are very common and found everywhere in music, so they’re great practice for changing from one chord to another.
Each chord is strummed four times, very evenly—and then transitions to another chord. Your goal is to keep the rhythm steady and smooth, without having to prolong the pause while switching chords.

G → C
E → A
D → G
A → D

If you’re having trouble nailing down one of these changes, you might try leaving out the optional notes on G or C. In time, you’ll want to be able to play the fuller version of each chord, but while your fingers are toughening up it’s fine to try the simpler versions.

Once you’ve mastered these chord progressions, try repeating each chord change as follows:

G → C → G → C
E → A → E → A
D → G → D → G
A → D → A → D

In the next lesson, we’ll learn some new chords that have a dark, intriguing sound. Stay tuned, and don’t forget to grab the Guitar-Muse RSS feed!

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Nicholas Tozier

Nicholas Tozier is a book hoarder and songbird from the woods of Maine. In 2012 he made a small cameo in Songwriting Without Boundaries by Berklee professor Pat Pattison, and was named one of CDBaby’s top 10 Songwriting Resources to follow on Twitter.

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