Major Shapes & Scales

Chord Shapes And Scales

The other day I posted about my first guitar lesson and touched on the CAGED system. I wanted to follow up that post with some more detail, mainly for my own learning process. If I write it down in my own words it helps me remember.

Above are the five major chord shapes an their scales. My instructor points out that for the most part you’re not going to use a lot of the shapes when playing bar chords. Since you can play any chord with any of the shapes, it doesn’t make sense to use the D shape to play a C chord when the A or E shape is so much easier. And after trying to play the D shape, I agree.  Maybe once I get better I can venture into the more difficult shapes.

So far I’ve been practicing the scales for E, A, D (the roots are in blue on the image above). I’m not sure why, but that is the order my instructor is having me learn them. I think he’s having me do them in that order to go from easiest scales to harder.  I’ve got the E, A, and D shape scales down pretty well and can get up to 285bpm with the metronome going up the fretboard.

Right now I’m learning the C shape scale and I’m have a bit of difficulty. Maybe its because with this one you start the scale with the pinky finger while on the others you start with the first or third finger which seems more natural to me.   I’ve memorized the scale, but my finger just don’t seem to be cooperating with my brain.  In certain spots I know the next note but I freeze or mess it up when I go for it.  Oh well, more practice I guess.

As I mentioned in my other post, I’m still not 100% clear on how to use the scales when playing.  I’m sure it will all become clear someday.

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7 Responses to “Major Shapes & Scales”


  1. […] I learn my scales, chords and try to learn a some easier sounding songs that I like, I start to wonder if you either […]


  1. jacobyjd says:

    Re: using more difficult chord shapes–
    Generally the reason for using a different chord shape than the conventional one is to apply a different voicing to the chord. For instance, I don’t generally prefer the standard A chord (fret strings B,G,D at 2), because it sounds pretty dull. I’d rather play the more difficult E-shape barre chord at the 5th fret to get some more life out of the chord. Maybe I’d play an A in a D-shape farther up the neck, only using the highest 3 strings if I want it to sound airy and lighter.

    Re: using the scales when playing–
    The chords are built on these scales, and if you walk through them while someone else is playing a progression in that key, you can see almost immediately which notes you can emphasize for lead parts or as runs between chords. Find creative patterns using the notes in the scale, come up with some catchy riffs, then build a chord riff around them, or vice versa.

    I dig your blog, keep it up!

  2. nevertoolateguitar says:


    Thanks for the comment. I never thought of it that way re: chord shapes. I guess they do have their own nuances and sounds. I’ve basically only been playing the E and A shapes, so once I start trying the other shapes I’ll get a better feel for them.

    As for riffing on scales. I’m not quite there yet. I find when I try to improvise over a scale I tend to do the same thing over and over and stay pretty confined within the scale wherever I am on the fretboard. I guess once I get more comfortable withe the fretboard and where things are I’ll expand what I do.


  3. jacobyjd says:

    Absolutely–it takes time to get leads down. I tend to prefer using pentatonics (as do most rock guitarists), then add in notes from the appropriate major scale for flavor.

    The key is to not take it all at once–just work through one or two common scale forms, then once you feel comfortable with ascending and descending, try skipping notes here and there. After awhile, move on to a different scale form, but while learning it, be sure to observe how it ties into the one you already know–figure out how to transition between them

    It took me 3 years in a band with 3 other guys who are all much more talented than I to move me from being just a rhythm player to decent lead guitarist. They were patient, but they pushed me to get better. It just takes some patience and some discipline is all 🙂

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