The C-A-G-E-D Guitar System Made Easy
Homespun Instant Access/DVD Review
Three DVD Set

By Paul Kucharski

C-A-G-E-D Guitar System Made Easy - DVD 1

This video is the first in a 3 DVD video series on a very powerful system for learning the guitar fretboard called the "C-A-G-E-D system" taught by Ernie Hawkins.  Ernie Hawkins is a renowned blues guitar player and teacher with many years of performing and teaching experience.  Like many of the country blues artists that perform and teach today, he learned to play from some of the blues greats.  As he notes on this video he expanded and built on that knowledge over the years to include an in depth understanding of the fretboard. 

In this first video Ernie introduces and describes in detail the CAGED system as a way to map out the fretboard by showing you how to play any chord in multiple positions (or inversions) up the neck.  This knowledge gives guitar players immense flexibility for playing and improvising music (as DVD 2 & 3 will show).  One thing he is quick to point out as that pretty much all chords on guitar can be derived from 5 basic chords; C, A, G, E, D.

If you've never heard of this system before, this DVD starts at the very beginning.  It assumes you already know the basic first position chords; C, A, G, E, and D.  It doesn't require that you have any in depth theoretical background since he covers in detail how these chords are constructed.  I've known about this system for many years and was able to follow along with him without any trouble.  But I've also tried to teach this system in a manner similar to the way he's doing it and have seen the "deer in the headlights" look on some of my students faces when I talked about it.  So I think if you've never heard about it or are just beginning on guitar, you should expect to spend some time going back over it a few times before it begins to sink in.  I can say it's very much worth the effort, but it will probably be easier for intermediate players rather than raw beginners.  The benefits that you get from this understanding though is really priceless.  I think it is fundamental knowledge for anyone wanting to break through from that intermediate level to the advanced level.  It opens up the entire fretboard with a practical system to find your way around.

After Ernie introduces the 5 chords and the walks you through the exercise of memorizing the 3 note sequences that make up each of these chords, he then defines each of these chords as "chord forms".  Then he proceeds to show you how for any given chord you can find a different "form" of it up the neck.  Even as I write this I can envision that it might already confuse some, so here is where the power of the video really shines.  The best way to learn this is to follow along on your guitar as he demonstrates how these forms are linked together as he walks up the fretboard.  Seeing is understanding in this case because the primary way of learning this is by seeing the patterns in your head.  He does this for each of the 5 first position chords and shows you that for any chord there exists a unique "chord form" for it up the neck; and the forms always follow each other in this rotating system of C form, A form, G form, E form, D form, and back to C form, etc.

The last thing Ernie does in the video is describe how you can link these forms together with some harmonized passing tones.  This information is used again in much greater detail in DVD 3.

The included tablature for these videos have fretboard diagrams that show the chord forms up the neck for each of the 5 basic chords and other information that is used on the next DVDs in the series. 

One last note.  While I am reviewing the complete 3 DVD series, each video can be purchased separately. So if you want to try one and decide later about the others, you can do that.  Plus I should also note that Homespun does offer all these videos as DVDs if you decide you really prefer that physical media. 

C-A-G-E-D Guitar System - DVD2
Playing Chords & Licks In Every Key and Position

This video gives you the foundation for using the CAGED system to play Blues progressions in every key with all the forms.  Ernie starts out defining a 12-bar blues progression and defines the chords that are used in these progressions.   This is supported with progression tables in the included acrobat file.  Then he proceeds to show you how to play this progression in each key at all the positions up the neck.  Since I was already familiar with this material, I noticed that Ernie did sometimes mix up his terminology when describing the chord played versus the "chord form" or "chord position" used.  In those instances where he did that I can see how one might be confused by his descriptions.   But despite those few confusing sections, overall he was consistent in his descriptions and if you follow along through the whole video, the idea should become clear.  As he notes, this is a tedious process to go through, but the payoff seems worth the effort.  The key to understanding this is getting a clear picture of the difference between the chord "form" and the "name" of the chord being played.

After Ernie goes through all the chord progression up the neck, he next presents a particular lick (Lester Flat G run) and shows you how to discover that lick up the neck in a single key and in all the other keys.  As he does this he shows you how they can be recognized by the chord form pattern that it fits in.   By learning this method for finding this lick, the method can be employed to find any lick up the neck and through different keys.  This is a very powerful way to reinforce your knowledge of the CAGED system and to improve your ability to improvise in different places on the neck and in any key.

The last thing Ernie covers in this video is to introduce the minor chords derived from the basic C, A, G, E, and D chords.  As he defines each chord he walks you through the exercise of learning the notes of each chord to reinforce what notes are where in each chord form.  Since the minor chords are derived from the basic 5 chords, they also appear up the neck in the same order as those chords.  So once you learn the CAGED system, he shows you that it applies to these minor chords up the neck.  What he implies by this is that if you can execute the I-IV-V blues progressions up the neck, you can also execute progressions that contain minor chords (or any other modified versions of these chords) as well.

So this second video builds very nicely on the CAGED system introduced in DVD 1.  He shows you how to use that system to bring tremendous flexibility in your blues playing.  The ability to find licks in this system and the knowledge of how to execute a chord progression 5 different ways advances your toolbox of things you can do to add variety to your guitar playing.

C-A-G-E-D Guitar System Made Easy - DVD 3
The Next Steps: Exploring Blues and Ragtime Progressions

In DVD 1, the last thing Ernie discussed was ways to link the chord forms together by walking through some passing tones from one form to the next.  In this DVD, Ernie builds off these harmonized passing tones to create blues chord progressions that move between the CAGED positions.  The included Acrobat file includes the blues progressions with the passing licks in C, G, E, A, and D plus the E progression in 2 different CAGED positions up the neck.  So now, not only can you play a progression 5 ways in any particular key, you will be able to move between those positions as you play the progression.  After working through the tablature I found it really reinforced the power of the CAGED system in applying it to a particular piece of music.  Once this system gets internalized, the ability to improvise music by moving it to different positions on the neck is greatly enhanced.

After Ernie works through these progressions in all the keys he moves on to define the circle of 5ths and shows a I-III-VI-II-V7-I ragtime progression. He shows how that progression can then be found in different keys up the neck.   I didn't think he did a particularly good job of describing the circle of 5ths, but the end result of the description was to show an easy way to look for the tonic note (chord name) for each chord in the progression by showing how it moves down the bass strings.


I would probably rate this 3 DVD video as an intermediate level video.  I will admit that following along with all the exercises can be tedious, but I am also convinced that the benefits of knowing the CAGED system will greatly improve your knowledge of the fretboard and greatly improve your improvisational ability.  Like anything in life, the phrase "no pain, no gain" could be used here.  Learning the fretboard is a big hurdle to guitar players, so any system that makes that hurdle easier to overcome should be welcomed.  I believe this 3 DVD video series does just that.  It doesn't rely on a great deal of music theory; instead it uses well known chord patterns to map out the fretboard and visually allow you to see how any key (or chord) morphs into the different forms as you move up the neck.  Then reinforcing that by using chord progression exercises lets the whole system work its way into your brain to become second nature.  So I think this video series is a must for anybody wanting to become an advanced fingerstyle player.