Applying the CAGED System to Jazz Guitar

Applying the CAGED System to Jazz Guitar

Welcome, fellow jazz enthusiasts! Many of you may already be familiar with the CAGED system but would like to know how best to apply it to jazz guitar – you’re in the right place!

In this article, we’ll discuss the advantages and drawbacks of using CAGED for jazz. Then go over some jazz chord extensions and iconic jazz progressions tailored for the CAGED system. 

Ready to embark on this melodious journey?

Pros and cons of applying the CAGED when playing jazz guitar

Jazz guitar is all about voicings, extensions, and transitions. So, how does the CAGED system, hold up in the complex realm of jazz?


  1. Visual Framework: The CAGED system offers a visually appealing and intuitive map of the fretboard. For budding jazz guitarists, this can be a boon to navigate the complex chord changes jazz is famous for.
  2. Familiarity: If you're transitioning from rock or pop to jazz, you may already be comfortable with the basic outline of the CAGED system. This comfort level can speed up your jazz learning curve.
  3. Versatility: The system provides multiple shapes for the same chord, ideal for jazz improvisation. You can easily switch between voicings or incorporate color notes.
  4. Improvisation Backbone: As jazz heavily relies on improvisation, having a structured system can act as a safety net, especially when soloing over challenging chord progressions.


  1. Limiting for Advanced Players: While the CAGED system offers a solid foundation, some advanced players find it restrictive in terms of exploring more sophisticated jazz concepts.
  2. Overemphasis on Chord Shapes: Relying heavily on predefined chord shapes might prevent you from thinking in terms of intervals, crucial for understanding advanced jazz theory.
  3. Physical Challenges: Some chord shapes, especially the G and D shapes, can be unwieldy, making swift transitions a challenge.

With a clearer understanding of the pros and cons, let's delve deeper into applying CAGED to jazz-specific scenarios.

Understanding Jazz Chord Extensions using CAGED

Ah, jazz chord extensions — the secret sauce that adds that distinctive jazzy flavor to our chords. And guess what? The CAGED system is a fantastic tool to grasp these extensions. 

Let’s break it down.

In jazz, we often enrich basic chords by adding extra notes, turning our triads into lush, complex soundscapes. From the 7th to the 13th, these extensions create depth and emotion in the music.

C major chord extensions

7th Chords: By adding the 7th note from the scale, our chord gains tension and character. For instance, adding a B to a C major chord gives us a Cmaj7.

9th Chords: Go a step further! Add the 9th note, and for C, that’s a D. So, a C major chord plus B and D equals Cmaj9.

11th Chords: Deepen the plot by adding the 11th note, making our Cmaj11 include an F.

13th Chords: Here's where it gets rich! For a Cmaj13, we’re adding an A to the cocktail.

Using the CAGED system, these extensions can be beautifully visualized and transposed:

  1. C Shape: Begin with the C shape and discover how these extensions fit. Move this shape along the fretboard, experimenting with different keys while maintaining the same shape.
  2. A Shape: Adjust for the A shape, noticing the unique voicings these extensions provide in this form.
  3. G Shape: This might be a stretch (literally!) but offers some unique voicings worth the effort. You can always remove duplicate notes to make the shape easier to play.
  4. E Shape: If you've played barre chords, the E shape will feel familiar. Integrate the extensions and feel the transformation.
  5. D Shape: The D shape can feel cozy, but the voicings here, especially higher on the fretboard, are simply lush!

Exercises for Jazz Chord Extensions using CAGED

Exercise 1CAGED Extension Run 

  • Play a Cmaj7 using each of the CAGED shapes, moving up the neck. 
  • This exercise not only aids in finger flexibility but also in understanding the voicing differences each shape offers.  

Exercise 2Extension Evolution

  • Start with a Cmaj chord and progressively add extensions using the E shape
  • Transition from Cmaj to Cmaj9, Cmaj11, and finally Cmaj13. 
  • Notice the depth each extension adds to the base chord.

With this newfound knowledge, jazz chords will not only sound richer but also feel easier to navigate. The CAGED system truly serves as a compass on the vast sea of jazz chord extensions, steering you towards more sophisticated musical horizons.

Jazz Chord Progressions and the CAGED System

Chord progressions form the backbone of jazz, giving it its characteristic ebb and flow. Integrating the CAGED system into these progressions will help ensure you always have the right chord voicing at your fingertips.

Common Jazz Progressions

While jazz offers countless chord progressions, let’s look at some classics.

II-V-I Progression

This progression is the bread and butter of jazz. In the key of C, that would be Dm7 - G7 - Cmaj7.

I-VI-II-V Progression 

This sequence extends the previous progression. In C, it translates to Cmaj7 - A7 - Dm7 - G7.

The Blues Progression: It’s the soul of jazz. Typical in a 12-bar format, it has a distinctive pattern, often incorporating dominant 7th chords.

Visualizing with CAGED

The magic happens when you view these progressions through the CAGED system. 

  • As each shape provides multiple positions to play the same chord, you have the liberty to choose voicings that are closest to each other. 
  • This results in smoother transitions and sophisticated sounds.

Exercises for Jazz Chord Progressions using CAGED

Exercise 1: II-V-I Exploration

  • Play the II-V-I progression in the key of C using different CAGED shapes
  • Start with the E shape for Dm7, switch to the A shape for G7, and resolve using the C shape for Cmaj7
  • Mix and match other shapes to understand the myriad ways to play this progression.

Exercise 2: Blues with CAGED

  • Play a 12-bar blues in A
  • Utilize the CAGED shapes to find novel voicings for A7, D7, and E7
  • This exercise broadens your blues palette, offering fresh sonic perspectives on a classic progression.

Incorporating the CAGED system into your jazz chord progressions not only enhances your playing technique but also deepens your understanding of the fretboard. It allows for an almost conversational approach to jazz, where you can fluently "speak" through your chords, responding effortlessly to the song's evolving narrative.

Now that you're armed with the know-how of melding the CAGED system into the colorful canvas of jazz, the possibilities are endless. 

So, pick up your guitar and let your fingers dance to the rhythm of jazz, and remember, the journey is as melodious as the destination.

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