Make Powerful Licks from Towers of Fifths

Stacked fifths are both a powerful lick generator and a useful improvisational tool.
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You’ve heard stacked fifths in action. After all, they drive infectious riffs such as those in “Message in a Bottle” by the Police, “Timeless” by John Abercrombie, and “What I Am” by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians.

But do you have this grip nailed yourself?

You should. Its beautiful sound is not only a powerful lick generator—it’s also a useful improvisational tool.

Play the notes in FIGURE 1. You’ll hear two intervals of a fifth: D to A and A to E. This portable grip is extremely addictive and has many exciting applications.


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In FIGURE 2, you’ll find an exhilarating way to solo over Dm9(11). Put stacked fifths on the root (D), the fourth (G), the seventh (C) and the third (F), and you’ll find you’ve tagged every chord tone (D, F, A, C, E and G). Sweep pick the descending arpeggio on the last two beats, and you’re home.


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These same notes can be rearranged to work a similar magic in F major, as you’ll see in the towering ascent of FIGURE 3. Start on low F and keep stacking until you hit E.


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FIGURE 4 adds a descending scale passage at the end of each stack, lending a Lydian sound to the riff. Because F is the relative major of D minor, FIGURES 2, 3 and 4 all work over both F major and D minor.


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After you get these exercises under your fingers, try experimenting with rearranging the order to the 5th triads. Use just one or two of them, or any combination that sounds good to you.