Playing Modes As Stacked Fifths

Stacked fifths are a great way to get some more interesting sounds out of your normal 3 note per string scale shapes. You can get some of the sort of sounds that Steve Vai has used before, and also some really cool diminished and augmented sounds.

What are “stacked fifths”?

Recall the basic power chord shape you know and love:


What makes this a power chord is we have the root note (A) and the note that is a fifth above that (E, fret 7 on the A string). To make stacked fifths, we are going to add another fifth after the E:

Stacked Fifth

The chord this creates is D5add9. If you recall a scale of D major:


You can quickly see where the fifth comes from. If we continue the scale from G#:

G# Scale

So you can see that the B is a fifth higher than the E. So the above chord shape contains two fifths, stacked on top of each other. This chord shape on it’s own sounds pretty cool with some heavy distortion.

So how do we apply this to our 3nps modes?

There are a few different ways we can use these ideas to play through the different modes. It should be noted that in the above example, the fifths were always perfect (7 frets from the root), and some of the fifths we create in the following examples will be diminished fifths (6 frets from the root), and augmented (8 frets from the root).

So let’s refresh our memory of the 3nps for the major scale (Ionian mode):



And next, highlight the notes we are going to stack:



Which we can play through like this:



Or, we can take the same pattern, and use cascading fifths:

Cascading Fifths


Which we play like this:

Cascading Fifths


Note the pattern we are using here: from whichever string we start, we take the second note in the pattern on the next string, and the last note in the pattern on the string after that.

Now, playing continuously up and down scales in these patterns will get a bit boring, but thrown into riffs and solos, they can sound really cool.


If you want the patterns for the rest of the modes of the major scale, you can either work them out yourself, or find them on my website, with diagrams, tab and full explanations: www.samrussell.co.uk/ebook




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Published on: March 27, 2015

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