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Wait Till You Hear What Double Stops Can Do For Your Sound

By By Kathy Dickson


Double stops are yet another technique in the vast arsenal of sounds available to guitarists. These two-note chords (or dyads) fatten up guitar riffs and give a richer, fuller sound to solos. They also allow you to play harmony lines with yourself.

Double stops are used in all kinds of music, from country to heavy metal, and by both lead and rhythm guitarists. If you've never tried them before, here are 10 things you need to know about double stops and how to play them:

1. Brush up on your music theory. A basic understanding of how chords work goes a long way in helping you grasp techniques like double stops. If you're at all vague on the relationship between chords and scales, take a little time to get clear on that.

2. Understand the pattern of intervals. The distance between any two musical notes is called an interval. An interval of a half step is the equivalent of one fret. A whole step, then, is an interval equal to two half steps, or two frets. We combine half steps and whole steps in specific patterns to create specific scales. For example, in any key of the major scale the interval pattern is whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step, while a minor scale's pattern is whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step.

3. How double stops function. The first note of a double stop is the melody note you want to play. The second note is the harmony note. For instance, if you're playing in the key of C and that melody note is C, your double stop harmony note would be any other note of the C scale that is higher in pitch than the melody note. The harmony note of a double stop moves when the melody note moves, much like it does when singing.

4. How double stops are made. Double stops are made of specific intervals. Although harmonic intervals can be played in thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths and sevenths, the most common double stops are third, fourth and sixth intervals.

5. Double stop thirds. Double stop thirds are played using the root and third notes of a major scale (a flat third for a minor). For instance, to play a C major scale in double stop thirds, the two notes will be two letter names apart, such as C-E, D-F, and so on.

6. Double stop fourths. Double stop fourths are played using the root note and the perfect fourth of that note. Keeping to a C scale, a C double stop fourth would call for a C and F notes to be played together, D and G, etc.

7. Double stop sixths. If you want to harmonize a note with a sixth interval, start with the melody note and count up six notes in the scale. You would harmonize a C note with an A. If you want to harmonize a D (the second note of the C scale), count up six notes from the D to a B note.

8. Octaves. An octave is the distance between a given note and the next higher or lower note of the same name. To play double stop octaves, play two notes an octave apart at the same time. For example, the third fret fifth string C note with the first fret second string C note.

9. How to fret double stops. Fret double stops the same way you do chords or single notes. Use fingers 1 and 3 when the notes are two frets (whole step) apart, and fingers 1 and 2 (or 2 and 3) when the notes are one fret (half step) apart. When the notes of a double stop are in the same fret on adjacent strings, use a small barre.

10. How to pick double stops. You can play double stops using hybrid picking, fingerpicking, or strumming depending on whether the double stop is on adjacent or nonadjacent strings. Adjacent strings can be played with one stroke of the pick, but if you're playing on nonadjacent strings, you'll have to mute the string in-between.

For more on double stops, give some these tutorials a try. And if you want to hear double stops in action, listen to Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" and Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode."

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