5 August 2010

Introduction To Guitar Double Stops

One of my guitar learning projects for this summer is to work on improving my skills with double stops. I read about double stops and how they can help to spice up guitar sounds some time ago. But it seems that with being so concentrated on choosing the right notes in single note licks and solos I kind of forgot to put in double notes or double note licks.

To put that right and make myself more comfortable with playing them is the aim of my study this summer. In this lesson I'll review double stops to explain what they are and how they can be used. Then I'll take a look at some common fretboard positions for playing different kinds of double stops.

This lesson is the first in a series that will focus on double stops and show how to use different double stops in blues and rock rhythm and solo guitar playing.

Double Stop Definition

A double stop is a pair of harmonized notes from a scale or a chord played simultaneously.

Double stops create a fatter, fuller sound during single note licks and can be quickly moved around to create fills during rhythm playing. They are a distinctive part of the guitar's sound and a useful trick to add to your toolbox.

The pairs of notes most commonly harmonized in double stops are thirds, fourths and sixths. Let's take a look at each of these in turn and see how they are played on the guitar.

Note that because of the guitar's tuning there are two different patterns for playing double stops. The same patterns can be used on the 6th 5th 4th and 2nd string, the guitar is tuned to a fourth between each of these strings and the next highest string. The patterns for notes on the 3rd string are different because this string is tuned a major third above the 4th string instead.

If this sounds complicated don't worry, you will understand more as we learn the patterns below.

Double Stop Fourths

Double stop fourths are the easiest to play. The interval between the two notes is a perfect fourth. This interval remains the same on all notes of the major scale so you don't have to figure out what kind of fourth interval to use.

Fourths also have an easy to play shape on the guitar fretboard. The figure below shows the shape for fourth intervals between the strings.

Fourths on the 6th and 5th, 5th and 4th, 4th and 3rd, and 2nd and 1st strings use the shape shown in blue. Fourths on the 3rd and 2nd strings use the shape shown in orange.

Double Stop Thirds

The major and minor sound of double stop thirds can create some beautiful sounding lines that strongly support the song's harmony. But you have to be more careful with them to play the minor and major intervals in the right places.

Unlike fourths the interval of a double stop third depends on which scale degree it occurs on. On the first, fourth and fifth degrees a major third double stop occurs. On the second, third and sixth degrees a minor interval occurs.

This means you have to play the right kind of double stop third - major or minor - depending on the degree of the top note.

This might seem tricky at first but with a little practice and some common fretboard patterns it will become easier. Patterns for major and minor thirds are shown in the figure below. The colours for double stop fourths above are used again.

Double Stop Sixths

Think of the intro to Sam and Dave's Soul Man or Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl and you'll immediately know what sixths double stops sound like.

Double stop sixths have an interval of a sixth between the two notes (surprising, huh?). Like thirds they occur in two flavours, major and minor, so there are two different patterns to learn on the fretboard.


Now you know what double stops are and the patterns used to play the most common forms on the guitar. In future lessons of this series we'll see how to include double stops in some guitar licks.

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