When you really think about it, double stops are incredible tools on the guitar.
You can write entire riffs and solos with double stops. You can supplement a single-note melody with a harmony. You can play through difficult passages of music by playing a couple of relevant notes in place of challenging chord shapes.
So let’s do more with double stops – you’ll be rewarded for it! Here are some tips and ideas on how you can open up new possibilities with riffs, harmonies and intervals.
What Is A Double Stop?
Don’t worry – it isn’t complicated.
A double stop is a technique in which you play two notes simultaneously. It can be any two notes on the guitar, even non-adjacent strings.
A double stop, by its very definition, is not a chord. But I’ve already hinted at the fact that you can imply chords with a double stop. Or, together with other instruments, you can form a triad or a chord.
We’ll say, for example, that you’re playing the E and G notes together. If the bass player throws a C on top of that at the same time, you’ve got yourself a C triad.
So double stops are quite versatile when it comes right down to it.
Playing Riffs With Double Stops
There are a lot of famous riffs out there that are based off of double stops (though this doesn’t mean that the entirety of theses songs are made up of double stops).
Here are just a few examples:
- “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison
- “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple
- “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter Group
- “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits
I would suggest looking up and learning these examples on your own (note: the Dire Straits example is quite tricky if you want to play it exactly the way Mark Knopfler does).
Since “power chords” could also be considered double stops, there are really an endless supply of songs out there by the likes of Green Day, Offspring, and Nirvana for you to check out. Granted, some of these guitarists are actually playing three strings at once to form their power chords, but at that point we’re arguing semantics since the three-string power chord only contains two notes (the fifth and the octave – more on that later).
I’ll share a couple of riff ideas with you here, but just know that there’s no way for me to offer a comprehensive look into what you can do with double stops. There are lots of possibilities!
The first example is played on the fourth and fifth strings in the key of G. I could imagine hearing something like this in a Pop tune.
The second example is similar to something you might hear Eddie Van Halen or Paul Gilbert play – though they would probably be inclined to throw some muted bass notes, pick scrapes, whammy dives or single-note licks in the spaces. It’s best played at a fast tempo, and is technically in G minor, but uses “outside” notes from the blues scale.
Playing Harmonies With Double Stops
When you add a second complementary note to any one note you’re playing, you get a harmony note. The word “complementary” can be interpreted pretty loosely as it depends entirely on the musical context.
But in the key of C, for example, if you’re playing an E note (first string open), and you add a C on the second string first fret, you’ll have a nice consonant harmony.
Have you heard the song “God Gave Rock And Roll To You” by KISS? If not, go and take a listen now.
What’s unique about this song is that there are a few “twin guitar” motifs throughout, particularly in the solo. It’s basically where one guitar is playing the “melody” line, and another is complementing it with a “harmony” line. This can sound very impressive.
Another great example, as performed by a single guitarist, is the solo from “To Be With You” by Mr. Big. It’s on acoustic guitar. Go and listen if you like.
Paul begins the solo with the chorus melody and harmony parts by using double stops. In fact, there are a lot of double stops throughout the solo.
As I was saying earlier, the exact nature of the harmony is going to change based on what key you’re in and what genre of music you’re playing. So instead of showing you an example of a harmonized melody, I’ll simply provide you with a framework you can use to come up with harmony lines in the key of C.
You can take these shapes and play them in different orders to come up with your own harmonized melodies.
Learning Your Intervals
If you’re still a beginner guitarist or musician, you may want to put off learning your intervals until later as it involves a little bit of theory. But if you’re still with me, let’s carry on.
I like to describe an interval as the distance between any two notes. A more formal definition is the difference between two pitches.
Understanding intervals gives you a solid foundation for creating different kinds of harmonies, and that’s where its value lies.
There are 13 types of intervals. Here is a very quick-and-dirty overview:
- Unison. Also known as “perfect unison”, this is where two notes are exactly the same pitch and frequency. If you play the fifth fret of the sixth string and the fifth string (open) together, for example, you’ll have a unison A note.
- Minor second. One of the most dissonant sounding intervals in music. We’ll use A as our root for the remainder of these examples, so if you were playing A and A# together, you would have a minor second. Minor seconds are used a lot in post-hardcore/metal music.
- Major second. Go up one fret or one semitone from the A#, and you get a major second interval (we’re not changing the A on top, remember?). Still dissonant sounding, but not as much as the minor second.
- Minor third. Turn the B into a C, and you get a minor third, an interval that is necessary to create a minor chord.
- Major third. Go from C to C#, and you get the major third interval – you need to this to make a major chord.
- Perfect fourth. Turn that C# into a D, and you get a perfect fourth. Odd sounding on its own, but it has plenty of uses.
- Augmented fourth/diminished fifth. Once called the “devil’s interval”, the augmented fourth or diminished fifth interval is one of the ugliest sounding intervals alongside the minor second. Turn the D into a D#.
- Perfect fifth. Beginner to intermediate guitarists should immediately recognize this as a “power chord.” Turn the D# into a E.
- Minor sixth. Move from the E to the F and you’ll get a minor sixth interval.
- Major sixth. Turn the F into an F#, and you have a major sixth interval.
- Minor seventh. You guessed it – turn the F# into a G, and you get a minor seventh.
- Major seventh. Move the G to an A#, and you get a major seventh interval.
- Octave. Also known as “perfect octave”, this is where you’re playing two notes that are the same pitch (i.e. A), but where the second note is a higher or lower frequency. You can hear a lot of octaves in the intro to “Manhattan” by Eric Johnson, as well as in the playing of Wes Montgomery.
Whew. That was lot of ground to cover, wasn’t it?
Hopefully what you’re starting to see is that there’s more to playing two notes together than you might have thought.
So next time you’re stuck on something and you need to simplify it, or you’re looking for ways to embellish your playing, consider adding more double stop ideas to your repertoire.