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How to Use Double Stops In Your Guitar Licks, Riffs and Solos

Playing double stops on guitar simply means playing two notes at the same time.

When we play guitar licks and solos we usually play one note at a time.  Double stops offer us an option to spice up our improvisations and compositions by harmonizing one or more of those notes with another note.

Double stops can also be used in guitar riffs to replace a single note, a triad or a more extended chord.

Note: As the name implies, triads are chords with three notes. Double stops can also be called dyads. They’re not a type of chord though, since a chord requires at least three notes being played at the same time.

When learning double stops and incorporating them into your riffs, licks and solos you mainly have to deal with two things:

  1. The choice of the notes. 
  2. The guitar techniques you’re going to apply to them.

We’ll be discussing both these elements in detail during this lesson.

Double stop notes

An interval is the distance between two notes (for instance the distance between the notes C and F forms the interval of a perfect 4th, C – E a major 3rd, and C – Eb a minor 3rd)

When the two notes of an interval are played after each other we call it a melodic interval and when they’re played at the same time we call it a harmonic interval.

Thus a harmonic interval and a double stop are basically the same thing.

The total number of intervals that can be played on the guitar is 12 (13 if we count the unison – playing the same note twice), and will be grouped into 5 categories.

1. Minor and major thirds

Intervals of a minor or a major third sound pleasant to the ear since they’re very consonant. 

This is not to say there’s anything wrong with dissonant intervals. They have an important role in music since dissonance resolving into consonance is what makes melodies sound melodic.

What this means is that consonant intervals are perfect to harmonize a note with another and are thus widely used as double stops.

Whether you should harmonize the note with a minor or a major third depends on the position of the chord in the particular key you’re playing.

The following are the double stops of a minor or major third that can be played on the guitar on every string, starting from the root note A.

Thus, the double stop of a minor third is made of the notes A and C while the major third is made of the notes A and C#

2. Perfect 5ths and 4ths

You’re probably already familiar with the interval of the perfect 5th since this double stop is the same as the power chord.

If the root note is A, the perfect fifth is the note E.

Perfect 4ths are actually inverted perfect fifths. The same two notes but with the fifth being the lower note. 

Thus if the root note is E, the Perfect 4th will be the note A.

The following are the Perfect 4ths and 5th double stops you can play on each guitar string.Note that the root note in all these examples is the note A, thus the second note in the Perfect 4th interval is a D.

3. Minor and major 6ths

Double stops of a minor or major 6th are also commonly used.

With the root note being A, a minor 6th interval would give us the note F while a major 6th interval would give us the note F#.

This is how minor and major 6th intervals can be played on all guitar strings.

Note: Since this is a wide interval, to play it on the guitar you have to skip a string. To avoid hitting the string in between you can either mute it with your fretting hand finger or use hybrid picking technique.

4. Octaves and unisons

The octave is the most consonant interval of all since you’re actually playing the same note – an octave higher.

A unison simply means playing the exact same note on a different string.

The following are the double stops of an octave and a unison you can play on the guitar.

5. Dissonant intervals

All the intervals we’ve explored so far are, to different extents consonant, thus more commonly used.

This doesn’t mean dissonant double stops can’t be played on the guitar. You just have to be more careful to resolve the dissonance correctly.

The following are the dissonant double stops you can play on all strings.

This way, we have covered all the intervals within an octave that can be used as double stops in your guitar playing.

Double stops with guitar techniques

While double stops can be used without any particular phrasing technique applied to them, in many cases guitar players make them sound better by applying techniques like slides, string bending, and hammer-ons and pull-offs as we’ll explore in this section of this lesson.

Slides

In the first example using slides the double stops of a perfect 4th (bar 1) and a minor 3rd (bar 2), are slid into from a double stop of the same kind.

In the next example we play the double stop (a perfect 4th) first, slide up two frets, and then slide back into it.

String bending

There are many ways string bending technique can be applied to double stops on the guitar.

In the first example the bend is not part of the double stop but precedes it creating a lick that has been used in many different forms and variations in Rock and Blues music.

In the next example, the higher note of the double stop remains stationary as we only bend the lower note a full bend on the first double stop, and a pre-bend and release on the second. Then we resolve it to a major third double stop in the second bar.

In the last example of double stop bends we’re going to bend both notes in the double stop a full bend.

Hammer ons and pull offs

My favorite use of hammer-on technique applied to double stop is in the intro riff to Paranoid by Black Sabbath.

The last example in this lesson combines hammer-ons and pull offs, string bending and slides with double stops in one riff.

Conclusion: Where to go from here

As with every other element of guitar playing, mastering double stops comes through use and experimentation.

Start incorporating double stops in your guitar playing by choosing an interval and applying to it one or more of the techniques explored in this lesson.


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