But one of the most flexible, and also the most popular techniques, is the double stop. The double stops add zest to everything from jazz and blues to Jimmy Hendrix riffs and hard rock. No wonder everyone wants to learn about them.
But what is a double stop on a guitar and how do you play them? In this article, we’ll dive into its definition, explain how to play a double stop, and look at a few iconic examples of the technique.
What Is A Double Stop On Guitar?
Agreed, the term double stop is a bit weird, and I’m not quite sure why they are called that. The other name for a double stop on guitar is a dyad. That’s because double stops require you to play two notes simultaneously.
That’s different from playing a chord because a chord involves playing three or more strings at once.
Guitar players aren’t the only people to use double stops. You can double-stop on any string instrument, like the violin. However, they are especially popular with guitarists because they add extra musical color to the harmony.
Famous Examples Of Double Stops
Still not sure what a double stop is? It may help to look at some examples.
The unique sound created by a double stop means that many prominent artists use them in their guitar playing.
Jimi Hendrix never met a song he couldn’t add a double stop to. One of his most recognizable tracks to feature a whole heap of double stops is “Little Wing”.
Hendrix used double stops a LOT in his playing, and the songs below are only a few examples:
- Voodoo Child
- Hear My Train a’ Comin’
- Wait Until Tomorrow
Guns ‘N Roses
Another notable example is Guns ‘N Roses. In “You Could Be Mine,” the iconic group gives it an extra harmonic kick by combining the double stop or dyad with a major sixth.
That blend gives the composition a bluesy sound and creates rich and resonant harmonies.
Or why not simply use Johnny B Goode as great example, where Chuck Berry marinates his masterpiece in tasty double stops.
How To Play A Double Stop
So, that’s just a few examples of double stops. If you want to emulate these artists, dyads are an excellent way to get started. They’re also the perfect way to build your guitar technique.
So, how do you play a double stop? The video below by guitarist Rotem Sivan is really good.
When the strings necessary for a double stop are close together, it’s tempting to use the tips of your index and middle fingers to play them.
In practice, it’s often more efficient to use what’s called the barre technique.
That involves using the flats of your fingers to hold down the appropriate strings while strumming. The result creates an effective double stop but leaves your other fingers free to tackle the rest of the composition. So you can barre either high E and B, B and G, G and D, or even D and A. In fact, if you barre the A and D string, you have yourself a neat little power chord, where you can also use the low E string as pedal tone for some cool riffing. You can of course do the same with the D and G string and use the A string as a pedal tone.
One of the reasons the barre technique is so prevalent is because it’s easy. Musicians often describe the sensation as being akin to playing a single string.
Ideally, double stops always land on barre fingers. Unfortunately, the rules of music theory say otherwise.
Consequently, you should ensure your double-stop exercises incorporate all your fingers. It will keep your fingers flexible and let you tackle dyads however and whenever they pop up in the music.
Using two fingers
Of course, not all double stops sit neatly right underneath each other. Sometimes you have to use two fingers. Like for a perfect fifth. And if you’re wondering what a perfect fifth is, it’s simply the tonic and the fifth note in that scale, i.e seven frets up. Or even more simply; a good old fashioned power chord! On two strings, so without the octave.
You have quite a few other two-fingered double stops as well. Below are just two examples from the A minor pentatonic scale, but I hope you get the idea. Just experiment like crazy, and see how they fit in to the pentatonic and diatonic scales. And of course…once you get familiar with where your double stops are, start using slides and hammer ons and pull offs to add that extra spice to your playing.
What about string skipping?
You will also find that your dyads don’t always involve notes or strings that are beside each other. That can happen if, for instance, you play a perfect octave.
Crucially, you don’t want to sound that middle string while strumming. So, what can you do?
The technique varies depending on whether you are using a plectrum or not.
If you are using a pick, the popular strategy is to use a finger on your fretting hand to to gently rest on the string you wish to mute, and strum all three strings. I tend to use my index finger. This allows you to play that kind of a double stop, dyad or octave ( or whatever you want to call it) without complication.
How To Practice A Double Stop
Hopefully, that answers how to play a double stop. But nothing goes perfectly the first time you try, at least not in this house.
So, what’s the best way to practice a guitar double stop?
Start simple. Work on double stops that occupy strings that are next to one another. Move up and down the scale, so that you can integrate a variety of dyad combinations into your playing.
You should also ensure you use all your fingers. That gives you added musical flexibility when you start incorporating double stops into your solos and improvisations.
As you become more confident, start integrating two-fingered double stops into your practice. You can do this the same way as an ordinary double-stop practice session. Work your way up and down the scale trying double stops that involve thirds, perfect fourths, and perfect fifths.
And what about technique? Well, what’s important is that you develop a technique that’s comfortable and lets you play naturally. That’s it really. Stick to what feels most comfortable to you.
Why Use Double Stops?
After all that discussion of how to play double stops, are they worth the effort?
Hell yes!. They give a heightened musical flavor to your playing, especially when you want to play jazz, blues or rock.
They are also an excellent way to learn the underpinnings of more complex chords. In other words, the more fluent your double stops on the guitar are, the better your harmony will sound.
So, what is a double stop on guitar? It’s a technique somewhat similar to a chord that requires two notes to be played. And it’s something you can start practising right away, and incorporate into your playing today.
The double stop has a long and colorful musical history. With a little time and effort, you can make it part of your performances, too.