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Using Double Stops

August 2009 5 Comments

by Seth Austen

One of my favorite techniques for accompaniment is using double stops instead of full chords. When playing mandolin in an ensemble, there are often guitars or other instruments providing chords, so playing four string chords can result in muddiness or too many things competing. Using double stops in this context can be quite sufficient, they provide a full texture that complements other instruments while also leaving space. I like using these for solo playing as well.

We’ll start by looking at major chords. The major triad is made up of three notes: the root, third and fifth of a major scale. If we play two notes of the three, there are 6 possible combinations of double stops: root/third (major third), third/root (minor sixth), third/ fifth (minor third), fifth/third (major sixth), root/fifth (fifth) and fifth root (fourth). We’ll try this in C, the combinations are CE, EC, EG, GE, CG and GC.

Printable Sheet Music: Double Stops C

Once you’ve played this example in C, you can transpose these same six fingerings for any other chord, and on any pair of adjacent strings. These can be combined to accompany songs. We’ll demonstrate this by playing a simple I, IV, V progression in the key of C. When using double stops, I generally like to play inversions that are close together in pitch, for example I wouldn’t necessarily jump between bass and treble string sets or go back and forth from low on the neck to high up the neck. If the double stop inversions are close to each other, they create melodic movement that can complement and harmonize a song. Each measure in this example is a complete I, IV, V, I progression. Notice that the examples using mostly thirds and sixths have a different sound than the examples using mostly fifths and fourths.

Printable Sheet Music: I, IV, V, I Progrssion in C

I often use these double stop combinations along with open strings, transposing into keys such as D or A that facilitate this, which creates great sounding suspended open chords. Here’s a couple of examples in A.

Printable Sheet Music: I, IV, V, I progression examples with open strings in A

We aren’t limited to major chords, we can also play double stops for minor chords, seventh chords, etc. Here’s an example using dominant 7ths. We won’t play the root or fifth notes of the chord in this example, we’ll just use the major 3rd and flatted 7th. For C7, we’ll play E/Bb, the third and dominant seventh. There are two inversions: E/Bb and Bb/E. Interestingly, either inversion is a tritone (flat 5). We’ll use the same approach for F7 and G7, so I’d play A/Eb or Eb/A for the F7 and B/F or F/B for the G7. Notice that an entire I IV V progression can be played within a few frets on the same pair of strings.

Printable Sheet Music: I, IV, V, 7ths

Here is an example using the dominant seventh double stops throughout a 12 bar blues.

Printable Sheet Music: dominant 7th double stops 12 bar blues

I hope you enjoy using these double stops in your mandolin playing!

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5 Comments »

  • Dave Murray said:

    I was just working on double stops, took a break to surf and found this! Right on time for me. Thank you for a very useful article.

  • Tom Rondello said:

    Thanks Seth!

  • carol said:

    This is great! I plan to study this at length, just what I was looking for,thankyou much! :)

  • Paul said:

    double stops in C. Standard notation does not agree with tablature. I am new at this so maybe you can explain this for me. At first I thought maybe we were seeing tuning other than GDAE but that didn’t make sense either. All this being said; I really enjoy your web site and have gained huge amounts of useful information. ThANK YOU !!!

  • Kamil said:

    Double stops are incredibly useful and great to hear/play. I use them a staggering amount in my playing and find them particularly useful for blues improvisation. Here you can learn different ways to use double stopping in soloing and also learn some basic harmony.
    laser