Spice Up Your Chord and Lead Work with Double-Stops

From folk to blues to rock and beyond, the harmonies produced by double-stops can make a melody in any genre stand out.

A great way to embellish a solo, thicken your sound, or create a lovely harmony is through the use of double-stops, or dyads. Essentially, a double-stop involves playing two strings simultaneously, usually on adjacent strings. These can be formed from chord shapes or derived from harmonizing scales. 

You’ll find that double-stops are useful in a number of musical situations, from folk to blues and rock. The harmony produced by double-stops can make a melody in any genre stand out. In this lesson, we’ll explore common chord shapes, deconstruct them to form dyads, and generate two-note harmonies using the major scale.


Week One 

Let’s begin by working with common chord shapes. In Example 1, the familiar open C is broken up into pairs of adjacent strings. By adding a couple of hammer-ons to the couplings, we can produce a great phrase suitable for a folk or country song (Example 2). 

The A-shaped C chord in Example 3 can also be divided into adjacent string pairs. Manipulating the string pairs through hammer-ons or, as in the case of Example 4, slides, can enhance the harmony and create a cool-sounding lick. You can bar with one finger or use two fingers for the double-stops on the same fret. 


So far, we have manipulated strings within a given chord shape, but we can also move between chord shapes. For instance, in Example 5, we start with the dyad of E and G and move down chromatically until we get to C and E on beat 2.5. This is a great way to maneuver between chord shapes and can be heard in songs like Robert Johnson’s “From Four Until Late” and Big Bill Broonzy’s “Shuffle Rag.” 

Examples 6 and 7 illustrate a couple of possibilities for an open D chord. You have probably played the first-string ascent in Ex. 7 in one strumming song or another, for instance, the Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” But here the harmony becomes more focused because you’re only playing two strings.

Beginners’ Tip #1
Break down common chord shapes into two-string chunks. Play both the full chord and the two-string versions to hear what licks or phrases might come to mind.

Weekly Workout: Spice Up Your Lead and Chord Work with Double-Stops musical notation

That’s the end of week one. The complete lesson features four weeks of workouts (plus a bonus exercise.) There are two ways to access the full video and musical examples: Join our community at Patreon.com/acousticguitarplus OR Buy the March/April 2024 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Acoustic Guitar magazine cover for issue 344

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Pete Madsen
Pete Madsen

Pete Madsen is an acoustic blues, ragtime and slide guitarist from the San Francisco Bay Area. He's the author of Play the Blues Like..., an essential guide for playing fingerstyle blues in open tunings.

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