Learn how to turn your riffs and solos from blasé to burning with a few well-placed double-stop licks.
• Discover how to imply chord changes with only two notes.
• Expand your chord vocabulary.
• Create compelling intros and turnarounds for a 12-bar blues.
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In this lesson, we’ll be looking at using double-stops in the context of a blues. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it basically means playing two notes at once. Think of nearly any Chuck Berry solo or even a bluegrass violin or mandolin part where you can hear two strings simultaneously bowed or plucked and you’re there. Because you are essentially harmonizing with yourself, double-stops can be used to create harmonic interest. By adding thickness or aggression to a slightly overdriven guitar tone, they can also be useful for lifting and driving a solo. We’ll be working with a Stevie Ray Vaughan-style blues in the key of G and looking at ideas for intros, navigating the IV chord (C), and outlining the turnaround.
Ex. 1 is an intro that would be great in a trio. It kicks off on the V chord (D7) and blends the punchy sound of G minor pentatonic (G–Bb–C–D–F) with some quarter-step bends. It feeds nicely into a basic turnaround in the last two measures that will give your bandmates a definitive signal on when to come in.
Let’s build on the previous phrase for Ex. 2. The harmonic rhythm is the same, but we move to a lower octave for some added weight. Instead of playing straight double-stops, we’re using a triplet figure that shifts from one note to the other. (If you want to cop a bit of an Otis Rush vibe, add some shaky vibrato.) This time our turnaround intro pattern hits some chromatically descending sixths before walking up to the V chord (D7) again.
Featuring double-stops throughout, Ex. 3 is a “Night Train”-inspired idea over the I and IV chords. We start over the G7 with a familiar first-finger barre on the 2nd and 1st strings at the 3rd fret. This barring theme continues any time you see the same fret number across two adjacent strings with one exception: the last upbeat over the G7 where you hammer-on the 3 (B). In measures one and two, I recommend pushing up slightly on the b3 over G7, or adding a little vibrato. The goal is to avoid having the b3 sit squarely on the G7, as that can sound a little gnarly. To use this pattern over the IV (C7) in measures five and six, all we need to do is remove the hammer-on at the end of each measure.
Let’s thicken up our sound even more in Ex. 4 by breaking away from strict double-stops and playing a series of four-note chord shapes for G7 with the top voice climbing up a G7 arpeggio (G–B–D–F) to create some momentum towards the arrival of the C9. Try adding some dynamic interest by accenting the first beat of each triplet. Alternatively, you could slowly build intensity over the four measures. These ascending voicings are great if you’re playing with a clean or a slightly overdriven tone because the added notes will build volume and texture.
Ex. 5 takes a slightly different approach to the idea of playing two notes at once. Here, we fret the root with our pinky and play some bluesy licks underneath. This is similar to something you might hear George Benson play or even a blues piano lick à la Jerry Lee Lewis. To take us to the IV chord, we fret the 5 (D) and b7 (F) of G7 and move them up chromatically to resolve to the 3 (E) and 5 (G) of C9.
Ex. 6 combines organ-inspired pedaling of the root with rising double-stops and some chromaticism over the IV chord. In measure three, give the b3 and 6 a good shake over G7. To avoid getting twisted up when playing the descending double-stops in the last measure, try using your ring finger to barre the 2nd and 3rd strings.
Let’s focus on the IV chord (C9) for Ex. 7. To walk down to the I chord, we’re using some Chuck Berry-approved descending thirds. (If we were following chord-scale theory, the second shape would have an F instead of an F#, but the F# offers a pleasing pull on the ear down to the I. This is the blues after all—the ear is king! We finish up the phrase by outlining the G7 chord with a few more double-stops.
In our final example (Ex. 8), we outline the turnaround with sliding sixths before progressing to some single-note blues vocabulary over the G7. The lick ends with a faux Robert Johnson-style descending line, and I’ve thrown in a partial D augmented chord (D–F#–A#) to generate some harmonic tension before the 12-bar form starts again.