Double Stops

The technique of playing only two notes at the same time is known as a double stop, when done correctly it can sound very pretty on the ukulele. The key to practicing double stops is to make sure you only pluck the two strings that are to be played. Double stops are also great practice for your music theory, as they consist of two note intervals. Remember intervals are the difference between two pitches, and since we are dealing with two notes at a time here are some of the more common intervals (using the G major scale G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G):

  • G-B is the major third interval, as the B is the 3rd note
  • G-C is the perfect fourth
  • G-D is the perfect fifth
  • G-E is the major 6th
  • G-G is the octave or perfect 8th

If we want a G minor third interval? Well the G minor scale is G-A-Bb-C-D-E-F#-G so that interval is: …G-Bb.

And so on, there are clearly more intervals than what is mentioned above. However, we are limited by the tuning of the ukulele based on what double stops we can play so we will stick to the more common intervals.

Below you will see some double stop examples for a G major scale:

double stops on ukulele Soprano G major

Notice the first G major is made up of the notes G and B, that is the the root and 3rd note. The second double stop Am is made up of the notes A and C (a minor has a flatted third, so instead of C# we get a C). We are essentially playing two note partial chords when we play double stops (remember a chord is made up of at least 3 notes). Try playing the chord progression G-Bm-C-G using regular full chord fingerings that you have learned in the past. Now switch to the double stop method above, we get a different sound for essentially using most of the same notes. The higher pitched double stops can really stand out when playing along with other instruments (this is one reason double stops are very common among mandolin players in bluegrass, it helps them stand out and they sound more percussive).

Double Stops are not always played on two side by side strings, like in the F major scale below:

double stops ukulele F major scale

In this case we are only plucking the G and E strings and ignoring the other two. This scale is also made up of major and minor 3rd intervals like the one above. Of course not all double stops are always major and minor thirds:

double stop ukulele

The 4 different intervals above sound very nice when played together or in a progression. With double stops not only are we learning a specific technique in music we are also figuring out the basic foundations of harmony. In the scales above we are simply taking each note (the root) and harmonizing it with the third, and we will see at times it sounds great to use fourths, fifths, and sixths!

When you find yourself playing regular chords work on finding double stops and harmonies that sound nice. Instead of playing a normal C-G-F-C progression try these double stops (in this case an X denotes a string that is not played):

  • X0X3 (C and C an octave interval)
  • XX32 (G and B a major thir
  • XX10 (F and A a major 3rd)
  • 0XX3 (C and G a major fifth)

These give us a little different sound and would be great as the intro to a song. Instead of always playing the same 3 note chords double stops allow us to focus on specific harmonies. It will often be up to trial and error to get a decent sound. If we use the same progression above using all fifth intervals it doesn’t sound as pleasant to the ear;

  • 0XX3 (C and G)
  • X23X (G and D)
  • X01X (F and C)
  • 0XX3 (C and G)

It’s not terrible sounding, but it just doesn’t have the same impact as when we mix our intervals up a little.

Now we can take a basic song example and show how to improve it by adding double stops. Below is the basic melody of the song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in the Key of F:

improve riff adding double stops

The notes in the melody are F-F-C-C-D-D-C Bb-Bb-A-A-G-G-F. Now when we add harmonized double stops:

riff harmonized with double stops

After playing it a few times, try and figure out which intervals were used. By using double stops we take a simple melody and make it sound much prettier on the ukulele. While we can find examples of ukulele songs online using two pitch intervals, most of the double stop playing is all about experimentation. The more you experiment with a song or melody the greater your grasp of music theory will be. Interval training will also help you develop a mastery over the uke fretboard!

As far as playing double stops you can play them in a variety of ways. When the two notes are right beside each other you can either strum them or use your thumb and index finger to strike them both at the same time. Of course if you strum them you must be sure not to play the other strings that aren’t sounded. If they are alternating like the F major scale above, it is easiest to pluck them both with two different fingers. Instead of plucking them at the same time you can also fingerpick them separately, the Twinkle Twinkle double stop played above sounds very nice when alternately plucking with your index finger and thumb. Tremolo also works nice with double stops.

While the ukulele may seem like a simple 4 string instrument there are many ways to spice up our playing by adding harmony and layers. Instead of just strumming all of our chords like we did in the beginning we can now start picking out specific notes of a chord to make the song sound much more beautiful. With a little practice double stops can be easily peppered into our regular playing, letting our audience now that the ukulele is more than just a gimmick or toy!

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