Mandolin Workshop: Double Stops Overview

Thanks for attending my Double Stops Workshop. If you like this content, please post a comment below and let me know. In this workshop, I’ll review:

  • What are Double Stops?
  • How to use a Fretboard Map to help find Double Stops
  • Main Double Stop shapes for Major and Dom7 voicing
  • Playing Positionally vs Horizontally
  • How to use Double Stops in your playing

You can find the sheet music parts of the lesson materials here. And some graphics here. In addition, I recommending using a physical (non-digital) metronome when practicing. Here’s the live workshop recording from 10/16/2022.

But before we dive in to the topic, let’s talk about how to practice first.

How to Practice

  • What is your big, long term goal? Why are you playing mandolin?
    Your big long term goal should be way out of your reach today – so you can’t really “practice” that goal yet.

    Are you trying to play in a band? Get good enough to play at a local jam / festival? Play with friends / family? Or do you just like playing and want to be better? There’s no wrong answer – but there should be an answer (if not multiple answers).

    Knowing why you are practicing is an important but overlooked step. By answering this question, you’ll know where you want to go.
  • What are the medium goals you need to achieve in order to achieve your long term goal?
    Chop up your big goal in to more manageable high level topics. If your big goal is to be able to improvise over any song, then you need to focus on topics like mastering scales, chords, songs, and picking hand dexterity. But you can’t practice a category – so your medium goals need to be a little more defined. So improving on the above, instead of “mastering scales” you’d have a goal of “being able to play major, minor, and pentatonic scales in every key” and “being able to play chord common chord progressions in at least 3 different positions in every key” etc.

    The more detailed you are with these medium term goals, the better.

    These medium goals should be closer to your current skill level, but still out of reach. So again, you can’t really practice these directly – so on to the next step.
  • What are the smaller goals you need to achieve in order to achieve your medium term goal?
    The last step is to break up those medium goals into smaller goals you can immediately (or nearly immediately) achieve. These are the skills you actually practice a day to day.

    So taking the “being able to play major, minor, and pentatonic scales in every key” medium goal, you could break it up to spending 5, 10, 15, 20 etc minutes on practicing major scales in a few positions and keys for 2 weeks. Then repeat for minor and pentatonic scales etc.

I hear from a lot of students some variation of “I can’t get better because don’t have the time to practice.” Without a doubt, especially as you get older, there’s so many competing obligations – family, work, friends, etc – it can seem hard (impossible?) to carve out a large enough window to practice. So how can you get an effective practice in with very little time?

The answer is focused practice.

Focused practice is different from playing. Focused practice involves targeting specific goal – a skill you’re trying to master, a song you’re trying to learn, etc. While playing is just that – playing and having fun. Both are important, but they are vastly different. In order to practice properly, you need to have a goal in mind. Before you even pick up the mandolin, try answering these questions:

By taking the time to answer these questions and come up with a goal (and write that goal down), you can create highly targeted practice routines designed to achieve your big goals by working on a series of smaller goals.

With focused / targeted practice, you can get more done in less time. If you only have 15 minutes a day – no problem! Just make sure you smaller / short term goals are achievable by practicing 15 minutes a day. If you need help on that, I offer personal coaching and would be happy to chat. Also, if you haven’t read the Practice of Practice, I highly recommend it.

Now, let’s dive into the workshop.

What Are Double Stops

Double Stops are simply playing two notes from a chord at a time. These notes generally harmonize with each other (like the root and 3rd) but sometimes they can be purposefully dissonant (like the root and natural 7th).

In this workshop, I’m only focusing on Major and Dom7 chords – but the principals apply to other chord types too. I highly recommend experimenting!

Main Double Stop Shapes for Major

For simplicity, I break up Double Stops in to two categories – “Up” and “Down”. As far as I know, I’m the only one that uses those names – but it’s my workshop and I’ll use weird names if I want to. Feel free to use whatever name you want.

For Major Chords, there are 6 main shapes. Three main “up” positions and three main “down” positions.

The “Up” positions are below. I included suggested fingers to use (the numbers near the notes). I call these “up” because the note on the lowest string is above the other note.

MattCBruno - Double Stop Workshop - Basic Positions - All Up
Double Stops “Up” Positions

The “Down” positions are below. Again the numbers near the notes are your fingers. I call these down because the note on the lowest string is below the other note.

MattCBruno - Double Stop Workshop - Basic Positions - All Down
Double Stop “Down” Positions

Before going further, look closely at these shapes. Notice that in both Up and Down positions the differences between the positions is just increasing (or decreasing) by one fret. Also notice that the distance fret-wise between the Root and 5th positions is the smallest whereas the distance fret-wise between the 3rd and 5th is the largest.

Dom7 Double Stops

Double stops using the dominant 7th (Dom7 or simply “7th”) can be great to build tension among other things. As you can see, adding the b7th for the Dom7 double stop reuses another “up” position and the “down” positions are basically the same – so really it only adds one new “up” and one new “down” position.

Below are the additional shapes added when using the b7th.

MattCBruno - Double Stop Workshop - Basic Positions - All Up b7
Double Stop Up positions with b7th
MattCBruno - Double Stop Workshop - Basic Positions - All Down b7
Double Stop Down positions with b7th

How to use a Fretboard Map to help find Double Stops

Writing out your own Fretboard maps is a great way to learn the fretboard better. You can check out my full post on Fretboard Maps here.

The below two graphics show the Up positions (on the left) and the Down positions (on the right). It may be a little confusing at first, but these both show all the potential positions and connections for G Major Double Stops. If you look at these shapes, you should be able to see some common chords as well which may help you in memorizing the positions.

And adding the b7th:

GIFs to the recuse (again)!

If the static charts aren’t enough, below are a few simple GIFs that should these in action.

Up Positions on two strings

Double Stops – A and E Up
Double Stops – D and A Up
Double Stops – G and D Up

Down Positions on two strings

Double Stops – D and A Down

Playing Positionally vs Horizontally

I like to look at scales and shapes in two different ways. Both have their place in playing – so it’s good to go over both types.

  • Horizontally
    This is when you use scales / shapes to move up or down the neck. For example, creating a run from the “open” positions up to the 10th fret. It was actually easier for me to learn Double Stops this way at first because you can see how the chord sort of builds.
  • Positionally
    This is when you keep the scales / shapes in a relative position on the mandolin. For example, playing only from the open strings to the 5th fret, or from the 5th fret to the 10th fret etc.

    In the graphic below, the first Chord Box shows all the notes in the position. Because the down positions can cover a lot of fretboard space, they don’t really work as well positionally in my opinion.

How to use Double Stops

Double Stops have their place in rhythm playing, soloing, and as riffs between phrases. The chart provided for this workshop has some examples of each of these.

  • Rhythm Playing
    When there’s a lot of folks in a jam, especially a lot of mandolin players, or when an instrument is taking a quiet break (like guitars), using Double Stops can be a great rhythm chord device. By using only two notes, you don’t muddy the waters too much for the soloist or singer, but you can get the point across – and keep the percussion going! This can also be a handy way to “test” some solo ideas in the right setting.
  • Soloing
    Double stops can be really effective as a soloing / improv device. You can play an entire solo with Double Stops or just pepper them in for spice. Since these notes harmonize well with each other, you’ll add some body to your breaks compared to single note playing. Also, using chromatic walks with Double Stops can sound really good.
  • Riffs
    Last is the riff – the tiny phrases you play between verses or etc. Riffs need to be subtle for the most part. If they are too complex, they’ll detract from the singer or soloist. If they are too understated, what’s the point of doing it? Using a double stop gives you the ability to keep playing rhythm chords (as noted above) while also adding some melodic / harmonic elements.

    Note – while riffs can be great, don’t play over anyone. The vocalist or soloist should always be the highlight.

Next Steps

You might be asking “How do I practice all this” – well here’s some ideas 🙂

  1. Start with the exercises I’ve provided. They are roughly ordered by difficulty, so start with the first page and work towards the song examples.
  2. Transpose all the exercises into different keys. I provided G for most of the exercises, so try re-writing these in C and D to start. Once you have those three keys, you can use the double stops to play to the chords – which can be a great way to play songs you don’t know. Once you’re comfortable with G C and D, I would move to another common 1 4 5 pattern – like A D E or D G A. If you do that enough you’ll eventually cover all the keys 😉
  3. Write up a chart for a song you like and ONLY use double stops. The idea isn’t necessarily to play the song that way, but to use it as a spring board. The more chords in a song, the more difficult this practice is – so if I IV V is easy for you, try it with something jazzy like It’s Only A Paper Moon.
  4. Use Double Stops to create chord melodies of songs. This means using mostly double stops but also some single notes.
  5. Use Double Stop rhythm chords at your next jam (especially when there’s a lot of players).

Wrap Up

Thanks for attending the Workshop! You’ll receive an email with a link to the recording in a few days. If you enjoyed the workshop, please let me know by posting a comment on my site – I’d really appreciate it!

While the workshop is free, I welcome donations. If you’d like to donate to help keep free lessons, workshops, and more coming – click here.

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    1. Glad you liked it! Ideally I’ll be adding the video from the workshop I’m hosting at the South State 48 (11/5). I’ll send an email out whenever I can get that video up 🙂

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