Double Stops Sixths

Mke Perry

Pressing on with my opinions on double stops, I'm going to cover what I've found out about sixths. The sixth interval is most closely associated with country music. When you hear Jimmy Rodgers sing his famous "Blue Yodels", he's doing a descending line of sixths: "Yodel-Lay-EEE-Oh, Yodel-Lay-EEE-Oh, Yodel-Lay-EEE-Hee." You get a buttermilk sweet sound to a melody line harmonized with sixths. Just as with the thirds, if you want to harmonize a note with a sixth interval, count up in the scale, starting with the melody note as 1, six notes in the scale. In the key of "C", if you wish to harmonize the "C" note, start there as "1" and count up six notes to "A". Some places on the fingerboard you can play this interval are:

E |-------5-------
A |-------3---12--
D |--7--------10--
G |--5------------

     A    A    A
     C    C    C

Notice that, like the thirds, the two notes stay in the same relationship with each other. The lower-pitched note ("C") is always two frets lower on the fingerboard than the higher-pitched note ("A"). This finger pattern is easy for me to play because the notes are only two frets apart. This pattern corresponds to the lower two notes of a sixth chord ("C6" in this case):

E |-----8--
A |-----7--
D |-----7--   = "A" Note
G |-----5--   = "C" Note

"C6" chord played at the fifth fret

If want to harmonize the second note of the "C" Scale, "D", you must count up six notes of the "C" Scale, starting with "D" = 1 to the "B" note. These two notes played together would look like:

E |-------7-------
A |-------5---14--
D |--9--------12--
G |--7------------

     F    B    B
     D    D    D

Notice there are still two frets between the two notes. These notes relate to the lower two notes of a "D" minor sixth chord played at the seventh:

E |---10--
A |----8--
D |----9--   = "B" Note
G |----7--   = "D" Note

"Dm6" chord played at the seventh fret

We are slowly building a harmonized scale in the key of "C", just as we did with the thirds.

So, a "C" Major scale harmonized in sixths would look like:

E |--------------------------------------5----
A |-----------------5----7----8----10----3----
D |--7----9---10----3----5----7----9----------
G |--5----7----9------------------------------

     A    B    C    D    E    F    G     A
     C    D    E    F    G    A    B     C

Notice carefully that, unlike the thirds, the first four double-stops don't have exactly the same fingering relationships as the second four. The "C/E" combination is only one fret from one note to the next, while in the second grouping of notes, both the "A/F" AND the "B/G" combinations are one fret apart as well. So we see the sixths are a compact, easy to play grouping of note combinations. Notice also that we have derived a nice moveable harmonized scale that can be moved all over the fingerboard (the scale changes based on where you play the first interval--that is, the root note interval pattern for the scale). Move everything over a string so it starts on the "D" and "A" strings, and it becomes a scale pattern for the key of "G". Drop it down a fret, and it is a pattern for the key of "F", etc., etc.).

I'm used to playing a lot of the Jethro-style four note chords like:

E |----8--
A |----7--
D |----5--
G |----5--

"C" chord at the fifth fret


E |----8--
A |----6--
D |----5--
G |----5--

"Cm" chord at the fifth fret

Notice here that the HIGHER-PITCHED two notes have the same relationship of fingerings (one fret between the top two notes of the major chord, and two frets between the top two notes of a minor chord). So it is easier for me to wrap my mind around building a scale pattern based on the top two notes of the major and minor chords as they harmonize a scale pattern. In the key of "C" the pattern looks like this:

E |---------------------------3-----5-----7-------8
A |--3------5------7-----8----2-----3-----5-------7
D |--2------3------5-----7-------------------------
G |------------------------------------------------

    CMaj   Dmin  E min   F    G    Amin  Bminb5  CMaj

NOW, the fingerings DO have a relationship to each other. Notice the first four patterns are duplicated in the second four patterns, only moved over a string. To me this is easier to manipulate on the fly than the first scale we derived, although both are useful. This second scale pattern is much easier to relate to the chords I'm used to playing:

E |----8--
A |----7--
D |----7--
G |----5--

"C6" chord at the fifth fret

E |----8--
A |----6--
D |----7--
G |----5--

"Cm6" chord at the fifth fret

Again, practice playing these harmonized scales melodically the same way you manipulate the single-note versions of the scales, and play them all over the neck. Tremolo them. Play them against drone notes. Play the notes individually, one after the other. If you want to get a more Bluegrass or country sound, omit the fourth and seventh degrees of the scale (making it a pentatonic scale). Finally, try descending lines where the top note stays static, but the bottom note moves chromatically (fret-by-fret down or up) to a lower or higher scale note. Jethro just LOVED to do this all the time. Or move the whole two-note pattern chromatically up or down a few steps. Spend some time listening carefully to Jethro's work on his Acoustic Disc CDs for examples of this.

Sixths sound best if you don't go directly to the melody note on the first beat of a measure. Rather, start a little above or below that first note and work to it. Remember also that these double stops, or intervals, are like seasonings in cooking. You don't want to season with just salt or pepper. You want a little dash of oregano, a sprinkle of paprika, some basil, and so on. Mix up double stops with scalar lines, blue notes, arpeggios, chord rhythms (a la Sam Bush), and even some chord melody playing (a la Jethro Burns and Roland White). Make what you do appropriate for the song and the style of music you are playing-although, in virtuoso playing, anything goes (a la Chris Thile).