Why are Unison Notes called "Double Stops"?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Eyesee7, Feb 16, 2011.

  1. Eyesee7


    Jul 17, 2005
    I began with classical guitar before picking up the bass, and often had to play two notes in unison. They were never referred to as double stops, in fact I can't remember what they're called other than unison notes. I know you can't call them chords because that requires three notes in unison. So how did two notes together on the bass come to be called "double stops?"
  2. It's a string/orchestra term IMHO. It's easy to play multiple notes on a guitar/lute/similar fretted instrument, but it's tough to play more than one at a time accurately on a violin, viola, cello, etc. It's an advanced technique that traditional students go years before learning, so they gave it a name that sounds cooler than "playing two notes at once".

    BTW - the word "unison" generally means two people playing the exact same note or phrase at the same time... it doesn't traditionally apply to one person playing two different notes at once.
  3. honeyiscool


    Jan 28, 2011
    San Diego, CA
    Double stops? Isn't that when you play multiple notes at once? I thought it was more of a classical term for bowed instruments. I've never heard that term outside of my beginning violin.
  4. VWbug


    Sep 11, 2010
    New Jersey
    Good question. :) I have wondered too.
  5. TSkills


    Jul 1, 2009
  6. PDGood

    PDGood Supporting Member

    Sep 19, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    This is just a guess, but on a pump organ the things you pull out that make the sound are called "stops". They are sort of like manual tone generators. If you pull two stops out at the same time you get two "tone generators" or "voices" playing the same note. It sounds like two people playing.
    Same is true, I think, on modern church organs. They still call them stops.
  7. PDGood

    PDGood Supporting Member

    Sep 19, 2010
    Nashville, TN

    Also, if you play two different notes those are referred to as intervals.
  8. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    I play double and triple stops on fretless regularly and very often on fretted. Notwithstanding the theory put out by PDGood above (which makes good sense), when you finger a note, you are stopping the string from vibrating at a longer length.

    So, a double stop isn't just any two notes, it two fingered notes either played together or in sequence with the first note ringing through the duration of the second. Open notes don't count, in other words.
  9. JTE


    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    A double stop is defined as playing two notes at the same time. If you're playing an open G and a G fretted (or stopped) at the fifth fret at the same time, it's a double stop. Same as if you play that G at the fifth fret and a D on the G string at the same time, it's a double stop. And it's a term used in guitar literature too. A typical "power chord" with just the root and fifth played on the two lowest strings of a guitar is NOT a chord (chord being defined as three or more notes) so it's a double stop.

  10. Good point. If the string's open you're not "stopping" it.
  11. Skitch it!

    Skitch it!

    Sep 6, 2010
    Double stop - 2 notes played at the same time, as far as I remember, nothing more complicated than that?
  12. Skitch it!

    Skitch it!

    Sep 6, 2010
    Example of a double stop over an A string drone (imo),

    Index 16th Fret D String
    Middle 17th fret G String

    It's a b5 interval shape,

    Slide the shape up one fret (Index 17th Fret D String, Middle 18th Fret G String) under the open A string drone/vamp.

    Slide it up from the 1st position in a bluesy feel keeping 8th's going with your right hand thumb on the A string, and use the right hand index and ring together to pick the double stop.
  13. Eyesee7


    Jul 17, 2005
    I realize I shouldn't have used the term "unison notes" because that sounds more like playing the SAME note simultaneously on different strings (with an open string and fretted string), a technique I've seen in some classical guitar pieces. The times I've heard "double stops" used in reference to bass guitar is with two fretted notes played together, a la Geddy Lee on "Force Ten", "Turn The Page," "Driven" etc.
  14. Eyesee7


    Jul 17, 2005
    Understood, but how did that term originate? That's what I'm looking to discover.
  15. Skitch it!

    Skitch it!

    Sep 6, 2010
    Fretted, not played as opens? I'm not sure on that one, they can't be called chords, I've just always accepted them as Double Stops. I'm a big fan of reductionism ;)
  16. robgo


    Jan 25, 2008
  17. Eyesee7


    Jul 17, 2005
    Slow day here at work, or else I'd be accepting them, too!:p
  18. Skitch it!

    Skitch it!

    Sep 6, 2010
    I see what your saying :)

    I've really no idea how the name came about, apart from 'stopped' and 'double' - as in 2 of them? ; )
  19. Eyesee7


    Jul 17, 2005
    Yes! Just looked that up. Here's what I found on one site:

    Guitar Diads or Double Stops

    Today we are goingto talk about
    2 note chords.

    Just as common chords made of three notes
    are called Triads the 2 note chords
    are call diads.

    Two-string play, or more popularly called
    double stops.

    Another term that you will hear in musical
    notation circles is diads.

    So, basically double stops are referring
    to when you’re playing an instrument
    and playing two notes at a time,
    while diads is a music theory term
    talking about two notes on a musical staff.

    Two note chords are also know as harmonies
    because two notes played simultaneously
    always make a harmony.

    Even if the two notes are the same note
    they are harmony and called unison harmony.

    So what are common Diads or Double Stops.


    and this explanation from Wikipedia:

    A double stop, in music terminology, is the act of playing two notes simultaneously on a melodic percussion instrument (like a marimba) or stringed instrument (for example, a violin or a guitar). In performing a double stop, two separate strings are depressed ("stopped") by the fingers, and bowed or plucked simultaneously (without a string change).
  20. T-MOST


    Dec 10, 2004
    NJ via NYC
    I thought a double stop was just that... stopping on 2 notes at once (didn't have to be the same note). The theme to Sanford & Son is full of them (Thanks Chuck!)