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Twin guitars have become a hallmark of the most iconic bands over the past few decades: Metallica, Iron Maiden, Avenged Sevenfold, Guns ‘N’ Roses, Polyphia, and so many more. It’s an exciting way to add nuance to your music, but it’s pretty intimidating to beginners because of the music theory involved.
So I’ve come up with this back-to-the-basics guide to twinning the guitar, so you can learn, practice, and play your favorite guitar harmonies in no time. Plus, with my pro tips, you’ll be able to add tasty melodies to your own songs too.
What is Twinning the Guitar?
Twinning the guitar refers to two guitarists playing a melody together. In most cases, they play the same melody separated by an interval to create a guitar harmony. This creates a thicker, more beautiful sound that can add a lot of nuance to any music.
Twin guitars are very common in rock and metal genres, as these bands tend to have 2-3 guitarists to divide lead and rhythm parts between. Several iconic songs like Hotel California, Master of Puppets, The Trooper, and Jessica have excellent harmonies.
Twin guitar harmonies require both guitarists to have a solid understanding of melody, rhythm, and timing, as well as the ability to blend their sounds together seamlessly.
Harmonies, or twinning, might sound daunting if you have never experimented with them. All it takes is a little understanding of music theory and a curious mind. But even if you’re just starting, I’ll talk you through the basics of getting started with twinning guitar.
How to Practice Twinning with Melodies?
Before I get into practicing the technique, it’s important to know the basic music theory behind it, as it’ll help you understand what’s going on and how you can implement it in your own songs.
Understanding How Harmony Works
Harmony is what gives music that full, rich sound that makes you feel all sorts of emotions. You know when you hear two or more instruments playing together, and they sound just like they were made for each other? That’s harmony.
To put it simply, harmony is when two or more musical notes are played simultaneously, and those frequencies are harmonious, which means that they sound good together. While there’s physics involved in this, I won’t get into too much complexity (we’re musicians, after all!).
Harmony can be done with any instrument, even with multiple instruments. In twin guitar harmonies, two guitarists play different versions of the same melodies, complementing each other to create a beautiful whole.
What are the different types of harmonies in music?
Music has several kinds of harmony, and chalking them all out is an improbable task. Still, here are the most commonly used types:
1. Diatonic Harmony
Diatonic harmony is based on the notes of a diatonic scale (a regular major or minor scale) and is popular in all genres of music. Diatonic chords are built by stacking thirds, and they follow a specific harmonic progression using the circle of fifths, such as the I-III-V progression.
Most examples of guitar harmony use diatonics, such as a minor 3rd, major 3rd, or a perfect fifth, as I’ll explain in detail later.
2. Modal Harmony
Modal harmony is based on the modes of the major and minor scales, which have distinct tonal characteristics. There’s a unique set of chords for each mode. You’ll see this kind of harmony used often in folk or jazz, such as Ionian and Dorian modes.
3. Atonal Harmony
Atonal harmonies lack a tonal center or key. They’re often based on notes outside the scale. If you hear a harmony section in a song and feel a sense of unresolved tension within the music, chances are you’re listening to atonal harmony. This type gained popularity in the 20th century and is popular in metal and jazz.
4. Chromatic Harmony
Chromatic harmony uses chords that have notes outside the diatonic scale. The difference from atonal is that chromatic notes are placed together, one after the other. This is popular in ballads and slower, more pop-leaning music.
As diatonic harmonies are the most common ones, I’ll focus mostly on that, but I’ll give you an idea of how you can experiment with the rest.
Check our article on How to Sing 3-Parts Harmony.
Twinning Techniques in Guitar
1. Octave Doubling
Octave doubling is one of the most common techniques in guitar harmony. It involves playing the same note at either a lower or higher octave, creating a richer and fuller sound than just one guitar.
Higher note harmonies make the music sound brighter and more prominent, while the lower octave harmonies create a deeper, richer sound. You can even play three octaves at once if you have three guitarists (or if you’re recording, just layer them).
Here are the steps to master octave doubling on guitar:
- Get familiar with the notes on the fretboard and the different octave positions. This is the key to understanding and playing any and all harmonies on your guitar.
- Once you know which note to double, you can play it on a different string or fret about creating the octave effect you want.
Let’s take, for example, that you want to double this melody played on the 3rd string (the G string, as per standard tuning):
You could play the same notes starting on the 8th fret of the 1st string (the high E string):
Note that you can experiment with this once you get the hang of it. Just play the same notes on another higher or lower string, and you’ll get an octave! Use a metronome to keep your rhythm consistent.
Octave doubling is one of the main reasons power chords sound as powerful as they do since they use the root note played with the same one at a higher octave.
2. Harmonizing With Scales
Harmonizing with scales involves playing notes that complement the other lead guitarist while also staying within the key and scale of the song. The depth this adds to the music makes it sound more interesting and engaging.
Here are the steps to harmonizing or twinning with another guitar:
- Start by identifying the key and the scale being played on a melody. Identifying keys is a challenge in itself, so you can take the help of a friend or use an online source if it’s a well-known song.
- With the key, you also know the root note. To harmonize it, you need to pick an interval. You can pick any you like: minor or major 3rd, perfect fifth, a fourth, or several others. I recommend starting with a 3rd.
- Now, you play the same melody by choosing the interval as the starting note. I’ll explain with an example:
Say you want to harmonize the above melody played on the G string. For reference:
Now, this is played in C major (I know because I wrote it!). Here’s how you can harmonize it to a major 3rd:
And here’s how you can harmonize it to a perfect fifth:
Take a little time to practice through this and see what’s happening. Compare it to the C major scale. Can you figure it out? It’s as easy as playing the same melody by starting on the 3rd or 5th note and maintaining the scale.
Here’s a little list of the main triad notes involved in some of the most popular chords to start you out on the right foot:
- C Major => C, E, G
- D minor => D, F, A
- E minor => E, G, B
- F Major => F, A, C
- G Major => G, B, D
- A minor => A, C, E
And a quick tip: to harmonize any melody, try moving it up three frets for a minor scale and four frets for a major, then playing the same thing (within the scale).
Arpeggios are when you play the notes of a chord individually. Just picking through a C major or A minor chord creates an arpeggio. Playing arpeggios can feel tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll play lead riffs in no time.
Arpeggios are a great way to play a nice melody, while another guitarist can play a similar melody on top to complement. This is not strictly a guitar harmony, but it’s certainly a twin guitar technique and fun to play.
There are many different arpeggio patterns you can try out, but start with the basics: just down-pick through a simple chord progression like Am C G D, and you’ll have a nice arpeggio.
Next, try to alternate pick the strings or even play them randomly. These different notes ring out with sustain, reverb, and delay, creating a beautiful aura.
And if you want to go further and try harmonizing in arpeggios, try the opening section to M.I.A. by Avenged Sevenfold.
4. Block Chords
This is one of the more advanced methods you’ll master when learning to play twin harmonies. It’s particularly common in jazz and blues, and you’ve probably seen John Mayer and B.B. King use it a lot. Here’s a video showing several popular block chords.
While very difficult, it’s very rewarding as you can play exquisite harmonies by yourself just by using block chords.
To play a block chord, you just have to find the chord’s notes and play them together by plucking or hybrid picking. This is easy with fingerstyle, but you can get a great sound even with some hybrid picking practice.
The main key is that block chords exist all over the fretboard. A typical C major can be played as a block chord in various positions, using just the top four strings (E, B, G, D). For example, try to play this block chord progression using F, G, A#, and C:
Try giving it your spin by mixing up the rhythm and changing this sequence.
A double-stop is a simple variation of a block chord where you just play two strings together. For example, playing the 10th fret of the B and the 12th fret of the E together creates a double-stop (A and E notes).
Tips To Improve Your Twin Guitar Skills
1. Have Your Theory Right
Playing twin guitars is all about understanding the concepts behind harmony and music theory.
I know that sounds boring at first, but it actually opens up a whole world once you know more theory. Without it, you’ll be left trying to figure out which note goes within the harmony and waste time.
So take some time and find free tutorials here and on YouTube to explain chords, scales, modes, types of intervals, chord progressions, etc. Once you have the theory down, harmonization is simply a matter of practice, especially with a metronome.
2. Train Your Ear
Take the time to listen to some of your favorite bands, and try to pick up when and how the guitarists are harmonizing on the tracks. Use your understanding of theory to analyze the guitar tracks and try to pick them up without searching for tabs.
If you develop your ear to identify notes and intervals (don’t worry, this takes years!), you’ll be much better off when composing your original songs.
Always start with simpler melodies: don’t try picking up Master of Puppets from the start. And pro tip: try singing or humming along to the melodies you play on the guitar. It really helps train your ear to recognize the sounds.
3. Practice Playing in Intervals
Some of the most common intervals used in harmonization are thirds, fourths, fifths, and sixths. Practice playing each of these intervals along with a melody you like. For example, try finding every harmonization of the example melody I gave, and then come up with your own.
This strengthens your understanding of how and why these harmonies work and also gives you an idea about which harmonies sound better with particular genres of music.
4. Practice Different Twinning Techniques
The four techniques mentioned in this article should be enough to start you off on your journey into twinning. Try practicing them one by one, moving from the easiest techniques (octave doubling) to the hardest (block chords). Be patient, as this can take weeks and months.
5. Play With Others
Using a backing track, a stock melody, or just a looper to record yourself when you’re practicing is okay when you don’t have any other musician friends.
But if you do, try and jam together. Harmonization sounds the best when it’s impromptu, live, and on the spot, so having another guitarist to practice with will help both of you improve your twinning skills together.
Practicing with others – ideally in a band – will help you work on your twin guitar and timing and coordination. Besides, it’s always fun to jam with like-minded musicians and grow together!
6. Understand Dynamics
Dynamics are important when it comes to harmony. A loud harmony over a softer melody can sound either jarring or interesting depending upon the general mood of the song, and knowing when to make your harmonies softer or louder is the key to better music.
Practice the same harmonies with different dynamics: try accenting different notes, picking softer and louder, and seeing what sounds best to your ears.
Read our article on How to Sing in Harmony.
How does guitar harmony work?
Guitar harmony is created by playing two or more notes simultaneously to create a complementary and pleasing sound. The notes played can be on two different guitars or even on the same guitar. Various types of harmonies use different intervals like thirds, fourths, fifths, and several techniques like block chords and arpeggios.
Can you have 2 lead guitarists?
Yes, you absolutely can have 2 lead guitarists! This is actually quite common in rock and metal bands but is also seen in blues, jazz, pop, and several other alternative genres. You might even see a 3rd guitarist playing rhythm. They may alternate between lead and rhythm in such arrangements and play guitar harmony in some sections with double solos and whatnot.
How do you double a guitar sound?
You need to record the same track twice to double a guitar sound. You can also add some slight differences or harmony to each track. Pan the recording to a different side of the stereo field to create the effect of two guitars playing simultaneously. Live performances achieve this by having two guitarists play, making it a thick and dynamic sound.
Twin guitars are very interesting and fun to play. While some techniques are tough, be patient and work through them, and you’ll find it very rewarding. It’s a great addition to any song and a handy tool to spice up your original compositions. Just be regular in your practice, and you’ll be playing blazing harmonies very soon.
We hope the steps and tips we shared with you were helpful, informative, and easy to follow. If you have any questions or doubts about this topic or anything related to music, feel free to contact us through our website any time!