Using Double-Stops and Add-2 Arpeggios to Create “French Horn Fifths”

Continuing our previous two lessons’ exploration of the add-2 arpeggio, I’d now like to show you another neat thing you can do with this elegant-sounding four-note entity, and that is to play it as a pair of double-stops, or two-note chords, to create a classical-style sound that has been nicknamed “French horn fifths,” which brings to mind that instrument’s regal quality and also some of the works of great symphonic composers like Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.

Let’s see how this works.

The term “French horn fifths” is a partial misnomer, as intervals other than fifths are also used, namely thirds, fourths and sixths.

As a quick review, FIGURE 1 shows last month’s Aadd2 arpeggio (A B C# E) played in two octaves across all six strings in fourth position.

In FIGURE 2, we’re taking this same pattern and pairing the notes A and C#, then B and E, as double-stops, using hybrid picking (picking-and-finger technique) to sound the notes together, then inverting them by transposing the bottom note of each pair up an octave, so that we then have C# and A, followed by E and B. The process then repeats an octave higher.

In FIGURE 3, we’re adding another musical element to complete the stylistic picture, a lopsided, quasi-march swing-eighths rhythm. In terms of the intervals used, the sequence is major third, perfect fourth, minor sixth, which is an inverted major third, then perfect fifth, which is an inverted perfect fourth. French horn fifths may be played all over the fretboard, vertically (in position), horizontally (up and down a pair of adjacent strings) or diagonally (moving up and across the neck).

FIGURES 4a–d demonstrate a few of the many available options. Play through these examples several times, both ascending and descending, then try breaking out the double-stops into single notes, creating angular melodic contours while at the same time providing yourself with some healthy picking exercises. Experiment with both hybrid picking and alternate picking.

FIGURE 5 offers an example of this approach. Those old enough to remember the popular 1965 animated television special A Charlie Brown Christmas, which has been aired every year since its debut, are no doubt familiar with the catchy instrumental jazz tune “Linus and Lucy,” written for the program’s soundtrack by pianist Vince Guaraldi and performed by his trio. The tune’s main melody, similar to FIGURE 6, is based on French horn fifths (played a half step lower, in the key of Ab).

You can also create somber-sounding minor French horn fifths, using a minor add-2 arpeggio, as demonstrated in FIGURE 7, which is built from Am(add2) (A B C E). Here, the interval sequence is minor third, perfect fourth, major sixth (an inverted minor third), then perfect fifth. Have fun with these examples and try exploring French horn fifths in other keys, while experimenting with different phrasing possibilities.

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Jimmy Brown

Over the past 30 years, Jimmy Brown has built a reputation as one of the world's finest music educators, through his work as a transcriber and Senior Music Editor for Guitar World magazine and Lessons Editor for its sister publication, Guitar Player. In addition to these roles, Jimmy is also a busy working musician, performing regularly in the greater New York City area. Jimmy earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies and Performance and Music Management from William Paterson University in 1989. He is also an experienced private guitar teacher and an accomplished writer.