You Are My Sunshine and the Double Stop Mandolin Lesson

        First of all credit where due.  I didn’t invent this idea. I got it from Wayne Benson and I think he got it from Bach. I’ve learned a lot of mandolin from Wayne and from Darin Aldridge too. The main thing I learned was I better hang onto my stethoscope; these guys are good. So if you like this lesson, don’t send me money, buy a CD from either III Tyme Out or Darin and Brooke Aldridge.

        So here’s the idea behind the lesson. If you can hum “You Are My Sunshine” you can play the mandolin. Don’t worry if you are off-key a little; I’ve been that way for years, and it hasn’t stopped me yet. First go buy or borrow a mandolin.  Before you start the lesson, do three things.

        1. Put the mandolin in your hands. You can’t take a mandolin lesson without a mandolin. Heck I wrote most of “The Mandolin Case” while I played the mandolin. When I wrote passages with a stethoscope around my neck the book was way too boring.

        2. Learn the names of the strings. Starting from the high-pitched skinny ones they are E, A, D, and G. If you don’t want to memorize all four yet, for this lesson you can get by if you know the skinniest string is E and the next one down is A. Repeat it over and over.  E/A,  E/A, E/A. (Wonder how I got to be a doctor yet?!)

        3. Memorize he following mantra: One major, two minor, three minor, four major, five major, six minor, and seven is a half-diminished hoop-te-do. (Don’t worry too much about the last one.)  Do it over and over: one major, two minor, three minor, etc. until you can repeat it in your sleep.  If the mandolin doesn’t work out don’t worry, all this list memorization biz could be your start in the doc gig.

        Now all you gotta do is learn the double stops on the top two strings. (again, the “E” and “A” strings.)  Make what I call a little G chord. This is the top two notes of the big G chord. (We bluegrassers would say the top two notes of a chop chord) This double stop represents the “one” or Roman numeral “I” chord. Remember our mantra; one is major. (One or “I” is always major in the chord scale.)

        The notation for this little G chord in this lesson is 3/2, which means the third fret on the E string and the second fret on the A string.

        Important point here: Notice your two fingers are only one fret, not two frets apart.  This is very important because this means it is a major double stop, as opposed to a minor as you would have in the II, III, and VI chords in the chord scale. (Don’t worry why it is major or minor for now)

        Now slide up to the Am double stop. This is the II chord. (Remember in the chord scale II is always minor.) The notation here is 5/3. (Fifth fret on E string, third fret on A string) Notice your fingers are two frets apart here. This is what makes it minor. If you want to impress your friends and neighbors here, just look real serious and say, “You see, this is a minor double stop because I have flatted the third.” Or if you just want to play it, then all you have to do is move your index finger down one fret to turn a major into a minor here. Try it and see.

        One old fellow figured this out on his own. After the first set of a gig, he came up to speak to me.

        “I done figured out what you’s a doing up there.” He squinted and turned his head side-ways as he looked at my mandolin. “You put your fingers on that thing and if you don’t like what you hear you just slide ’em up or down ’till you do.”

        “Ain’t nothing to it,” I said. “Easy as doctoring.”

        Okay, back to the lesson.

        Continue up the neck to the two notes of the Bm chord. This is the III minor chord. (Again in the chord scale III is always minor) The notation here is 7/5. (Yep, two frets apart or minor)

        Continue up the neck to the IV chord or C. Remember your mantra. Four is always major. The notation here is 8/7. Low and behold there is only one fret difference here, voila, major!

        Following the same logic, V is major, or “D”. Because it is major you can now predict how many frets apart your index and middle are gonna be. You’re right. The answer is one, and the notation is 10/9.

        The VI chord is not only minor but a very important minor. It is the 6th or the relative minor. In the G scale this is E. The notation here is double-stop land is 12/10.

        If you are in Nashville at a party and someone plays a sad sort of tune (as in a killing song) look up from your drink and say, “I believe they hit the six minor there (or relative minor) and odds are you will be right. The person you espouse this to will nod their head yes and at least think you know what the heck you are talking about. When you play and you’re not sure which minor you need try go the relative minor. It is easy to find and will be the sixth note in the chord scale.

        The F, or seven, is what they call half-diminished. (Think of it as you will be half crazy before you figure it out) Okay, I know you are getting bored. Because you are sitting there with a mandolin around your neck and haven’t played a song yet, and because the 7th isn’t in “You Are My Sunshine” I’m gonna not explain this. (The fact I can’t very easily is immaterial)

        So if you are still with me, here is “You Are My Sunshine.” I put the fret notation for the chord above the word I want you to sing with it and also the number. (ex like the II in parentheses beside that) One other note here: one place here you’ll see PCDS. This means it is a passing chord double stop in between the ones you learned above. Make sure you sing along or the lesson won’t work.

3/2 (I)    5/3 (II)         6/4 (PCDS)      7/5 (III)      7/5 (III)
You         are                   my                      sun               shine

7/5 (III)         5/3 (II)             7/5 (III)        3/2 (I)          3/2 (I)
My                      on……………                       sun                shine.

3/2 (I)           5/3 (III)       7/5 (III)        8/7 (IV)                 12/10 (VI)
You                make             me                     hap………………

12/10 (VI)        10/9 (V)      8/7 (IV)    7/5  (III)
When                   skies              are               gray.

3/2 (I)      5/3 (II)     7/5 (III)       8/7 (IV)         12/10 (VI)
You’ll         ne…………ver                  know               dear

12/10 (VI)    10/9 (V)   8/7 (IV)     7/5 (III)     3/2 (I)
How                 much         I                     love               you.

3/2 (I)    5/3 (II)    7/5 (III)   8/7 (IV)   5/3 (II)   5/3(II)    7/5(III)
Please     don’t          take             my              sun           shine        a

3/2 (I)

        If you like this stuff and live in South Carolina go see Wayne Benson, or Darin Aldridge in N.C. They both tour pretty heavy but will take you on if you are serious and want to learn. Tell ’em Dr. B sent you. These guys are very good at what they do; good enough to make a mandolin player out of an old doctor. And that, my friends, is even more of a feat than making a writer out of one.

Dr. B

Explore posts in the same categories: mandolin lessons, Writing


You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

10 Comments on “You Are My Sunshine and the Double Stop Mandolin Lesson”

  1. Carmen Claypool Says:

    The mandolin is downstairs, and I need to get busy with my “real” work, but just as soon as I get a couple of minutes this evening, I’m going to mess around with this post. I like your explanations…I’m no good on mandolin, but I love learning….

  2. Irene Says:

    Dr. B,

    As a beginner mandolin player, I was really intimated by the explanation at first. When I got the mandolin out and tried playing the double stops, I found I could get it and play along. I don’t think I will ever talk about relative minors and diminished and pcdses, but it is fun to play along and I’m learning a lot.

  3. Ted Lehmann Says:

    Dr. B – This was the first time I ever seriously held a mandolin in my hands, and it’s hard. I already knew the string names, which helped, but the amount of narrative got in the way of my understanding the progression. When I skipped the talk and played the chords, the tune leapt out. I guess I’d say the theory got in the way of my having an out of the box success, but maybe I’ll pick up the old thang again and give it a try. – Ted

  4. Simpkins Says:

    Dr. B., that’s s good lesson right there, I love double stops , and I totally agree that they are a huge part in the mando mystery .


  5. drtombibey Says:


    The “The Mandolin Case” is a few weeks away from an annoucement. After that I have a second novel planned, and it is already in progress. There is also a third book in the Country Doctor Trilogy. However I’d like to do a basic mando instruction book before I start the third novel.

    Today’s post is a bit of test run to see how the concept I have in mind plays out. Just as I did with “The Mandolin Case” I’ll need a lot of help to get that project to print.

    Ted and Irene, your comments are just the kind of feedback I’ll need from players to see if I have put it to paper in a way that works. Books take a lot of refinement before they are ready. (I bet the Mandolin Case went through at least wenty-seven edits!)

    Simpkins, I thought of both you and my Mississippi mando pal Smitty as I wrote this piece, ’cause I heard a lot of nice double stop work in your playing the other night.

    Dr. B

  6. Smitty Pres. of Neuse River Fan Club Mississippi Says:

    Wow Doc you did it……you can teach….When you were explaining the piece I was saying to myself, ok hook the student and you did. All the major and minor stuff makes sense but the best part was you were able to get it down on paper. I might have to send you an education degree from the college of hard knocks.

    Enjoyed the whirlwind visit, I made a good choice by not staying later for the sake of my buddies. We will be back. I told Cindy of our adventures thru the country side and the graveyard, she got tickled about you wanting to get out of the graveyard by dark. Thanks again for the lesson. Hey Doc, put some numbers on your mailbox, someone from the city might have to find you.Marfar is precious,what God has joined together let no man put asunder.

    • drtombibey Says:


      Coach, one reason me and you get along is ’cause you are a principal and I am doctor but we are both teachers at heart. Glad you enjoyed the lesson. I’ll send your regards to Wayne and Darin.

      And me and Marfar get along ’cause that’s what God had in mind and she was willing to put with a perpeptual whirlwind.

      I bought those numbers at Harvey Hardware a while back. Now let’s see, where did I lay them down ???….

      Dr. B

  7. Pauline Lovelace Says:

    This is pretty neat, I’m going to try it.

    • drtombibey Says:


      I plan to work with Wayne on a book based on his lessons. It will be titled “Practical Theory for Mandolin” by Wayne Benson as narrated by Dr. Tommy Bibey. We hope to start in 2012, so keep an eye out for it in a few years.

      Dr. B

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: