Mark Knopfler

In this is­sue John Wheatcroft turns his at­ten­tion to­wards the blue­sier side of a true Lo­cal Hero, the fin­ger-pick­ing good Mark Knopfler.

Guitar Techniques - - Lesson: Blues -

For people of a cer­tain age Mark Knopfler will for­ever be as­so­ci­ated with Dire Straits and the mid 80s era of ex­cess. At that time the Straits were lit­er­ally the big­gest band in the world; Broth­ers In Arms sold over 3,000,000 copies in the UK alone and their Amer­i­can No.1 sin­gle Money For Noth­ing was the first video to be aired on MTV Europe. How­ever, since dis­solv­ing the band in 1995, Knopfler’s car­reer has con­tin­ued to go from strength to strength, with a slew of suc­ces­ful solo re­leases and sound­track scores, awards for song­writ­ing and com­po­si­tion, and a long list of fruit­ful col­laboa­ra­tions with artists such as Bob Dy­lan, Chet Atkins, Eric Clap­ton, Van Mor­ri­son, St­ing and, most im­por­tantly, French & Saun­ders (take a look on YouTube right now).

Mark is a left-han­der who plays gui­tar right-handed. This gives him ex­tra strength for ex­e­cut­ing mul­ti­ple string bends, a Knopfler trade­mark. In­spired by the in­tri­cate lead tech­nique of Lon­nie John­son and the sub­tle skills of coun­try blues play­ers, Mark has evolved his own unique fin­ger­pick­ing style. He uses this quirky ap­proach for sin­gle notes, dou­ble-stops and in­tri­cate chordal pas­sages; mix­ing blues, coun­try, folk and jazz in­flu­ences to cre­ate a style that is at times raw and di­rect and at oth­ers hip, so­phis­ti­cated and beau­ti­ful.

While raised in Blyth, Northum­ber­land, Mark was ac­tu­ally born in Glas­gow to Hun­gar­ian and English par­ents. From a com­po­si­tional per­spec­tive there is a no­tice­able Celtic in­flu­ence in much of his writ­ing style, al­though both Amer­i­cana and clas­sic coun­try in­flu­ences are also clearly ev­i­dent. Mark’s most re­cent re­lease, Pri­va­teer­ing, mixes these styles with a lib­eral dose of rootsy blues and the net re­sult suits his sto­ry­teller song­writ­ing style, his nat­u­ral al­most spo­ken vo­cal de­liv­ery along with his or­ganic gui­tar play­ing style down to the ground. Much of his ap­peal lies in his warm, melodic ap­proach to gui­tar play­ing, a di­rect re­sult of his early love of Hank Marvin. While more than ca­pa­ble of dis­play­ing con­sid­er­able tech­ni­cal com­mand of his in­stru­ment when re­quired, Knopfler al­ways places the melody and the song first, mak­ing his gui­tar style ac­ces­si­ble and invit­ing to ev­ery­body.

In typ­i­cal Blues Dues style there are five short mu­si­cal ex­am­ples to learn this month. Mark is def­i­nitely a gui­tarist who plays for the song, so to get the full ef­fect you need to lis­ten to the gui­tar play­ing in­tently, along with the song in which it is placed. It helps when com­pos­ing or im­pro­vis­ing so­los to know a lit­tle about the con­text in which your ideas are placed. So next time you play a solo, think about the sub­ject of the song. What is the mood of the piece and how might the lyrics af­fect what you are go­ing to play? Cre­at­ing co­he­sive so­los is much more about play­ing sym­pa­thet­i­cally to your sur­round­ings than just se­lect­ing the cor­rect scale to go with the chords.

If you’re play­ing an in­stru­men­tal piece, per­haps ru­mi­nate over the ti­tle and con­sider how this might in­flu­ence your ap­proach. I’m sure that Knopfler would echo these sen­ti­ments, but for now learn each ex­am­ple along with the as­so­ci­ated back­ing and then per­haps try to com­pose some sim­i­lar short ex­am­ples that ei­ther com­pli­ment the mood we’ve cre­ated; or per­haps even de­vise a con­trast­ing idea that changes things around en­tirely.

It struck me that I knew sod all about mu­sic, so I just sat down and made my­self stick at it. Mark Knopfler

Mark Knopfler: note the un­usual pick­ing ap­proach

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