Lead Guitar Phrasing – Part 3 – Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits

Welcome to Part 3 in our series on Lead Guitar Phrasing.  The subject of today’s study is the Mark Knopfler‘s playing on Brothers In Arms.  First, here’s the track:

So here are 5 key points we can take from this, to apply to our own Phrasing when soloing:

1) Leaving Space.  
We’ve discussed leaving spaces between phrases before, and referenced Miles Davis’ quote “It’s the notes you don’t play”.  However, on this track, and many others, Mark Knopfler takes this concept from a necessary technique to an art form.  During these spaces in the verses is arguably when his Guitar carries most weight and power, as when listening to the song, you can feel yourself urging and pre-empting the Guitar’s re-entry.  This combined with the Guitar being “high in the mix” (ie. noticeably louder than the other instruments), and a collection of concise, sparse and perfectly executed fills, makes for a brilliantly evocative Guitar part.

2) Minimalism 
This is a selection of short and medium length fills, there are no long fills at all.  This is an effective, controlled approach.  Rather like how you might stop listening to someone who’s been going on and on for 10 minutes, but take serious note when a silent type finally speaks up.  On a couple of occasions, there is no fill at all, and once the first verse, there’s a fill of just one note.  Even in the solos, there is absolutely no playing to excess whatsoever.  If you told any guitarist to solo over the Brothers In Arms Backing Track, you can be sure they wouldn’t play so little, or be anywhere near as effective, unless they’d already learned this lesson

3) Volume Swells 
Knopfler’s volume pedal is a big part of his sound.  Essentially a volume pedal is a foot pedal which sweeps from silent to full volume, and you can create similar effects using the volume knob on your guitar.  Using this he creates violin-like swells, notes that creep and fade in and out.  Essentially he’s hereby deepening the use and potential of dynamics in his playing.  Try it out with whatever you have at your disposal!

4) Pushing 
Pushing is coming in just before the beat, usually a quaver (or 8th note) before.  Knopfler does this a lot, coming in early with something emphatic, that sounds momentarily out of place, then soars as the music falls into place around his guitar part.  This adds expression, dynamics and the illusion of pace, and is exemplified by the solo-opening bend at 4:13

5) Fingerstyle 
The central, best-known aspect of Mark Knopfler’s technique is the fact that he nearly always plays with his fingers, rather than a plectrum.  Whilst this arguably has more influence over his rhythm playing, it does affect his lead playing in one major way.  The scope and range of expression provided by the fingers is much wider than with a pick.  This range extends at one end of the spectrum to a hard, plucked twang, and at the other to the lightest, feather-touch flick of the strings.  In general, there’s a soft, rounded quality to his tone that comes from his fingerstyle soloing.  Try it out!

Coming soon, the 4th and final (for now) part in this series.

Happy Knopfler-ing!

– Alex

Piano Lessons London

Guitar Lessons London

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