Play guitar like Mark Knopfler - 5 tips to try

Mark Knopfler
(Image credit: Tom Hill/WireImage)

Guitar lessons: Mark Knopfler is renowned for his tasteful improvising and silky lead electric guitar sound, using thumb, index and middle fingers as part of his unusual fingerstyle approach. Here, we’re looking mainly at his lead style, which draws from blues ,folk and rockabilly, among other genres. Our licks cover several ideas, which can easily be played in other keys.

Knopfler’s approach to pentatonic sequences is embodied by tracks such as Sultans Of Swing, whereas the classic raked minor chords are found in anything from Down To The Waterline to Private Investigations. His rockier side is typified in Money For Nothing and fast blues-rock solos are heard on tracks such as Solid Rock. 

1. Rake and legato lick 

(Image credit: Future)

The three-note arpeggio that kicks the lick off is a classic Knopfler-ism and should be executed with the thumb and first two fingers of your pick hand in a controlled fingerpicked ‘rake’ across the three strings. The picking towards the end of the lick is less crucial, so use any finger you like.

2. A minor pentatonic lick 

Click on top right of tab to enlarge

(Image credit: Future)

Using shape 1 of the minor pentatonic scale, this lick uses rests to create rhythmic interest. Knopfler’s fingerstyle technique comes into its own, allowing you to play quickly and manage the string shifts. It’s an adaptable method; you may prefer to use your first finger on some notes where we’ve notated the thumb.

3. Outlining chord tones 

(Image credit: Future)

This lick comprises four phrases that outline the chord tones. Each phrase follows the same picking pattern: thumb (p), hammer-on, first finger (i), second finger (m), thumb.

4. Rock diads and 6ths 

(Image credit: Future)

Typically of Knopfler’s smart rhythm approach, these chord fragments outline the main chords without resorting to predictable-sounding shapes.

5. Fast picking and pull-offs

Click on top right of tab to enlarge 

(Image credit: Future)

This lick is a pastiche of Knopfler’s fast 16th-note picking technique from tracks such as Sultans Of Swing. Start off by learning each fret-hand shape and how the notes relate to the notes of the chord shown above. Picking-wise, the trick is to use your thumb on every other note.

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