Sultans Of Swing Solo Analyzed

Why does the solo sound so good? Why does Mark Knopfler use the notes that he does in the solo and how they match the chords. Learn about chords theory and the minor scale too!

Ultimate Guitar
This is my first lesson that I am attempting to write. While learning about chord theory and arpeggios I applied it to the solo in "Sultans of Swing" by "Dire Straits". I was amazed by how a great solo like this one was constructed on the most basic principles and theory. Don't worry if you don't know your basic chord theory or scales because this lesson encompasses that too. So, without further ado I will share my discoveries and I hope you guys will learn as much from this as I did! CHORDS The solo in the song is based around 5 basic chords which are in the key of Dm. To find the notes that are in the key of D minor or any minor key you follow this formula: Minor Formula: Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole (focus on this one for now) Major Formula: Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half (Important later) What this means is that you start on your note, in this case it's a D, and you go one whole step which is an E, then you go a half step, which is an F, and so on until you get back to D. Following that formula we have the notes of the D minor scale:
D   E   F   G   A   A#/Bb   C
The 5 chords that the song is based around are:
Dm   C   A#/Bb   A   F
The way they are played is like this:
Dm   C   A#/Bb   A  x2    
F    C   A#/Bb   Dm
Remember this and listen to the song when the chords change especially during the solo! CHORD FORMATION The chords in this song are constructed using the basic major/minor chord formula. To find what notes are in a chord you use the scale OF that specific chord. So if we want to find the notes in Dm we use the D minor scale which I wrote out before. The chord consists of the 1st 3rd and 5th notes of the Dm scale which are:
D     F    A
To find the notes in a MAJOR chord you use the MAJOR scale which I wrote out the formula for above. So for the C chord in the song the notes would be:
C     E    G
So I find the 3 notes of all the chords in the song it would look like this:
D F A  (Dm)
C E G  (C)
A# D F (A#)
A C# E (A)
F A C  (F)
Now on to the solo! SOLO I'm not going to tab out the solo for you guys which you can do or find yourselves but I WILL tell you what notes are played in the solo. The first chord of the solo is a Dm. Knopfler bends the B string up to an A note (10th fret) a few times while the chord lasts. What notes are in the Dm chord? D, F, and A. This is WHY he plays the A in the solo because it matches the chord! Then a G note is played when the chord switches to a C chord. The G is a note that makes up the C chord so it matches! When chord switches to an A# the note in the solo switches to an F! Now obviously I'm simplifying this a bit because he does'nt play the note once and finish, he does some pull-offs and hammer-ons and bends and all that but the basic theory behind it s that the notes match the chords! This is why it is VERY important for beginners to learn theory and understand WHY notes are played and not just mindlessly play tabs. Ok, two more chords and we are done, but these are the exciting parts! The A chord is then played and an amazing arpeggio comes along with it! The notes in the arpeggio AGAIN match the chord being played: E A C# E A C# F Now all those notes match the A chord but not the F, well the F serves as sort of a transition to the D minor chord which is played right after! Now we are going to skip a bit of the solo until we get to the F chord! A C A F A C F F 3 notes are being played in this pattern over the F chord and it sounds great yet so simple! The rest of the solo is formed just like this and if you look then you will find that every note in the solo matches the chord that is being played behind it! I hope this lesson has taught you a bit about chord theory and scales and a bit about arpeggios (learn about them some more) but most of all I hope you guys have understood how important it is to actually KNOW the notes of the guitar and know the theory behind the songs you learn and not just look up tabs for everything you want to play!

12 comments sorted by best / new / date

    You're referring to target notes, and you've made a good explanation in your lesson. I'm sure some readers will get something out of this. Well done.
    It's basically what you've written about, chosing the notes in your solo that fit against the chord being played behind it. You can tack along your solo that way and use some 'filler' passages between the notes...
    3omar khaleel
    Great post, But the note is exclusively "Bb", it's wrong to say A# in this case..since u already have an "A".. Bb represents a flat sixth in D minor.. the sixth is B.. flatten it to get Bb.. A# would count as a sharp5 note.. which is not..
    Merlock Thrash wrote: thanks.. i really did learn alot from that cheers
    no problem!
    I'm a guitarist who's trying to learn the notes a bit, do major league guitarist like knophler know or think about notes when they play or do they just do it?
    sorry but when Knopfler plays the solo, he uses a pentatonic scale or a major / minor scale? It's more difficult to improvise with a major / minor scale but i don't know