The following examples are inspired by the live version of Knopfler’s signature tune, “Sultans of Swing,” and they’re both an awesome boot camp for getting your fingerpicking chops rocking. Don’t worry—you won’t need any hardcore classical technique to pluck these notes. Both examples can be conquered with just the plucking-hand thumb and index finger.
Example 1 is a cool major pentatonic run that suits the F major sections of the “Sultans” progression. Once you get the plucking-hand moves down, you can apply this technique to a multitude of scales and arpeggios. Pay close attention to the thumb (p) and index finger (i) plucking indicators. After plucking the first note with your index finger, you’ll pluck each downbeat with your thumb and every fourth sixteenth-note (the a in one-e-and-a, two-e-and-a, etc.) with your index finger. All the other notes should be sounded with either a hammer-on or a pull-off. This is crucial: If you try to pick more notes than those indicated you’ll throw the groove, lose the cool accents, and hamper your ability to burn through this.
Example 2 uses the opposite plucking pattern on a repeated motif (one of the aforementioned tapestries). Keep the plucking crisp so the notes ring out, but don’t obsess on it. One of the coolest things about the Knopfler way is that if certain notes get deadened by a finger bumping into an adjacent string, it only makes the lick sound cooler, funkier, and cluckier. Those little organic inflections will become an integral part of this technique and they’ll give rise to parts and sounds that are simply impossible to duplicate with that blunt tool known as the plectrum.