Mark Knopfler plays the guitar wrongly …

… according to classical guitar training.

You don’t bend your right hand’s fingers. You hold them straight.
The thumb is supposed to go in a straight line down, not stretched away from the hand.
The thumb plays the three lower strings, while the other fingers play the upper three strings.
The left hand’s thumb sits strictly below the neck, roughly in the middle.
Oh, and did I mention that you are supposed to play the electric guitar with a plectrum …

I could go on and on and on.

You don’t play the guitar like Mark Knopfler does.

Yet, that’s precisely what makes his playing so unique. It’s quite likely that it’s not despite but because of his unconventional technique that he came up with some of the most memorable guitar licks and solos of all time. They were simple in his style but a lot harder (some even impossible) in a more conventional style.

Dismissing the “rules” was what allowed him to become one of Rock’s most admired guitar players. And similar things can be said for many great musicians. Jimi Hendrix used a right-handed guitar as a left-hander. Brian May used a sixpence coin rather than a plectrum. Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie ballooned his cheeks and on and on and on …

The thing to appreciate is that the “rules” have been invented by others. They make a lot of sense for a lot of people but they are in no way a law of nature. Look at the rules. Learn the technique. But don’t let them restrict you. And feel free to dismiss them if your own style leads you to become a renowned artist.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

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