This guitar lesson is about what I like to call “The Sultans of Swing Thing”. The idea comes from part of the solo in the Dire Straits song “Sultan’s of Swing”. But this sound can be heard in many other songs and solos.
You are going to be playing arpeggios, which are the notes of a chord played individually. The name of this lesson is “The Sultan’s Triads”. A triad is a basic 3 note chord. Major and minor chords are triads and only have 3 different notes in them. To understand more about triads, go to the guitar lesson on basic chord construction in the music theory section.
For these particular arpeggios you are going to play a very specific shape. You are going to play 2 notes on the 1st string, and 1 note on the 2nd string. Having 2 notes on the 1st string will allow you to do some hammer-on and pull-off combinations that will allow you to play fast, with minimal effort.
Major Triad Guitar Shapes
Let’s take a look at the major arpeggio shapes. The numbers indicate the fingering, and the red dot shows where the root of the chord is. The root location is going to be your guide, so memorize where it is. Of course for these to be of any use, you will need to have a basic knowledge of what the names of the notes are on the neck of the guitar.
If you played the 3 notes of a major chord using the string combination mention above (2 notes on the 1st string and 1 on the 2nd string) this will give you 3 different sets of these 3 notes. The only problem is that one of the sets is not a very comfortable combination, so we are not going to use it. We are looking for some comfortable and useful shapes to learn. Just because it exists doesn’t mean you need to play it.
Minor Triad Guitar Shapes
Now let’s take a look at the minor shapes. A C minor chord is the notes C, E♭, and G. For a Cm triad you would just take all of the C major shapes and lower the E to an E♭.
You can see that the E♭ didn’t make this shape any more comfortable. Don’t bother with it.
All of the previous major and minor shapes could be played on the 3rd and 4th strings, 4th and 5th strings and even the 5th and 6th strings.
Triad Shapes on the 2nd and 3rd Strings
Because of the way the guitar is tuned. The shapes are different on the 2nd and 3rd strings. Without going through all of the possibilities I will tell you that there is only one comfortable fingering in the bunch. The major shape below. If you have any doubts, figure out all of the other shapes.
In order to be able to use them in your solos, you need to know which of the notes in the shape is the root (the letter name of the chord or arpeggio).
How to use “The Sultan’s Triads”
The most common use of these arpeggios, is for improvising over a particular chord. The first thing that we are going to take a look at is some common hammer-on and pulloff combinations. The result is some fast, easy licks. For the purpose of demonstration, I am going to write all of these licks using the basic major arpeggio shape below. You will be able to apply all of the finger movements and picking to all of the shapes you have learned on the previous pages.
Triad Guitar Licks
All of the following licks are for an E (major) chord. Therefore the note on the 2nd string is an E. Be sure to follow the recommended picking. The symbol means to pick down and the symbol means to pick up. These licks use hammer-ons and pull-offs.
Triad Lick #1
Triad Lick #2
Triad Lick #3
Guitar Solo Examples
Here are a couple of examples of these arpeggios shapes at work.
Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits
Well we can’t talk about “The Sultan’s Triads” without talking about the solo in “The Sultans of Swing” by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. This is just like the last part of the solo near the end of the song.
Blues in A
Here’s an example of how you could use these arpeggios to outline the chords in the blues.