Sailing to Philadelphia to mix yourself

Posted on 6 CommentsPosted in Guitar in general, Misc, MK guitar style and licks, Recording, Understanding music

Today I want to feature a little software that was available as a free dowwnload on the official Mark Knopfler site some years ago. It is a flash mixer with individual tracks of the song Sailing to Philadelphia, in other words, a software mixer that does not only allow to listen to the individual instruments but also to adjust the volume of these. For this reason it was described as “Anatomy of a track”.

The flash mixer allows to listen to individual tracks and to adjust their volume
The flash mixer allows to listen to individual tracks and to adjust their volume

You only need to download one file (mixer.exe) and simply start it on your computer (it requires flash), the individual sound files for each track are already included. Unfortunately the sound quality is not very good due to a heavy compression, and it is only the first two minutes of the song. You will see individual mixer channels for drums, lead guitar, vocals (both Mark Knopfler and James Taylor on the same track), acoustic guitar, bass, and another track for both keyboards plus pedal steel guitar.

It is fun to mix the tracks as you want, and it is very interesting to hear the tracks alone. As effects are already included for each track, you can hear details like the reverb or delays on the lead guitar. And of course it is great to figure out what Knopfler actually plays. Unfortunately the tool does not allow fast forward / backward, so you always have to start from the beginning again.

A real gem is the acoustic guitar, a fingerpicking played by Knopfler that was later overdubbed. Note how his unique way of playing adds so much rhythm and groove to the song, something that unfortunately was never recaptured on live performances of this song. I also tried to play a similar picking on the video I made for another article of this blog, so you might want top check out this one again to see the fingering.

The white '64 Strat that was used for the lead in Sailing to Philadelphia
The white '64 Strat that was used for the lead in Sailing to Philadelphia

The lead guitar was the white ’64 Stratocaster that Knopfler played also on stage during the Sailing to Philadelphia tour. You can clearly hear reverb, compression and delay on this track, also note the deep bass, and the percussice attack.

"Buy me a beer" - donate for the site via PayPal. Or buy a backing track in my online shop 🙂

Understanding songs – chords and structure analysis of True love will never fade

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Easy stuff for beginners, Understanding music

Have a look at the following chords, these are all chords for the song True Love Will never Fade, the opener of  Mark Knopfler’s latest album Kill to get crimson. Each chord is played for one bar:

C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm G F G  C C F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C Dm G C Am F G F G C F Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C Dm G C Am F G F G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm G F G  C C F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C Dm G C Am F G F G C F Dm G C C F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm  C C F F C C Dm G C Dm G C Am F G F G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G C F Dm G

Theoretically it is no problem to play the song from this list of chords, you simply have to follow the list and try not to get lost 😉

One way to avoid getting lost is  writing the chords next to the corresponding words of the lyrics, something that is common among  singers who accompany themselves. You surely have seen this approach, it might look like this:

Unstructured chart with lyrics and chords

Finding structure

The solution above is common but not ideal because it does not reflect any structure.

You might ask yourself  how you can play such a song without a paper, like professional musicians do on stage? How can you learn a list of 126 chords by heart?

The answer is easy: you need to be aware of its structure, of the patterns and logic it is built up with. Without structure, understanding is not possible. Without understanding, learning and remembering is extremely difficult. It is similar to understanding a huge mixing desk: you might wonder how someone knows what to do with so many knobs and controls, there are actually hundreds of them. But when you have a closer look, you will see that there are several channel strips that all have an identical set of controls. And the controls of each channel strip are structered again in e.g. the EQ section, the aux controls for effect sends, the monitor section, and so on. As soon as you understand it, the number of controls is no problem anymore, and you can find the right knob for each job within short time.

Structuring the chords into corresponding groups is essential (picture from the making-of DVD of Kill to Get Crimson)

Let’s apply the same logic to this song now. First we arrange the chords in groups, or sections. The first group is the intro of the song, and it consists of the first 8 bars. In fact you will find that certain numbers – e.g. 2, 4, 8, 12, 16, 32, … – play an important role in music. These are very often  powers of two.  Indeed music and mathematics are more related than you might think. If you look at these 8 chords, you will see that there is a group of 4 bars (C F Dm G) that is repeated ( 2 x 4 = 8, be aware of the powers of two).


C F Dm G C F Dm G

Let’s go on and try to identify such groups. After the intro, someting like a chorus begins (“True love will never fade…”). First it is important to understand that the structure of the lyrics has normally to do with the structure of the music, but both are not the same in all details. From the lyrics you might think that the chorus starts when Knopfler sings the first word “True…”, from a musical point of view however, it actually starts with the last word of the line “…fade”). The other words are what is called an upbeat figure, or simply upbeat. They lead over into the next part. A similar upbeat can be found at the beginning of the next part, which starts  with the last word of  “I wonder if there’s no forever…”  at 0:37. Until then, we  have a total of  the following 10 chords:


C F Dm G C F Dm G C C

A closer look reveals that we have the same group of 4 chords as in the intro (C F Dm G) which is repated, plus two bars of a C chord that are something like a filler to connect the part with the next. The 10 bars can be subdivides in 4 + 4 + 2, and  we might write it like this instead:

C F Dm G – C F Dm G –  C C

The third part – we might call it verse – starts with “…forever” (0:37). As the following part that starts with “I don’t know what brought you to me” sounds almost identical (melody, chords), we can consider it as a repetition of the part before and call it Verse B , while the previous verse A consists of the following 18 chords.

Verse A

F F C C Dm G C C F F C C Dm G F G  C C

You can see that the first 8 bars start with the same chords as from bar 9 on, and the last two bars are just a filler to link to the next part, so let’s write it like this:

F F C C Dm G C C  – – F F C C Dm G F G  – – C C.

And we can subdivide those groups of 8 bars to groups of 4 bars:

F F C C —  Dm G C C  – – F F C C  – – Dm G F G – – C C.

We see that the first and the third group are identical, while the second and the fourth are similar but not the same. The difference are the chords F G (red) at the end of the third group, they are inserted, they change the pattern. If you left them and played the two bars of C instead, you would have a simple repetition which is on the one hand more logical, but on the other hand it sounds a bit surprising this way, and thus adds something new to the song.

The whole section seems to be repeated with the following verse B (1:14 to 1.44) that can be subdivided in a way similar to verse A:

Verse B

F F C C —  Dm G C C  – – F F C C  – – Dm G C

If you compare it to verse A, you will see that both differ just where those chords previously discussed appear (red). Instead of the F G C C we have only one single bar C here. The total number of chords is for this reason only 15 which is very unusual (16 or 16 + 2 would be normal). We can say that one bar of C is missing, Dm G C C would be normal here (and would in fact sound logical). Leaving out this chord breaks the pattern and again adds something unexpected, it highlights the following part by breaking the rules.

This next part might be called bridge. It consists of 8 bars, and it is followed by 4 bars of the chorus pattern, and finally two bars C to fill to the next part, so we have:

Dm G C Am – F G F G (bridge)

C F Dm G (chorus)

C C  (fill)

All of the following sections are repetitions of these first parts. In detail, we have the

Solo (first 8 bars of verse A)

Verse B (15 bars)

Bridge (8 bars)

Chorus (4 bars)

3 x Chorus (12 bars)

2 x Chorus (solo, where ride cymbal starts)


The last chords again break with the pattern. The expected would be  something like C F Dm G C, with the last C as the final chord (the song is in the key of C so it should end on a C). The way it is here, however,  sounds again unexpected and thus adds something.

The following chart shows the complete structure of the whole song. I also used different colours to indicate different and related parts. Compared with the unstructered list of 126 chords at the beginning of this article, you can see at one glance which part comes next, where something is repeated, and where something happens that breaks a standard pattern (red chords) . The number of different parts that you need to learn is kept to a minimum.


Some general notes on structure

At all those positions where a new part begins, a traditional note sheet would display a double bar line. Normally a drummer plays a crash cymbal there, and he might play a drum break before to usher in the start of a new part (on this song the drummer does not because the drum track is kept extremely simple). The beginning of a new part is also a  typical position where new instruments might come in (e.g. note how the electric guitar comes in at the beginning of the first verse B), and the overall volume of the song might change here (note that commercial CD are often mixed at a  rather constant volume as a consequence of the loudness war).

Working with a band

I made the experience that when you work on a song with a band, it is extremely helpful to work with musicians who understand such a concept, and who think in terms of such a structure. Only this way everyone will know e.g. where to start best within the song to practice a particular part of the song, or how to play a difficult piece in a loop to get used to it or to bring it to perfection within shortest time. Everyone will know where to pay attention because something is unusual.

The drummer automatically knows where to play the crash, where to play a break, where to change from hihat to ride, and so on. And only this way you can easily communicate with the other band members: everyone will know what is talked about, what is meant with bridge, first part, second half of … , and so on.

This is common knowledge among good musicians of course, but I know of many who still have not realized these aspects, sometimes even after playing their instruments for decades. But it is never too late for learning 🙂

Note: An analysis of the chords that appear in this song and their harmonic relation can be found in the article about the circle of fifths.

"Buy me a beer" - donate for the site via PayPal. Or buy a backing track in my online shop 🙂

The Circle of Fifths: What is it for? – plus: example analysis of Knopfler songs

Posted on 28 CommentsPosted in Easy stuff for beginners, Guitar in general, MK guitar style and licks, Understanding music

What is the Circle of Fifths and what do I need it for?

Every guitar player pretty soon realizes that certain chords seem to belong together, they are related in a way, while other chords are only rarely used within the same song. The chords C , F, and G seem to be such related chords – these are not only the chords you would use for a blues tune in C, but also the majority of traditionals – if you play them in the key of C – do not require any other chords than these three.

So, how do I know which chords are related, which ones are even closely related, which ones are not?

The answer can be found from a simple chart that is called the “Circle of Fifths”. I will simply skip all the redundant information like “why a circle, why fifths – or sometimes even ‘fifths and fourths'”, instead let’s only look at some practical use it can have. More theoretical information can be found at countless places, e.g. here the Wikipedia link.

Here is the chart (taken courtesy from library., read on how it works:

To keep it really simple: Outside the circle you will find major chords, insides are minor chords. Each major chord has a corresponding minor chord (e.g. Am belongs to C, C#m to E, ..).

Rule 1: The closer the chords are in this circle, the more they are related !

For example, we have a song in the key of C. The right neighbour is G, the left is F. –> F and G belong to C (the right neighbour is the so-called dominant chord, the left one the sub-dominant chord).

Let’s add some minor chords: Am belongs to C, Dm to F, and Em to G. –> We get the chords C, F, G, Am, Dm, Em.

On the other hand, a C#m would be very far away from our C, so it is not related, does for this reason not appear in many congs in C, and would sound rather ‘strange’, or at least ‘surprising’.

Only one additional rule:

Rule 2: In a minor key, the left and right minor neighbour chords (in the key of Am, these would be Dm and Em) can also appear as a major chord (D or E).

So, a song in Am might not only have chords like C, F, G, or Dm, but also D and E.

That’s all you need to know, easy, isn’t it?

Now, what do I need it for? Well, to write your own songs (make it sound ‘normal’, or deliberately use strange chords, as you want) , or to figure out the chords of a new song you want to learn by ear: as soon as you have the first chord, try to find the other ones by trying out neighbour chords, often these are the ones you are looking for.

Enough theory, here are some examples:

Example 1: Sultans of Swing

The key is Dm. All chords of the song: Dm, C, Bb, F, and A.

See the next picture: all the chords are pretty close, only the A (right side) does not fit in. If you apply rule 2 (the Am can be replaced by A), everything is in place again, all the chords are “one family”.

(Note: some of the long live versions also have a Gm and Am chord, I left these out, but note how these would also fit in).

(some of the long live versions also have a Gm and Am chord, I left these out, but note how these would also fit in).

Example 2: True love will never fade

The key is C, all chords are: C, F, G, Dm

They are all related and thus very close in the circle of fifths, see below:

Example 3: Money for Nothing

The key is Gm, all chords are: Gm, Bb, F, Eb, C, D, and E.

The C, D, and E chords seem to be out of place (see below), the C and D can be understood as replacements for a Dm and Cm chord (rule 2) and do thus fit into the pattern, while the E is completely out. In fact, this chord sounds somewhat unexpected (it is the last chord of each refrain, on “color TViii-iiih”), especiall the following change back to Gm is very unusual and thus adds some extra kick.

Alright, that’s for today. You should use use the comment function (no registration or email required) to let me know if this article was helpful, or to ask questions, or to make suggestions.

CU soon here again,


"Buy me a beer" - donate for the site via PayPal. Or buy a backing track in my online shop 🙂