3 string triad magic, in the style of Dire Straits

Lesson #174 • Sep 18, 2018

Video Overview

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Editor’s notes

As I took the first steps into learning “Sultans of Swing”, one of the things that jumped out immediately was this incredibly recognizable chorus lick - and how playing it by itself can be an entirely satisfying exercise. After spending some time with it, I decided to craft some constraints around it: specifically, introducing the challenge of only using 3 strings to play all of the necessary chords.

While this may seem like a challenging constraint, it actually makes the lick a bit more accessible, in my opinion - it allows you to avoid any “full” barre chords that require 5 or 6 strings. As such, I present to you this quick warm-up exercise based on this riff. It’s a great one to memorize to turn heads wherever you may find yourself with a guitar, and likewise will help you develop barre chord muscles if you haven’t yet mastered the 5- or 6-string barre. Enjoy!

Full chorus lick

Part 1 of 2:

E –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––––––6––5––3––––––6––6––5––––––10––8––––
G ––––––––7––5––3––––––5––5––5––––––10––9––––
D ––(0)–––7––5––3––––––7––7––5––––––10––10–––
A –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
         Dm  C  Bb     F  F  C       F  C

Part 2 of 2:

E –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––––––6––5––3––––––6––6––5–––––––––––––––
G ––––––––7––5––3––––––5––5––5––––––––––––5––
D ––(0)–––7––5––3––––––7––7––5––––––––5–7––––
A –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––/7––––––––  <== use your left ring finger
E –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––      on this 7th fret note
         Dm  C  Bb     F  F  C

Understanding the full chord shapes

Although this riff requires you to only 3 strings per each chord, it’s worth understanding the “full” version of these very same chords. Doing so will help you develop “barre chord vision” (as I call it), wherein you’re able to recognize the full 5- or 6-string chord shapes from which you may play 2, 3, or 4 strings.

E ––––5––––3––––8––––1––––5––––8–––
B ––––6––––5––––8––––3––––6–––10–––
G ––––7––––5––––9––––3––––5–––10–––
D ––––7––––5––––10–––3––––7–––10–––
A ––––5––––3––––10–––1––––8––––8–––
E ––––––––––––––8––––––––––––––––––
      Dm   C    C    Bb   F    F   

Playing the 3-string chord shapes

Given the full chord shapes above, here’s how I recommend playing the 3-string versions of each chord as follows. For the D-minor, ideally keep your left index finger free – this lets you (eventually) use it to barre the 5th fret, which is useful for both the 3-string C-major and the full 5-string D-minor.

E –––––––
B –––6––– <== left middle
G –––7––– <== left pinky
D –––7––– <== left ring
A –––––––
E –––––––

Here’s the C and Bb chords. For these, the ideal is to play all 3 strings with your barred index finger. This is a great way to develop barre chord strength (i.e., barring 3 strings is a great stepping stone toward being able to barre 5 or 6 strings).

E ––––––––––––
B –––5––––3––– <== left index
G –––5––––3––– <== left index
D –––5––––3––– <== left index
A ––––––––––––
E ––––––––––––
     C    Bb  

For the F chord in the 2nd segment, use this tab. The idea is to barre your left index finger across the 5th fret, and then use your left middle and ring fingers for the other strings. This approach makes it very easy to quickly switch from the F to the C (since your index finger is already barred on the 5th fret).

E –––––––
B –––6––– <== left middle
G –––5––– <== left index
D –––7––– <== left ring
A –––––––
E –––––––

Finally, there’s the F and C chords further up the neck. For the F, the ideal is to use your left ring finger to barre the 10th fret – which lets you use that same ring finger on the 10th fret of the 4th string (for the C chord).

E ––––––––                    E ––––––––
B –––10––– <== left ring      B ––––8––– <== left index
G –––10––– <== left ring      G ––––9––– <== left middle
D –––10––– <== left ring      D –––10––– <== left ring
A ––––––––                    A ––––––––
E ––––––––                    E ––––––––
      F                             C

Other riffs that use these chords:

“All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan uses the same tonal progression (though in a different key) - and can be played by repeating Dm - C - Bb - C:

E ––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––6––––5––––3––––5––––
G ––––7––––5––––3––––5––––
D ––––7––––5––––3––––5––––  ...repeat
A –––(5)––(3)––(1)––(3)–––
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––
      Dm   C    Bb   C    

“The First Cut is the Deepest” by Cat Stevens can also be played with these shapes:

E –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––––––10––––––––––––8––––––––––6––––––––––8––––––
G –––––10––––10–––––––9–––9––––––7–––7––––––9–––9––––
D ––10–––––––––––––10––––––––––8–––––––––10––––––––––  ...repeat
A –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
    F              C           Bb        C

And those are just a few - play with these chord shapes yourself and see what other sequences you can come up with!

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Hey there! My name is David Potsiadlo, and I'm the creator of the 400+ weekly lessons here at Song Notes, going back to 2013. Here’s my guitar story »

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