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Fingerstyle Guitar:
Travis Picking


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Q: I was hoping you could follow-up on something that my own guitar teacher couldn’t explain to me all that well. He is a rock player and this question is on a fingerstyle topic. It is called Travis Picking. There are some explanations I’ve found through Google, but most of the YouTube videos I’ve watched are just guy’s playing really fast and not really explaining it very well. Hope you’ll do a video on this. Thanks!
- Garrett, Cleveland, OH.

A: Thanks for writing in Garrett. Travis Picking is what is most often referred to as a pattern picking technique. This particular term (Travis Picking) pays respect to the famous country and western singer Merle Travis who enjoyed a long career that spanned over 40 years in the music business. This pattern picking technique can be used with either thumb and index finger - or thumb, index and middle fingers. The ring finger is seldom (if ever) used. This idea of a recurring pattern creates a busy style (especially when performed at a quick pace) that blends lines picked by the fingers and rhythmic bass patterns picked or strummed by the thumb. So, because this approach is a pattern and it repeats covering basically any type of chord - it can be performed very fast and offers a really cool way of playing fingerstyle with all kinds of chord progressions.




To develop this picking pattern in your playing, I would suggest starting with a simple four string chord in open position, such as the D Major. Then, apply the pattern shown in the example below.

Example #1).

The above example is by far the most popular Travis Picking pattern. It is used in famous songs such as; Dust in the Wind (1977) by Kansas, as well as the more recent Just Breathe (2009) by Pearl Jam. In the video lesson handout (below) you will find 5th and 6th string patterns based upon the above example. Although string set use may change, the groove and the flow of the pattern will tend to remain mostly the same in a progression.

Travis Picking is a valuable technique for any guitarist to perfect. It allows the player to perform a flowing fingerstyle pattern through a series of chords in several musical styles. Played fast, or slow it provides a solid backdrop for both the solo guitarist and full-band applications. Although the technique can take time to reach levels of high speed, the strong fluid backdrop it can provide on chord progressions makes it well worth the effort.


The downloads below contain a handout with the melody and chord shapes from the video.
Select from either Power Tab Editor or Adobe PDF file formats (it is the same document).

Travis Picking Patterns Tab Chart
(Power Tab editor document)
Travis Picking Patterns Tab Chart
(Adobe PDF format)

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