Real Guitar Adventure for Grownups

“Travis” Style Fingerpicking Tutorial For Beginners (with tabs)

in Fingerstyle Guitar | 6 comments

There’s something special about picking up an acoustic guitar and fingerpicking through a few chords. It could be rainy or sunny. Cold or warm. By yourself or with friends. It’s right for every season and occasion!

One technique I find to be especially fitting is called “Travis Picking”. It’s named after country guitarist Merle Travis who pioneered it. Or at least brought it to the main stage. Today, this technique is used in many styles of music.

What is ‘Travis Picking’?

Travis Picking is a picking pattern mostly known for its alternating bass notes. The bass notes keep the beat and drive the song forward. Treble notes are added in between the beats and provide melody and color. Both of these combined create a colorful progression with a sense of movement.

While this technique can get plenty complicated, here is a simple and fun exercise to start with.

How do I play it?

For this lesson we’ll start with our standard C Major chord:


And we’ll use this basic picking pattern:

To get started, think about the bass notes as being played on the down beats. These are the notes on the 4th and 5th strings. The treble notes are played on the up beats. If you count “one and two and three and four and..” the treble notes are on the “and”s.

(Check out the video if the rhythm doesn’t make sense. Sometimes it’s easier to hear it first!)

Use your thumb for the bass notes, and your index and middle finger for the 3rd and 2nd strings respectively. Your right hand will do most of the work here. Your left hand is just holding the C chord.

Helpful Tip: If you’re finding this difficult, try playing just the bass notes at first. But make sure to count out loud for timing. This will help your mind understand the pattern. Once you can play that without thinking too much about it, add in the treble notes. As always, start slow and build speed over time.

Once you’re about 80% there with this pattern you can move onto the full progression. The good news is your right hand doesn’t change at all! You’ll use the same fingers on the same strings with the same timing. Only the chords will change.

The progression is one measure each of C, G6/B, Am7, and G6/B. Here’s what each chord looks like:

A Fun Way To Play

The cool thing is you can use this technique with any progression. Try it the next time you pick up your acoustic.

It can be a bit of a challenge at first. But once your mind is able to follow the pattern you’ll be surprised at what you can do!

Tomas Michaud

Tomas Michaud

Author - Tomas Michaud at Real Guitar Success
Tomas Michaud is an American born guitarist and music educator with a French Canadian heritage. He first developed the Starland Guitar System in 1982 when his 9 year old daughter asked him to teach her guitar. Since then he’s founded the Starland School of Music in the SF Bay Area, and RealguitarSuccess.com.

When he's not making guitar instruction videos or creating more music to record (currently 7 CDs including Beauty and Fire) he's riding his bike along the beach with his dog Marco Polo or traveling to interesting places with his lovely wife Pui.
Tomas Michaud

    6 Comments

  1. That was nice, especially the pull off. This kind of Travis picking, is it used more for playing melody, fills between vocals or can it be used for accompaniment? I’ve dabbled with regular fingerstyle for vocal accompaniment. Thanks.

    Frank

    December 29, 2018

    • Hi Frank, It’s used for all of the above as well as playing solo guitar pieces.

      Tomas Michaud

      January 13, 2019

  2. Thanks for this lesson. However, you need to post a follow up that teaches how to play chords whose bass note is on the 6th (E) string and the 4th (D) string.

    Shulamit

    December 29, 2018

  3. Thanks Tom. I truly enjoy finger picking my acoustic guitar and your assistance in helping me learn this technique is appreciated.

    Jim

    December 29, 2018

  4. I’ve always had a hard time trying to fingerpick. This little lesson was a good one for me. I’ll have to work on it for quite a while. Unfortunately, I have to keep backing the video up to understand where my fingers area supposed to be. Thanks for the lesson.

    Charles Penn

    December 30, 2018

  5. Excellent lesson! 👍 Thanks!

    Jim Gorski

    January 1, 2019

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.