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!