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THE BASICS

Travis Merle Travis

Picking
Learning the nuts and bolts of
this essential fingerpicking style
BY JAMIE STILLWAY

THE PROBLEM
As you progress on the path of guitar enlight-
enment, you’re bound to encounter the term
Travis picking. Named after country-and-
western pioneer Merle Travis, it’s a style of
fingerpicking characterized by the steady
thump of an alternating bass that underscores
rhythmic patterns and melodies on the treble
strings. Maybe you’ve learned some basic
Travis picking patterns, but aren’t certain how
to begin making them your own.

THE SOLUTION
As with many things in life, you’ve got to pull it
apart to learn how to put it together. By taking
the time to understand the construction of some
basic patterns, you can develop a solid founda-
tion for adding your own ideas and variations.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BASS


1 One of the defining features of this style is
the alternating bass, picked by the thumb, so
start by taking an isolated look at the bass notes.
You may find it helpful to have a basic
knowledge of chord theory in order to under-
stand all the notes at your disposal for any
given chord. For example, a G major triad is
made up of the notes G, B, and D (the root, fingers. The series in Examples 2a–c provides a proper mechanics of movement while playing
the third, and the fifth, respectively). You can methodical way of doing so, with the addition of with rhythmic precision.
alternate between the root and the fifth quarter notes, eighth notes, and the “and” of the
(Ex a mp le 1a ), the root and the third THUMBS, NOT STRUMS
3
eighth notes. Keep a G chord held with your
(Example 1b), or a combination of all three fretting fingers throughout, and let all the notes Once you develop a familiarity with the
notes (Example 1c). Getting a steady, solid ring as long as possible. basics of the pattern, start integrating it into
feel is essential, so make sure you’re comfort- Examples 3a–c have the same pattern on your repertoire. Try fingerpicking a song you
able with these examples before moving on to the treble strings as the previous set, but usually strum, and see how it changes the feel of
the next examples. notice the change in the alternating bass-note the song. Example 5 is a simple ii–V–I progres-
Although these examples only show the pos- pattern. Adjusting to that one small detail sion (Dm–G–C) in C, and it demonstrates how
sibilities of a G chord, make sure to familiarize might be harder than you think, so take your to apply the pattern to a succession of chords
yourself with the bass notes for other chord time in getting it under your fingers and in that have varying roots on the fourth, fifth, and
shapes. You can also explore the different sounds your muscle memory. sixth strings. You can apply these ideas to any
you get when palm-muting the bass notes, A more syncopated approach to the treble chord progression—and remember, there’s no
lightly resting the outer edge of your picking strings is seen in Example 4a, one of the most single “right” way to play the pattern. 
hand on the strings near the bridge of the guitar.  common Travis-picking patterns. Try this
HEAR A MELODY
4
pattern with a C chord, as in Example 4b, and
GET INTO TREBLE
2
you might recognize hints of Kansas’ “Dust in The creative possibilities expand greatly
After you can keep a steady bass rhythm, the Wind” or Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” If when you start incorporating more melodic
it’s time to add notes on the treble strings, you’re in the beginning stages of fingerpicking, ideas into the pattern. Based on the G Mixolydian
picked with the index (i) and middle (m) proceed slowly, to ensure you’re nailing the mode (G A B C D E F), Example 6 uses the

46 December 2017
VIDEO LESSON
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MAKE SOME ARRANGEMENTS


5
pattern from Ex. 4a. As with all of the examples, melody into a picking pattern. When trying
remember to try these ideas in different keys. For A great way to begin developing your this idea for yourself, start with an easy
more bluesy progressions, you could add some own arrangements is to practice with simple melody in a key that’s manageable. With any
hammer-ons from the minor third to the major melodies. Take, for instance, the melody of luck, after working through these exercises,
third, as shown in the G♮-to-G ♯ and C♮ to C ♯ “Skip to My Lou.” Start by isolating the you’ll have new tools to start developing your
moves of Example 7. Remember to listen melody, to make sure you know it well own creative outlook on Travis picking. 
closely to what you’re playing, as you may hear (Example 8). Also acquaint yourself with the
something that inspires you to start creating corresponding chord progression. Example 9 Jamie Stillway is a fingerstyle soloist and educator
your own melodies. shows just one possible way to integrate the in Portland, Oregon. jamiestillway.com

Examples
Examples 1a–c
1a–c Examples
Examples 2a–c
2a–c
G G
44 j j j
G G
& 44 œ œœ œœ œœ œ œœ œ œœ œ œœ œ ‰‰ œœ œœj œœj œœ œ œœj
& œ œœœœ œœœœ œ œ œ œ
œœ œ œœ œœ œœ œœ œœ œœ œœ œ œœ œœ œœ œœ œœ œœ œœ œœ œœ œœ œœ œ
m
m iii m
m iii m ii m
m m i m ii m
m i m iii m iii
m
m m m i m iii m
m i m iii m
m m
m
p
p p
p p
p p
p p
p pi
p
m
p
p pi
p
m
p i m
p p
p
m
p i m
p p
p p m
p
i p m
p
i
p
p p
p p
p p
p p
p p
p p
p p
p p
p p
p p
p p
p p
p p
p
0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0
0
0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0
0
0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0 00 0
0 0
0
0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0 00 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0
B
B 3
3
3
0
0
3
3
3
0
0
3
3
3
2
2
2
2 3
3
3
2
2
2
2 3
3
3
0
0 2
2
2
2
0
0
3
3
3
0
0
3
3
3
0
0
3
3
3
0
0
3
3
3
0
0
3
3
3
0
0
3
3
3
0
0
3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3

Examples Examples
Examples 4a–b
Examples 3a–c
3a–c 4a–b
G
G G
G C
C
j j j œœ .. œjj j œœ .. œjj œjj œœ ..
& œœ œœœ œœ œœœ œœ œ œœ œ œœ œ œœ œ ‰‰ œœ œœj œœj œœ œ œœj œœj œœ ..œ
&
œœ œ œœ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ
œœ œ œœ œ œœ œœ œœ œ œœ œ
œœ œœ œ œœ œœ œ œœœ œœ

0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 1
1 1
1
0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 1
1 0 1
1
0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0
0
0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 2
2 0 2
2
B
B 3
3
3
0
0 2
2
2
2
0
0
3
3
3
0
0 2
2
2
2
0
0
3
3
3
0
0 2
2
2
2
0
0
3
3
3
0
0 2
2
2
2
0
0 3
3
3
3
2
2 3
3
3
3
2
2
3 3 3 3

Example
Example 5
5 Example
Example 6
6

œœ .. œjj j
D G C G
œœj œœœ.. œœ .. j j œ ..
Dmm G C G 7777
œœ .. œjj j j j œœ .. jj j . œœ .. œjj j j
m

œœj œœœ.. ... œœœ .. œœ œœj œœœj œœœ.. ... œ œœj œœj œœ œœj œœœ.
m

& œœ œœ œ
& œœ œ œ œœj œœœ.. œœ .. œ œœj ˙˙ œ
œœ œœ œ œœ œ œ œ œ œœ œ œœ œ œœ œœ œ œœ œ œœ œœ œ œœ œ œœ œ œœ œ
.. 1111 ..
1
1 1
1 3
3 1
1 0
0
1
1 1
1 3
3 1
1 0
0

.. 3 ..
3
3 3
3 0
0 1
1 3
3 1
1 0
0
2 3
3 2 3
3 0 0
0 0 1
1 0 0 3
3 1
1 0 0
0 2 0
2
2 2
2 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 2
2 0
0
0
0 2 0
0 2 0
0 0 0
0 2
2 0 2
2 0
0 0 0
0 0
0 0 0
0 0
0 0 0
0 2 0
0 0 0
0
0 0 0 0 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
B
B
0 0
3
3
3
3
0
3
3
3
3
0 3
3
3
2 3
3
3
3
2
3
3
3
3
0
3
3
3
3
0
3
3
3
3
0
3
3
3
3
0
3
3
3
3
0
3
3
3
3
0
3
3
3
3
0
3
3
3
3
0

Example Example
Example 8
Example 7
7 8
j j
j jj œ . jj nn œœj œœj œœ ..
E A C
## # ## # œœ .. jj jj œ . nn n nn n ˙˙ œœ œœ ˙˙
E 7777 A 7777 C
œœœ nn œœ ˙˙ œ œœ .. œœj œœ œ . nn œœ ## œœ ˙˙
& # # œœ œœ œœ œ œœ. nn œœ ## œœ
&
œ œ œ œœ œœ œ
œœ œ œœ œ
œ
œœ œ
œ nn
œœ œœ œœ œ
0
0 0
0 0
0 3
3 0
0 0
0 0
0 3
3
0
0 0 0 3
3 0
0 2 0
0 1 2 3
3 0
0 1 0
0 0
0 3
3
0
0 0
0 3 2
2 1
1 2
2 1
1
1
1 0 0
0 1 0 3
1 2 1 2 1
2 1
1 2 0
0 1
1 2 2 2 2 2 2
2
2 2
2 2
2 2
2 2
2 2
2 2
2 2
2
B
B 0
0
0
0
2
0
0
0
0
2
0
0
0
0
2
0
0
0
0
2 0
0
0
0
2 0
0
0
0
2 0
0
0
0
2 0
0
0
0
2

Cont on p. 48
Example
Example 9
9 AcousticGuitar.com 47
G
G G
G 7777 C
C G
G C
C C
C
# # œ. j j . nœ ˙ œ. œ œ œ. nœ #œ nn n ˙ œ œ
& # œ œ œ œ œ n œ # œ œ
œ œ œ œ œ œ
˙
œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ
THE BASICS
0 0 0 3 0 0 0 3
0 0 3 2 1 2 1
1 0 1
2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
B
Cont from p. 47 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0

Example 9
G G7 C G C C

˙ ˙ œ œ ˙ ˙ ˙ œ œ ˙ œ œœœ œ ˙ ˙ œ . j jœ . œ œ œ ˙
& œ œ œ œœ œ œ œ œ œ
1 0 0 0 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 3
3 0 3 3 1 3 3 1 1 1
0
2 2 2 2
B 3
3
3
3

G G7 C G C
. j j œ œ œ ˙ œ. j j œ. œ œ œ ˙ œ œ œ œ œ œ . œj œj œ .
& œ œ œ œ œ .œ
œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œœ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ
1 0 0 0 3 0 1 0
3 0 3 3 1 3 3 1 1
0 0 0
0 0 0 0 2 2 2 2 0 0 2 2
B 3
2
3
2 3
3
3
3 3
2 3
3

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48 December 2017