How to Play Travis Picking Style Country Guitar

Learn how to play Travis Picking-style country guitar from musician Boo Reiners in this Howcast video.

Alright. Travis picking. Merle Travis. He was a guitar picker, a singer, a song writer, an entertainer, and he influenced just thousands and thousands of guitar pickers all over the world. He had a style that used a thumb pick and a finger pick. And I like to use kind of a heavy thumb pick that will stay on my thumb and not shift around. You just kind of have to experiment to find the right thumb pick and finger pick that feels right on your fingers. Anyway, he used a lot of movable chord shapes and this would be kind of a typical groove that he might pick on the guitar.

And the thing you kind of want to pay attention to is that thumb. Now, he had a guitar with a very thin neck and he could wrap his thumb around not only the sixth string but the fifth string as well. I don’t play a guitar that’s got a neck quite that thin, but I can still get that sound. I’ve also got a little bit of muting going on with the heel of my hand, so when you’re starting out with this style you want to get that thumb action going. So I’m going one, two three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. So whenever you come around to beat one you want to have that low root that I’ve got on the sixth string at the third fret, and I’m holding it with my thumb.

Now you could still get this sound using fingering the chords in the more traditional grip, but I think you’re going to find that using his style of fingering the chords just kind of gets you a little closer into his zone. So the index finger adds the syncopation and it doesn’t take a lot of notes. It sounds like there’s more going on than there actually is.

He’s got a bunch of tunes that he recorded under his own pen and I would definitely recommend you check out his solo recordings so you can really hear what he’s doing. He’s got some songs that maybe started out as traditional but he adopted them with his own verses, lyrics, and titles and was really an incredible song writer. Nine Pound Hammer, Dark as a Dungeon. And then he would play standards too like nobody else.

So check out Merle Travis for a more in depth survey into his sound and just keep that thumb going. You can’t practice that thumb too much. And have fun with it.