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“TRAVIS” PICKING – A classic picking pattern from the Folk Era

July 17, 2011

PLEASE NOTE:  My “UKULELE BASICS” DVD is currently  available for purchase. . . For more information email me at


“TRAVIS” PICKING – A classic picking style from the Folk Era.  Named after Merle Travis and popularized by Chet Atkins, it became a staple of all folk musicians in the 60’s. . . It can be heard in all the great folk classics of Peter Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Kingston Trio, Brothers Four, Gordon Lightfoot etc. etc.  The pattern is characterized by it’s consistent alernating thumb beat along with a swinging dotted 8th / 16th note rhythm in the upper strings.  One of the coolest aspects of TRAVIS PICKING is that you can play melodies along with a strong rhythmic accompaniment.  The thumb plays the bass part while the Index and Middle fingers play the rhythm and melody combined.  I remember when I was in college and cutting my teeth on the guitar, my roomate and I were on this quest to learn how to do TRAVIS PICKING.  With little success I roamed music stores in the area and one day came across a book: Finger Picking Styles for the Guitar by Happy Traum. . . Inside was a full tutorial on TRAVIS PICKING!!!! . . . I couldn’t believe my eyes. . . I instantly purchased the book and rushed it back to the dorm room and set to learning the “Holy Grail” of guitar picking patterns. . . Later that afternoon my roomate and fellow guitar picker returned from classes and I surprised him with what I had accomplished.  I showed him how and it was the glories of folk music for both of us from that time forward. . . . That’s just how important knowing THAT picking pattern was.  In this tutorial I’ve attempted to teach a version of TRAVIS for the ukulele.  Keep in mind that the thumb needs to be consistent. . . Alternating between the 4th and 3rd strings.  What happens with the rest of the notes is pretty much random.  I’ve notated 3 examples, but there are so many variations on these examples.  The first one would be the most basic then progress to 2 and 3 then try creating your own variations . . . OR, you can mix them up.  Going from one pattern to another.  You will be surprised at how cool this will sound.  It will make your playing compelling and interesting.  Try it with songs such as Puff The Magic Dragon or This Land Is Your Land, or Take Me Home Country Roads. . . they all sound perfect with this picking pattern.

Incidentally, “BLACKBIRD” by Paul McCartney is chiefly all travis picking alternating with Bach like 2 part counterpoint sections.  This is an extremely versatile picking pattern so I highly recommend you make it an important part of your strumming vocabulary.


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