Fingerstyle Lessons: Travis Picking (basic pattern – works with ALL CHORDS)

Mar 23, 2024 | Learning Guitar, Online Guitar Lessons | 0 comments

What do Jolene by Dolly Parton,  Landslide by Fleetwood Mac & Don’t think Twice, its alright by Bob Dylan have in common?

They are all using variations of the Travis Picking Pattern….

In this lesson, we will break down the basic principles of the Travis Picking Pattern and show you how to incorporate it with various chords over 6, 5 & 4 strings to create a good foundation for this well-known fingerpicking style. 


What is Travis Picking?

Travis Picking is a fingerstyle guitar picking technique named after Merle Travis, known for its alternating bass thumb pattern combined with melody notes played with the fingers of the picking hand. It involves using the thumb playing a steady bass line on the lower strings on the beat while the fingers play melody and/or chord notes on the higher strings. This technique is commonly used in folk, country, and blues music to create a full, rich and intricate sound on the guitar. 


The Lesson

We’re looking at the basic pattern today so you can start working your way around some common open chord progressions.  We will start with a progression in the Key of G using chords G, Em, C and D7 ( chords I VI VI V) 

Building the progression up by beginning with the bass notes provides a feel for the role the thumb plays.  We play bass notes for each chord using the thumb for both notes across 2 of the lower strings (as indicated in tab).

Once you have a feel for the bass line you can start to add in your index and middle fingers on the picking hand.  In the G chord the index finger plays the G string, the middle finger plays the B string.  Em chord Index and middle play same as G Chord.  C chord they play the same again.  D7 chord index plays B string, middle plays high E string.

We can expand this picking pattern now by incorporating more strings for the chord notes (see tab for added high E string notes on G and C chords). You can use your Ring finger or Middle finger to play these notes.

We now have patterns for our 6, 5 & 4 string chords so what we’re going to do now is apply those to some common chord progressions you’ll see in a couple of other keys:

Key of C – chords C F Am G ( chords I IV VI V)

The F chord in the first box is my chosen one for Travis Picking as it offers the low bass note F on the E string and also has an accessible hammer-on note (fret 2, G string) if I should want it.  If you can’t play this F you can use the one in the second box.  I have done picking variations for both Fs in the following tab:


Key of A – chords A E7 D (chords I V IV):

We’re playing the progression A E7 A D –

The following chords are what could be an example of a Bridge in a Key of A song:


Travis Picking Song Examples:

Now you have a basic understanding of some Travis Picking Patterns for your main chords here are some song examples that have used variations of Travis Picking:

Jolene – Dolly Parton

Landslide – Fleetwood Mac

Just Breath – Pearl Jam

Don’t Think Twice its alright – Bob Dylan

Dust in the Wind – Kansas

Blackbird – The Beatles

Deep River Blues – Doc Watson

Country Roads – John Denver

The Boxer / Feeling Groovy / Kathys Song – Simon & Garfunkel

It’s a great picking pattern to learn.  Practise the lesson above and have a listen to the song examples. Then jump in and start learning them too. 

Jolene Intro Video Guitar Lesson

Landslide Video Guitar Lesson


Have Fun!


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