How to Create a Travis Guitar Picking Pattern

The Travis picking pattern is one of the most popular folk guitar techniques; however, creating a Travis picking pattern is fairly complex. Create different Travis patterns by varying the timing that you use to hit the treble strings. What remains the same is the steady rhythm that you play with the thumb.

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  1. Start out by fingering a D chord with your left hand and hold the chord down throughout the measure.

  2. Using only your thumb, alternate between picking the 4th and 3rd strings in steady quarter notes.

    The thumb part is the foundation of the pattern. The standard notation marks the thumb part by using downstems (descending vertical lines attached to the noteheads). Play this thumb part several times so that it’s rock steady.

  3. Now add the 2nd string to the pattern by plucking it with your index finger after beat 2 (between the thumb notes).

    Make sure that the 2nd string continues to ring as your thumb hits the 4th string on beat 3. Play this partial pattern several times until it feels natural. See section (b) of the figure.

  4. Now add the 1st string to the pattern by plucking it with your middle finger after beat 3 (between the thumb notes).

    Play this partial pattern several times until it feels comfortable. See section (c) of the figure.

  5. Finally, add the 1st string (which you play by using the middle finger) to beat 1, playing the 4th string simultaneously with your thumb.

    In Travis picking, playing a treble string and bass string together is known as a pinch. See section (d) of the figure.

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