The Travis Picking Guitar Series

Cover Photo

Table of Contents

  1. History of Thumb Picking
  2. Song Lessons
  3. Technique Lessons
  4. Song Lists by Level
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History of Thumb Picking

‘Thumb Picking’ and ‘Travis Picking’ are guitar styles that essentially use short repeated thumb patterns to accompany melodies and harmonies played by the other fingers.

This style may have emerged from a combination of African Kora technique or European ‘Oom-Pa’ alternating bass lines. Both styles have striking similarities to the early thumb picking techniques and the techniques emerged in an era when African and European cultures were blending in the United States. In the early recorded days, this was the ragtime-like style of Arnold Shultz and later the Muhlenberg county pickers like Merle Travis and John Prine. Other guitarists like Chet Atkins softened the backbeat and made a more urbane style that was taken up by famous songwriters like John Denver and Paul Simon.

There has been a continued interest in country blues players like Robert Johnson and fingerstyle guitarists like Merle Travis  that has led to thumb picking influencing many other genres. British Invasion Rock legends like Jimi Page, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards cite Johnson as a major influence, and thumb picking techniques have stayed popular through the songs of Bob Dylan all the way to modern artists like Tallest Man on Earth.

Song Lessons

Each song has a video lesson, tabs, chord diagrams, and insightful tips (if I got around to finishing it). The songs go in order from easy to more difficult and are grouped by the techniques they use. There is also a planned sequence for learning different techniques, so the easiest way to master the technique is to follow the songs in order.

Song Covers Playlist

Basic 2 stroke songs

  • Begin Again – Taylor Swift
  • Landslide – Fleetwood Mac
  • Can’t Find My Way Home – Steve Winwood
  • Let Her Go – Passenger

3/4 Thumb Picking Songs

Advanced Thumb Picking Songs

4 Stroke Songs

Unfiled Songs

  • Breath – Faith Hill
  • Crazy Love – Poco
  • Get Lucky – Mark Knopfler
  • Sixteen Tons – Merle Travis
  • Such Great Heights – Iron and Wine
  • Casanova Lament – Frank Turner
  • Danny’s Song – Kenny Loggins
  • Driving South – The Early November
  • Dustin in the Wind – Kansas
  • Homeward Bound – Simon and Garfunkel
  • Marry Me – Train
  • Tuolumne – Eddie Vedder
  • Leader of the Band – Dan Fogelberg
  • Blackbird – The Beatles
  • Can’t Take it Back – Lucas Carpenter
  • If I Had a Boat – Lyle Lovett
  • Just Breathe – Pearl Jam
  • Kathy’s Song – Simon and Garfunkel
  • Leaves That are Green – Simon and Garfunkel
  • Nights Become Days – Frank Turner
  • Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. – Simon and Garfunkel
  • You Can Close Your Eyes – James Taylor
  • Alice’s Restaurant – Arlo Guthrie
  • Chicken Fried – Zac Brown
  • January at the Halifax Airport Lounge – Bruce Cockburn
  • How to Rob a Bank – Willie Porter
  • Lost John – Merle Travis
  • That’s too Much Sugar for a Dime – Merle Travis
  • Casino Night – Sonic 2
  • Midnight Special – Merle Travis
  • Nine Pond Hammer – Merle Travis
  • Toumani Diabate – Kaouding Cissoko

Technique Lessons

If you’ve never done anything with Travis Picking before, I suggest getting your guitar and playing along with this introductory lesson by the great Don Ross or watching this extended intro by Thom Bresh.

Don Ross intro to Travis Picking

Travis Picking with Thom Bresh

Sound of Silence with Jerry’s Guitar Bar

The Landslide Series

This is a special series where I expand on fingerstyle techniques just from playing “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac.

The Songwriter’s Grooves Project – How to Sing and Play Guitar at the Same Time in As Many Ways As Possible