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Finger Picking - Part 1 (The Basics and Travis Picking)

by Mike Lindyn
www.GuitarKnowledgenet.com ©2004

For this lesson we will look at the basic technique for finger picking and then explain one of the most common finger picking techniques called Travis Picking.

Finger picking guitarists can be heard in styles ranging from classical to jazz, bebop to country. A good command of finger-picking techniques can add a lot to your repertoire. As it’s name implies finger-picking means to use your fingers and thumb to pick notes or strum chords. Below there is a diagram showing the strings assigned to each finger of your picking hand. The letter (P) will represent your thumb, (I) represents the index finger, (M) is for the middle finger, and (A) represents the ring finger.

*Note: For the following examples the notes being played are not nearly as important as the strings being hit or the fingers being used. Therefore, all the examples in this section will be shown using only tablature.

Notice the thumb is responsible for strings E through D and the remainder of the strings are played using the index finger, middle finger and ring finger respectively.


Here are some possible finger-picking patterns over an open G Major Chord. These are but a few of the thousands of possible finger-picking pattern. Once you get the hang of these try making up some of your own.

Finger picking techniques can also be used to pick out a melody, the following are a few examples of finger-picked melodies.

One of the most useful folk or country finger picking techniques is the Travis-pick. This picking style, named after it’s inventor Merle Travis, has been used by many great song writers. There are many variations of this picking style but the basic pattern is as follows. The first and third notes alternate the bass line using the lowest two notes of the chord fingering. The second and fourth notes alternate between two higher notes of the chord fingering. It is common to see a higher note played in conjunction with the first or third note where the two notes are plucked out simultaneously. In fact you can play two notes every time you pluck the string as long as there is movement between bass line and higher notes of the chord fingering (see the last example below). This is less common but it does work well.


Next time we'll look at some flat pick techniques. Work wit these for a while they might help.

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