Previously, I did two lessons on beginning fingerstyle guitar techniques. One of the lessons is on a technique called travis picking. If you missed the lesson, travis picking is a type of fingerstyle playing that combines a steady bass pattern played using the thumb with syncopated notes and chords played using the other four fingers. It is heard on countless records accompanying singers in traditional country, bluegrass, and folk music. This fingerstyle guitar lesson teaches you how to expand on those travis picking patterns by adding an upper melody to create a basic solo guitar arrangement. The guitarist who really brought this solo guitar sound to the forefront was Chet Atkins. Chet Atkins was able to mimic a bass line with the thumb, an accompanist with the middle strings, and a lead instrument with the high strings creating a full sounding piece of music with just one guitar. The example for this lesson is a short country progression with fills and melody added on top of standard travis picking patterns.
The piece opens with a short two bar single note phrase. One of my favorite things about Chet Atkins playing was the way he incorporated open strings into his lead lines and fills. This uses notes from the C major scale (and D#) and replaces every available note with an open string.
The travis picking starts in the second lick with a very common pattern that is altered in the second bar by adding the b7 (Bb). For most travis picking phrases I assign my index finger for the G string, middle for B string, and ring for the E string. This allows for my picking hand to help mute unplayed strings to prevent unwanted open string ringing.
The next phrase moves to the F major chord. Instead of fretting a big barre chord, I prefer to only fret the notes on the middle strings and the low root on the six string (using my thumb). This lets your fingers be able to move and perform the melody on the upper strings. The end of this lick can also be tricky because you are pulling off to a note the moment you strike a bass note with your thumb. Practice this section by isolating and looping the last two beats slowly until it is comfortable.
The fourth lick begins with a standard travis picking pattern before moving to a G major chord shape and creating a melodic idea using the top voice. The idea simply walks down a C major scale starting from the D note, but when the bass and accompaniment parts are added the phrase comes to life.
The fifth phrase is over an E7 chord. For this chord I like to fret the G# on the G string (1st fret) even though I never play it. I do this as a bit of a safety measure because I don’t want the open string G note to ring out and it is hard to mute is when playing the neighboring open strings.
Next is another phrase over an F major chord. Like the pull-off idea in the third, this one uses a hammer-on at the same time you strike a bass note with the thumb.
The last lick is another Chet Atkins open string fill inspired by his playing on the song “Maybelle”. This one is pretty quick using eighth note triplets and again replacing notes with available open strings. I pick this with my ring finger hitting the first note of the triplet, thumb hitting the second, and index hitting the third.