Learn How to Play Joe Robinson’s Showstopping “Let the Guitar Do the Talkin’”

It’s one thing to play blazingly fast Travis picking, and quite another to sing at the same time, as Joe Robinson does.

It’s one thing to play blazingly fast Travis picking, and quite another to sing at the same time, as Joe Robinson does on “Let the Guitar Do the Talkin’,” a song in which the narrator apparently captivates a concertgoer through his six-string work. Though this transcription is based on the album version, it’s very similar to what Robinson played when he stopped by AG’s offices in April of last year to film a video for our Sessions series, which you can find at acousticguitar.com/sessions.

Robinson plays “Let the Guitar Do the Talkin’” with a thumbpick and fingers. While you could play the song with straight fingerpicking, using the guitarist’s preferred approach will allow you to more easily handle the speedier flourishes, like the single-note runs in bars 7–10 and 92–95, while lending a certain oomph to the bass notes.

The bulk of the song is based on Travis picking, the technique named after the country guitarist Merle Travis and adapted by players such as Chet Atkins and Tommy Emmanuel, among many others. (For more on Travis picking, see Jamie Stillway’s Basics lesson in the December 2017 issue of AG and her Weekly Workout in the January 2019 issue.) The basic picking pattern that serves the whole song is notated in bars 11–18. In a nutshell, here’s what to do: While holding down each chord shape as long as possible, pick the down-stemmed notes with your thumbpick and the up-stemmed notes with your index, middle, and, if you’d like, ring fingers.


As in any Travis picking situation, it would be a good idea to palm mute the bass notes. This will give them added definition, as well as provide textural contrast to the notes on the higher strings. In other words, in this context, palm muting is an excellent technique that can lend the impression of multiple instruments being played at once.


This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Adam Perlmutter
Adam Perlmutter

Adam Perlmutter holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a master's degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory. He is the editor of Acoustic Guitar.

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