What is Travis Picking?

Travis picking is an accompaniment style you'll learn in this basics lesson excerpted from the Acoustic Guitar Fingerstyle Method.

Travis picking, also called pattern picking or the alternating-thumb style, refers to an accompaniment style based on repeating a particular kind of right-hand pattern of thumb and finger moves throughout a song, adapting that pattern to the notes of each chord, and conforming to a specific way of choosing the bass notes played by the thumb.

Which means what, exactly? Let’s start with a G chord and see.

Musical example 1 depicting a G major chord with the root note and fifth as quarter notes in standard notation (and TAB).

The first step is to establish the bass notes. The bass notes are the notes played with the thumb, usually on the sixth, fifth, and fourth strings. On a G chord, the bass notes are on the sixth string and the fourth string, as in Example 1.1.

Travis picking is always in 4/4, which means there are four beats in every measure, and every quarter note counts for one beat. That, at least, is how the theoreticians describe it.


Honestly, that description always left me stranded when I was in school, so to say Travis picking is in 4/4 just means this: you can tap your foot to it, and if you do, you can count those foot taps in groups of four.

Each group of four beats is called a measure (or a bar—the terms are used interchangeably). So now we can talk about the first, second, third, or fourth beat in a measure.

So, to play one measure of the bass part of a Travis picking pattern on a G chord, we’d play the sixth string on beat 1, the fourth string on beat 2, the sixth string on beat 3, and the fourth string on beat 4. In short, we’d have Example 1.2.


The Acoustic Guitar Fingerstyle Method focuses on the two most essential fingerstyle approaches for playing American roots music: Travis picking and the steady-bass style. This lesson is just a brief excerpt from the complete guide.

In each of the 18 in-depth lessons included in the Acoustic Guitar Fingerstyle Method, you’ll learn new techniques, concepts, and chord voicings and ways to practice and get them under your fingers. Then you’ll use what you’ve just learned to play a classic song or solo break from the blues, ragtime, folk, and country traditions.

acoustic guitar fingerstyle method book cover with sample page examples

What your fellow guitarists are saying about the Acoustic Guitar Fingerstyle Method

“David is an awesome teacher, whether it is video or print, he draws you into the subject, makes it interesting, and before you know it, you’ve learned! This is a great learning tool and I highly recommend it for anyone, but especially for beginners. It will leapfrog you leagues ahead.” —Richard H.

“I have played through almost every lesson thoroughly and my technique and style have improved quite a bit in the last 6 months. The songs are satisfying and Hamburger does a great job of introducing complicated concepts in a very easy to understand, step-by-step sort of way. I wish I had started with this book when I was first getting into fingerstyle blues, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning to play this style.” —Rupert P.

“I’ve been struggling with playing fingerstyle for months. In just a few days with this course I can see improvement. I know that by the time I finish I’ll see remarkable progress. I recommend it.” —Rick S.

Learn more.

The Acoustic Guitar Fingerstyle Method is available to order in print or as a digital edition directly from the publisher, Acoustic Guitar, or may be purchased in print from Amazon.

David Hamburger
David Hamburger

David Hamburger is a composer, guitarist, and instructor based in Austin, Texas. He is the author of our best-selling Acoustic Guitar Method.

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