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Travis Picking - Misconceptions

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Justa Picker 05 Feb 02 - 01:57 PM
tandrink 05 Feb 02 - 02:27 PM
M.Ted 05 Feb 02 - 02:36 PM
Justa Picker 05 Feb 02 - 02:42 PM
tandrink 05 Feb 02 - 02:47 PM
M.Ted 05 Feb 02 - 02:48 PM
catspaw49 05 Feb 02 - 02:50 PM
Justa Picker 05 Feb 02 - 02:52 PM
catspaw49 05 Feb 02 - 02:54 PM
Justa Picker 05 Feb 02 - 02:57 PM
catspaw49 05 Feb 02 - 03:13 PM
Ebbie 05 Feb 02 - 03:18 PM
M.Ted 05 Feb 02 - 03:51 PM
Justa Picker 05 Feb 02 - 04:01 PM
Rick Fielding 05 Feb 02 - 04:39 PM
M.Ted 05 Feb 02 - 04:40 PM
Mark Clark 05 Feb 02 - 04:47 PM
Rick Fielding 05 Feb 02 - 05:02 PM
Justa Picker 05 Feb 02 - 05:45 PM
Mark Cohen 05 Feb 02 - 10:47 PM
Kaleea 06 Feb 02 - 01:55 AM
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Subject: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Justa Picker
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 01:57 PM

Thought it was time to address this, and put all of the misconceptions as to its definition to rest once in for all. (I was inspired by the current Crosspicking Thread.)
You hear this term widely used to describe fingerpicking, or a fingerpicking style...and many people (mostly those new to fingerpicking) think it involves an alternating bass line played with the thumb, while the index (and optionally middle fingers) play "patterns" around the thumb. Well sort of, but not quite.

I will cite Marcel Dadi and Doc Watson (and Merle himself) as my main frames of reference, having studied all of their techniques in detail - all of which lead back to Merle.)

Travis Picking is a style of fingerpicking (not a pattern or patterns)and, a sound.

It does involve the thumb playing an alternating bass, and true Travis picking uses only the index finger playing syncopated notes (in ANY pattern) around that thumb.

But there's more to it than that. To achieve "the Merle Travis sound" it involves slightly dampening the first two or three bass strings with the palm of the pickin' hand and using the thumb to "sweep" those bass strings on every beat the thumb is playing, or just on the 2 and 4 of the beat (if we're in 4/4 time) thus generating a fuller sound and bottom end (-that nice "chugging" sound), while the undampened high strings are allowed to ring out. (If you ever have the opportunity to view Doc Watson performing Deep River Blues on video, you can see and hear what I'm talking about (or any early Merle video.)

Die-hard Travis picking affectionados will tell you you can only use thumb and index to achieve this specific sound. Well yes and no. Mississippi John Hurt and many other notables use thumb, index and middle and it works just fine, and still gives you the sound. (The pendants can split hairs over it.)

If you're just starting out in the world of fingerpicking and are interested in achieving the Merle sound, it's a good idea to learn fingerpicking using just the thumb and index. Then, feel free to add as many other fingers in as you're comfortable doing, but be able to play using just the thumb and index by themselves. It is very difficult to learn this thumb/index technique, if you were taught and are ingrained to working with thumb/index and middle.

It takes a lot of dedication and practice to really get this sound. It's best to start out just alternating between the sixth and 4th strings with the thumb to get comfortable with that, and gradually start bringing other strings into the equation with the index (and optionally the middle) fingers. Once you have reached a point where you no longer think about what your thumb is doing, and are focusing on syncopating notes around the thumb...you're ready to give true Travis picking a shot.

Most people at first, over-do it when they dampen the lower strings and choke off the sound. A very light touch or very very light muting - you'll have to experiment - is all that is required, but the angle of you pickin' hand will change as well and that is something is that has to be adapted and again only comes with practise.

The very best instruction I have seen (and used) to achieve the Merle sound, is the late and great Marcel Dadi's video lesson available from Stefan Grossman. Invaluable in so many ways, for anyone serious about fingerpicking, innovative chord shapes, and especially understanding true Travis picking, and getting that Merle sound. (No I don't own shares in Grossman's business. *G*)

Hope this was of some help.

(Clones, feel free to move it to a "Picker's thread" if it's better suited there.)


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: tandrink
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 02:27 PM

Picker, you make some great points about Travis Picking. Definitely true that there is a common misconception out there that all alternating bass tunes are considered Travis Picking - it's just not the case. Also quite interesting that even though he is credited with it, Travis wasn't even the first to use this style...I believe it was taught to him by Ike Everly (who I'm sure probably learned it from someone else.)

As a caveat to what you posted: I learned to fingerpick using just the index and thumb (Merle Travis style). You mention that once you learn to pick with three or more fingers, going to just the index and thumb is difficult. This, I'm sure, is true. But going the other way (learning with just two fingers and then expanding to three or more) is also difficult (I'm in the midst of learning to do just that). I was hoping that I would be able to learn any finger picking tune with just the two fingers and only using the middle and ring fingers for double stops, etc...but I've been told by my teacher that three fingers is the minimum when you start getting into more complex styles (Robert Johnson, Chet Atkins, etc.). Does anyone else have an opinion on this as I sit hear trying to get my middle finger to cooperate with my thumb and index?


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 02:36 PM

I don't understand what you mean about hoping to use the middle and ring finger for double stops--


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Justa Picker
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 02:42 PM

Can you be more specific Ted?


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: tandrink
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 02:47 PM

What I mean is, I'm comfortable using just my thumb and index finger for alternating bass fingerpicking songs...but if a song calls for two melody (treble) notes to be played at the same time...then I use my index and middle finger to play those two notes (at the same time).

What I'm trying to learn now is to use my middle finger along with my index and thumb throughout a song...rather than just for "double stops" as I descibe above.

Hope this clears it up


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 02:48 PM

Oh, and, JustaPicker--very nice summary! I will mention(as mentioned before) that Doc and Chet both thought that Merle used more than one finger! Also will mention that Doc Watson has said that it took him a year and a half to get that thumb/index thing down--I have seen a lot of people who can do this, mechanically, but still don't get that lilting feel to it--you really have to listen to Merle a lot, which, you ought to do, even if you aren't learning to play like him--


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: catspaw49
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 02:50 PM

Okay JP, you have a great thread started here.....Now keep expanding. Using Rick's "open tuning, concentrate on putting memory in the right hand" technique, (if you want) lay out a specific first pattern (with rhythm) as to quarter/eighth or however you want, and then go on to a more advanced Thumb/Index, then a Thumb Plus 2........Others can add in or ask or whatever.

I'd like to see this type of thing happen acros several styles of playing, ie, basic to advanced strums in different times, etc.

Think about it.....You're a good man to do it!

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Justa Picker
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 02:52 PM

Thanks Ted.
And you're right. Initially both Doc and Chet did assume Merle was using more than thumb and index. Chet thought there were 2 guitars! when he first heard some of Merle's recordings...and tandrink I believe you're right about Ike Everley. (Brother Fielding I'm sure can add a few more details when he sees this thread.)

I'm thinking of the video put out by Smithsonian (with Pete Seeger doing the interview) (still available through Homespun) and Pete does mention it can take a year or longer to perfect the damping technique which obviously Doc has got down stone cold. It took me several months to get it to sound right, as the touch is very subtle...and some days you've got it and some days you just don't. *G*


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: catspaw49
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 02:54 PM

Ted and others......The lad may be too shy to admit this, but I know he not only listens, but JP has put what he says into practice and he is far more than justa' picker! He does have that sound and lilt....helluva' player. And the way he has practiced and learned this I think makes him very qualified to do what I was asking about. But then again, we have a lot of decent pickers here to add to the stuff too.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Justa Picker
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 02:57 PM

Thanks 'Spaw.
I'll see if I can transcribe some simple patterns demonstrating the Travis technique, when time permits. (I think when Rick and I do our rescheduled Ragtime Guitar radio show, we could definitely touch on this as well.)


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: catspaw49
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 03:13 PM

Hey!! That's a hot idea too.

I guess it's just that we have people coming here at all levels of experience and ability (on a variety of subjeects) and sometimes we take off in the middle and jump around the board.

It's like Jack Nicklaus. Every year, even at the top of his game and career, he took beginning lessons and built on them to intermediate to advanced and did this over a 3 week period before the start of the heavy tournament season after a winter layoff.

If we had these threads and bookmarked them, we could have one helluva' resource. Rick's threads have always generated good response and the best ones have started with a basic concept (Play G this way) and then became far more elaborate. Left hand wouldn't hurt for the same treatment. A lot of info is scattered all over bookoo threads.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Ebbie
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 03:18 PM

I agree with Spaw- if you get a chance to hear JustaPicker, grab it. He's great.

Ebbie


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 03:51 PM

Spaw, JP is surpassingly competent on the ivories, and it has occurred to me that he calls himself "JustaPicker" only because it is not his primary virtuosity--

Merle didn't really get lessons from Ike Everly, but he watched Everly and his partner, Moses Rager, play a lot----According to Merle--the thumb and index style was the way that most of the players around the area of Muhlenburg Country, Kentucky played--most having learned it directly of Kennedy Jones, who apparently originated it--?


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Justa Picker
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 04:01 PM

You guys and gals!!!!!! Geeze......you're making me want to run and duck for cover!!!!!..[such an inflated expectation level - which I could never achieve - talk about peer pressure!!!]..hehehehehe.......Well if you insist I will make a limited number of autographed 8 X 10 JP photos available in the Mudcat Auction with all proceeds going to Max...or you can just download the one in the Resources section and have a whiz or throw darts at it. **BBGG*
"Surpassingly competant"??? I nearly rinsed flushed out my sinuses with Coca Cola when I read that quote. I've been called a lot of things, but that is the most original yet. Thanks Ted.

Gotta get back to work, but I'll look in on this thread later and see what I can add to it. Thanks again. You people just made my day!


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 04:39 PM

Good thread.

I'll touch on something that hasn't been discussed. Merle was one of the most recorded country artists in history, but the VAST majority of music was SUNG. My guess is that he recorded at least fifty vocals for every instrumental. By the time that young city musicians started calling his style "Travis Picking", Merle's career (commercially) was virtually over. His big hits "Smoke, Smoke..." "Fat Gal", "So Round So Firm So Fully Packed", "Steel Guitar Rag", (Think he wrote the words), "Three Times Seven", and about five others ,were recorded in L.A. with Jazz/swing bands, often featuring Trumpet as the lead instrument. He, along with Joe Maphis were very big on California "Country" TV from about '48 to '54.

His "second career" began with Tennessee Ernie's recordings of 16 Tons, and Dark As A Dungeon...and to a certain extent "I Am a Pilgrim". Although I was very young I do remember those recordings but certainly never heard Merle's name mentioned as their writer. I'd put the beginning of "Travis Picking" as a recognized term, square in the lap of Doc Watson, who obviously had listened to the "big hits" and quite probably the odd instrumental that Merle had recorded in LA.

Very similar situation to Pete Seeger's introducing the term "Cotton Picking" a few years earlier. The fact of the matter is that virtually nobody played exactly like Elizabeth Cotten OR Merle Travis simply because they hadn't actually HEARD these artists. They (I'm one of 'em) learned from the folks who POPULARIZED the styles....and THEN (due to re-releases) heard the originals. Most of our styles had already been formed then, but in order to"keep it simple", I think a lot of us said we played "Travis Style".

I met Merle during the taping of "The Carl Smith Show" in 1970 (back in my 'other' life when I actually had songs on the 'country' charts!) and he was friendly and gracious. The first thing I noticed was that although I used my left hand thumb to fret both sixth and fifth strings, and ALWAYS used one finger to cover two adjacent strings, most of his chord forms were unrecognizable to me. (Thanks to Dadi..now I can play most of them) The second thing to hit me was that when he was relaxing, he didn't play "country" at all, he played old time "Pop" songs. He said that Les Paul was one of his faves while growing up. The third thing I noticed was that, although ALL of us city kids used thumb and two fingers, he only used thumb and index (like so many old time country musicians) finger. I asked him about that, and he said "don't need another finger"...and he was right. I wanted to play for him but felt too shy (Ironically, he was not the headliner on the show...Johnny Paycheck was) so I asked him if he'd help me on "Nine pound Hammer". I played a couple of verses of it...stopped, and nervously asked, "any suggestions?" He DID smile, but was obviously VERY used to this kind of thing. "No, no, that's fine son" was all he said....but I coulda died right there.

If at all possible, get a couple of the videos that are available of "rare" Travis performances from the forties or fifties. You'll hear a staggering talent.

Gotta make lunch

Cheers

Rick


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 04:40 PM

You can use that in the promo packet for your tour if you want;-)


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 04:47 PM

Great thread J.P., I remember the first time I saw Merle playing on television. (Maybe 30 years ago) The camera would zoom in on his right hand and I was just dumbfounded watching him. Fingers 2, 3 & 4 were firmly planted on the pick guard almost the way a left-handed pool player would form a bridge. It was very clear that only his thumb and index were involved in picking. I determined right then and there I was going to learn to get by with just the two fingers.

Many of you may remember Ray Tate of Chicago who taught at The Old Town School of Folk Music for twenty years or more. When I first arrived in Chicago in January of 1963, I'd heard so much about the Old Town School that I just had to go check it out. I found my way upstairs and, after pleasantries, struck up a conversation with one the people who were hanging out.

Well the conversation quickly moved to music and the fellow I was talking with asked what sort of things I played. I said I played Travis style guitar—that's what all the East Cost college kids called it then—and suddenly I had a guitar in my hands and was asked to play.

Now you must understand that the players I'd been trying to emulate were people like Etta Baker, Elizabeth Cotten, Rev. Gary Davis, etc. I knew who Merle Travis was but I had yet to hear one of his instrumentals. I knew him only for the “folk songs” I later learned he was more or less forced to write.

So I played a few things and the fellow I was talking with gave me an astonished look and said &ldlquo;That's not Travis picking. Have you ever heard Travis play?” Whereupon he grabbed the guitar and began to give a rather embarrased kid a lesson in just what was meant by Travis picking. I later learned that the fellow was Ray Tate and I got to know him better over time. I'll always think he taught me two important lessons that day.

      - Mark

NB: It seems as though players in this style are moving towards calling it thumbpicking. At least in Western Kentucky, that what they're calling it.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 05:02 PM

Aiee Chihwawwa! Looked up an old TV guide. I did that Carl Smith show in 1966! Tony Quarrington was in my band, and we still play together after all these years. Keerist, where did the time go?

Great story Mark. Maybe we should get Art in here. He sure would have known Ray.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Justa Picker
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 05:45 PM

1st Travis Picking Lesson

"Getting the Thumb Part of the Sound"

(Assumes a working knowledge of basic first position chords...i.e. C chord, G chord, F chord in standard E A D G B E tuning.)


- use a thumb pick (rather than bare thumb, for the "whomp" and don't worry about putting on any other fingerpicks or the other finger(s) for now)

- form a C chord and have the ring finger of the fretting hand fret both the 5th and 6th strings at the third fret. Ring finger doesn't usually fret both strings for this chord. Learn to do it. Gives you a very full C chord, and, Merle makes a lot of chords this way, with one (or more fingers) doing double duty/fretting. Once you get comfortable with this chord position (takes some practise) and can clearly play the entire chord this way with no muted effects caused by the fretting hand, time to move forward.

- Holding this C chord position down with the left (or fretting hand) hit just the single C note (5th string, 3rd fret) with the thumb (down-stroke) and then sweep the other strings (strings 4, 3, and 2) again with a down stroke. (All of the strokes here-on-in are downstrokes all played with the thumb.) Then, sweep the 6th, 5th and 4th strings together with the thumb, followed by another sweep of the thumb hitting strings 4, 3, 2 - and 1.) Repeat this entire pattern until it feels comfortable and sounds like music.

- Once you've got the above down, now....gently rest the fleshy part of the bottom of your thumb against the bridge and be careful to just make palm contact with only strings 6, 5 and 4 while allowing the other higher strings to ring out unfettered. This will take some practice finding just the right placement of the palm around the bridge and just the right amount of pressure on the strings indicated so that their tone is still there without being entirely muted. Once you've got this down, hold this position, make the C chord I've indicated and practise the patterns as indicated above. Note, that your right hand (or picking hand) will sit at a lower trajectory and the picking motion will feel different. Get used to playing the above pattern in both a muted/damping feel and un muted, so that your right hand gets used to adapting back and forth.

Then...we'll look at bringing in other chords and adding some notes with the index fingers. (If any other fingerpickers knowledgable with the Travis style want to jump in here, please, go for it!)


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Cohen
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 10:47 PM

I was listening to FolkScene last night on KPIG.com (my newest accompaniment to typing up chart notes) and heard an interview with this hillbilly-sounding singer. I thought, well, that's interesting, his songs are pretty hokey and he sings kind of OK, but wow...what a guitar! Turns out it was Merle Travis, recorded on FolkScene in 1974. I'm not even going to attempt to play like that for at least another couple of lifetimes....

Aloha,
Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Kaleea
Date: 06 Feb 02 - 01:55 AM

many moons ago when I was a young teen playing my big brothers guitar, I found some second hand Peter Paul & Mary music books (which were very good about explaining exactly how the picking pattern went), and a Seeger & maybe a Burl Ives, and they had very good patterns for arpeggio type & pluck type picking which is very nice for accompaning folk songs. Several of the different patterns were referred to as being "Travis" picks, and then the "Carter Family Scratch" is also the quite common bass-down-up (like scratching lightly on the strings) approach, and often was taught in the early 1960's folk music books. My fellow 'catters might run across some of these old books & find some gems in them. As for myself, I care less about the exact picking pattern who did on what "cut" way back when, and I care more about playing & teaching different picking patterns for my musical enjoyment & the process of passing on traditional & folk music to others.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: JenEllen
Date: 06 Feb 02 - 11:53 AM


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Marion
Date: 06 Feb 02 - 03:49 PM

Good thread, JP, and keep it up. You do a good job of describing playing details.

Spaw, you said: "If we had these threads and bookmarked them, we could have one helluva' resource." To some extent these sorts of threads are bookmarked in the "Help for Pickers" series of permathreads, especially parts 2 and 3. I'll add another group of links to it next time I'm at my mom's. What's "bookoo" mean? Beaucoup maybe?

Any Travis picking afficianados: I've been listening to Merle's recording of Cannonball Rag and have a question. There's a normal-Travis-picking sounding part, then a part that sounds more rolly and classical, then a part that sounds kind of staccato, then a part that's nothing but bass runs, then back to "normal". I'm wondering about that third section that sounds more like flatpicking - is that done with a switch to a flatpick? Or is it the alternation of thumbpick and finger that's been mentioned elsewhere?

(Note that if you listen to Doc's Cannonball Rag rather than Merle's this question won't make any sense, as Doc's version doesn't have the same distinctly different sounding parts.)

Thanks, Marion


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Justa Picker
Date: 06 Feb 02 - 04:21 PM

Makes perfect sense to me Marion, and I am pretty familiar with the Merle/Marcel Dadi arrangement of it. (Dadi's arrangement is just about a dead lift.)

The middle section you describe (rolly and classical) is a forward "banjo roll" first done with singular notes (thumb/downstroke followed by thumb downstroke, and then index upstroke and this pattern is repeated over the duration of that lick and then when repeated again (it sounds a little muffled) but it is the same pattern with a twist and that is instead of hitting singular notes, Merle's doubled up on them (just to torment the mere mortals like us who want to play it close to the original feel *G*) so he'd hit the 6th and 5th strings together on the first thumb downstroke and then the 5th and 4th strings together on the second thumb downstroke and then the 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings on the upstroke with the index - kind of a "pinch or claw" thing.

The 3rd section with the chord sounded and immediately followed with the "walking bass lines" followed by punctuated chords and repeated, etc.. is a combination of thumb and index being used. A flat pick to the best of my knowledge, is not being used here. So the initial chord is played with the thumb and pinched with the index at the same time, and them the thumb does all the bass note runs (all downstrokes, or two fingered picking i.e. thumb downstroke/index upstroke). Just using the thumb and doing all downstrokes here gives the sound a bit more bite, especially when you're gently muting the bass strings.

Hope this explains it a little better for you. It's a great tune to play! ..and there are so many variations of it out there. Merle's really makes you work, because of some of the unorthodox chord shapes he uses....ah but those chord shapes come in so handy for other songs as well - and it impresses the shit out of people in song circles and then you're branded for life as a flashy show-off. I LOVE IT!! *BG*


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: catspaw49
Date: 06 Feb 02 - 04:33 PM

Yeah Marion, I know, and I use that Permathread a lot to reference people, but......What I was after here and what is in some of those threads but very hit and miss is an elementary approach to a specific pattern. Pretend you were a new picker and had basic skills......Could you read this thread and get the idea and/or a practice routine to get you on the road to Travis style?

Perhaps we need another or incorporated here as to a basic thumb/index pattern, to the Travis, a basic thumb/index/middle, and the like. Nothing too tough, but something basic to build on. Then add it to the exosting Permathread. Anyway............

bookoo=Americanized version generally meaning "a shitload."

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: GUEST,Arkie
Date: 06 Feb 02 - 05:28 PM

Sure is nice to see some attention to Merle Travis. He could not only pick, and write songs that have almost become classics, But a pretty fair cartoonist and also wrote some memorable articles on his music experiences as well. There is an active group of pickers who still practice the Travis style and they have started to refer to themselves as thumbpickers. Eddie Pennington and Comer Mullins are two notable examples, but there are many others who gather at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas and Center City, Kentucky for Travis guitar events.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: 53
Date: 06 Feb 02 - 09:34 PM

Whoa, you guys are way above my head, so i'll just enjoy reading about how good you guys are.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: katlaughing
Date: 07 Feb 02 - 12:20 AM

I am a confirmed JP afficianado, too, and I am just here to say M. Ted is right, the man can tickle those ivories and sequence and pick like 'ell, though when we'll ever get a CD to buy is anybody's guess!!**BG** Great thread even though I don't pick! I see it left Jenellen speechless....LOL

luvyakat


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: JenEllen
Date: 07 Feb 02 - 12:49 AM

Shaddup you! *bg*
I ain't a'feered to say it neither, but I kind of equate this with learning about any truly fine art. I know that I'll NEVER pick like some of these fellas, just as I'll never paint like Corot, but I like to learn about it all the same, realize the skill it really does require, and appreciate it when I see it/hear it in other places. So THERE!
~grinningjen


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 07 Feb 02 - 11:18 AM

JP gave us the Thumb/Index finger stuff, but leave it to Spaw to give us the middle finger--but seriously--

I don't really know if a person can learn to fingerpick by reading threads(or reading anything)--what you are learning is to recreate a certain way of co-ordinating finger movements--the elements are complex, and, even when you describe all of them precisely, it remains for the reader to not only recreate a four dimensional series of movements from the desription, but also has to distinguish from other patterns that he/she might know--

Is anyone out there trying this, and can you give feedback on how it is going, or are you overwhelmed?


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Peter T.
Date: 07 Feb 02 - 11:26 AM

yes, yes, and yes. Comes with the territory.... (Gives new meaning to the term, you have been placed on the Index)

yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: JenEllen
Date: 07 Feb 02 - 11:36 AM

M Ted, good point. For beginners, it is a mess to try and tackle--but there comes a point where it's like reading a mental recipe book. You still may cook like shit, but you can identify what the ingredients are and have some idea of how they are supposed to go together. I think that is all one can reasonably assume to accomplish by reading alone.
~J


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Marion
Date: 07 Feb 02 - 05:52 PM

M.Ted asked: " Is anyone out there trying this, and can you give feedback on how it is going, or are you overwhelmed?"

Yes, OK, and no.

I'm taking home three things from this thread:

1. Trying it with only thumb and index, rather than middle as I've been doing;

2. Using thumbpick brushes on beats 2, 3, and 4 rather than just beat 2, and alternating between a higher brush and a lower brush;

3. Renewing efforts to play C chord with ring finger on two strings rather than moving it back and forth.

I think there's all the information necessary here for these things, and that they're in reasonable reach.

On the other hand, I'm leaving JP's description of the "rolly and classical" part of Cannonball Rag for another day. If I tried to absorb everything at once, it might be overwhelming.

I should add that Rick has shown me (in real life) another Travis-picking pattern, so I'm looking at this information as an adaptation on what I know, not as something totally new. But even if it were totally new to me, my impression of JP's "lesson 1" is that it's followable. I've managed to successfully learn lots of stuff from verbal explanations at Mudcat or elsewhere.

On the other hand, in the way Rick showed me beats 3 and 4 consist of a 4 note roll with a dotted rhythm, and that would probably be harder to communicate in a post.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: John Hardly
Date: 07 Feb 02 - 06:15 PM

"Holding this C chord position down with the left (or fretting hand) hit just the single C note (5th string, 3rd fret) with the thumb (down-stroke) and then sweep the other strings (strings 4, 3, and 2) again with a down stroke. (All of the strokes here-on-in are downstrokes all played with the thumb.) Then, sweep the 6th, 5th and 4th strings together with the thumb, followed by another sweep of the thumb hitting strings 4, 3, 2 - and 1.) Repeat this entire pattern until it feels comfortable and sounds like music." --JP

So at this point you aren't actually playing an alternating bass with the thumb? or is the second "sweep" suppose to be the second beat of the alternating thumb bass (Just that, as you are describing it and we are to yet find out....the second thumb beat isn't a single note?)


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: John Hardly
Date: 07 Feb 02 - 06:17 PM

damn....if I had $1 for every time I left out the second <....>.........


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Justa Picker
Date: 07 Feb 02 - 06:46 PM

..."or is the second "sweep" suppose to be the second beat of the alternating thumb bass"...


Yep.

(And Marion, you're on the right path. *G*)


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Justa Picker
Date: 07 Feb 02 - 06:50 PM

And further JH....you can also get it to the point (as Marion indicated) where all the alternating thumb strokes are sweeps. You just start the sweep on the 5th string (if we're in C), alternate to the 4th string and sweep, then alternate to the 6th string and sweep.. It's really a matter of how much clarity, definition or chugg that you want with the thumb, as to how many strings you sweep at once...


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: John Hardly
Date: 07 Feb 02 - 08:13 PM

very cool. Never tried it that way!

(I do have a leg up -- not literally, that would be awkward to play -- I already play my C with my ring finger on the low E (G...makes my pinky free for the 7th or other embellishments without losing that low G bass)


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 08 Feb 02 - 12:07 AM

The "Thumb, Thumb, plus four note roll that Marion mentioned is decidedly NOT Travis Picking. It's an accompaniment style that gives a "BOUNCE" to the playing. I've mentioned it a number of times on the forum as being closer to the way...say..Tom Paxton would accompany a song. Unadulterated Merle Travis style is EXACTLY as Justa Picker described it....but you have to use his chord POSITIONS to make it sound authentic. Those can be VERY difficult at first. The T,T, T,I,T,M. pattern is great for getting the right hand muscle memory in place, and if someone decides they want to specialize in Travis picking (a serious decision..cause it certainly defines what repertoire you'll be looking st) it's easy to adapt from.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Justa Picker
Date: 08 Feb 02 - 08:47 PM

(refresh)


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Justa Picker
Date: 09 Feb 02 - 08:43 PM


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Zipster
Date: 11 Feb 02 - 09:52 AM

I don't wan to waste peoples time here. I use all 4 fingers to hold the C chord as described. THe ring finger holds the 6th and the pinky is on the 5th. It seems easier to me than holding 2 strings with one, am I missing something?


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 11 Feb 02 - 10:11 AM

Perhaps. Learning the technique of holding two strings with one finger assumes you're going to want a free finger—in this case your little finger—so you can add melody and harmony notes that aren't present in the basic chord pattern.

One should really hear the playing of Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, Doc Waston, et al., before trying to do too much with this style of playing. It's a very complete style for playing separate base and melody parts at the same time on a single instrument.

Once you've heard the masters of this style, the reason for holding two strings with a single finger will be immediately apparent.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 11:53 AM


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 01:03 PM

Travis picking is different from other styles of fingerpicking, it has a different sound, and requires different instrumental techniques---Mark's point is important! It is a way to play bass and melody at the same time--but you can fingerpick the melody with a bass line and still not be Travis picking-- The key element is that it has a strident bass line, with syncopated melody/lead figures played above it--

The style is played with thumb and index finger, only, and, it takes a long time to learn to do the business with the thumb that JP so accurately described above (I have to confess that a first I thought his description was off, but on close examination, it turns out that that is exactly what happens) and a while after that to be able to drop the top in--co-ordination and planning are critical, because if the arrangement doesn't fit together perfectly, it will wobble and fall apart--

I've been watching the Olympic Skating competitions, and it occurs to me that Travis picking is a lot like figure skating because practice is not enough to assure success, the performance depends on extreme focus and motivation-every mistake is very clear, and, because of the speed, errors in the transitions can be fatal--


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: GUEST,Marion
Date: 19 Feb 02 - 04:49 PM

One thing I didn't understand from the RF/JP radio show last night - are "ragtime" and "Travis picking" being used as synonyms? Or are Travis picking and Cotton picking subcategories of ragtime?

Marion


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Justa Picker
Date: 19 Feb 02 - 05:31 PM

That is a good question and one that I defer to Rick to answer.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 19 Feb 02 - 09:49 PM

Hi marion. The terms are virtually meaningless because everyone would define them differently. "Travis Picking" really means a narrow style. I did a little of it in John henry and JP did some in "Bluebelle". The rest of the show was basically a mixture of dozens of styles......BUT, they all used an alternating thumb bass. THAT'S the common factor.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 19 Feb 02 - 11:36 PM

Doesn't the term “ragtime” also imply certain chord progressions or changes not necessarily found in other forms?

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Justa Picker
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 12:01 AM

Hmmm...interesting question Mark. I think Ragtime has a lot of blues in at...at least the stuff that was coming out in the early 20th century...(and of course blues and ragtime are the foundation of jazz) but it's also a real hodge podge of other musical elements like fiddle tunes from the Buckdancer era.

The 3 things I find that seem to define the ragtime sound for guitar are ,(a) the syncopated melody and rhythms around the alternating bass; (b) a lot of swing and bounce to the playing and feel (-you can take any alternating bass song and give it a ragtime feel), and breaks with single string runs, (c) and walking up and down bass lines connecting the chords together.

Also, a very good article here on the King of Ragtime Guitar.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: tandrink
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 10:23 AM

Now someone please correct me if I am wrong, but technically, the difference between a blues and a ragtime not only has to do with the "feel" of a piece but also it's length and structure. A blues is typically 8, 12 or 16 bars. A ragtime has no such structural restrictions.

I know someone is going to say that a blues can be any length, but I've been told, technically (and I emphasize technically) that in order to be considered a blues piece it must adhere to measures I mentioned above.

Maybe a musical scholar could clarify if this is really the case.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: C-flat
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 11:51 AM

I've tried to describe picking techniques on many occasions but it always seems terribly "dry" in black and white.Full marks to Justa picker on an excellent posting.My only contribution is to say that whilst the style described in JP's post is not a pattern as such, you must develop the thumb patterns over different shapes before you can start dropping in other strings.These other notes can be quite random but are strictly syncopated around a fixed thumb pattern.Right hand memory is the key and can take a long time to develop.Great pickers don't even think about patterns,after years of playing, their patterns evolve around the notes they want to hear.Most of them probably couldn't tell you exactly what they were playing and a lot of them wouldn't play it the same way twice! I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from learning to fingerpick but try to bear in mind that there's only so much you can learn in the written form, once you've established a couple of patterns use your ears.All the notes you want are there in the chord shapes,give or take,and there's no rules governing technique. These old pickers developed their style by doing what felt most comfortable to them.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Bobert
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 12:05 PM

Well, as fir the technical stuff, Professor Rolfy will come along and clean up that mess. But as fir the pickin. I started out with the alternating thumb, index finger picking and added the middle finger and ring finger as I developed. When I started playing blues a couple of years ago, I got a video of the Delta bluesman, Son House, who uses a version of the Travis pick with his palm making contact with the bass strings while playing a National steel guitar. It has taken some work because of the more rigid technique I learned 30 some years ago of using the pinky finger as a stabilizer where Son House used his picking hand a cross between strumming and picking, much like a brush or broom, but in each sweep the palm would mute the bass strings. When I first saw the video, I thought this would be real easy but found it to be difficult because of the angle at which the fingers, (not thumb) had to find the right place to land in the back stroke. Kindof like trying to land an airplane on a moving boat, I guess. This takes some practice, indeed, but is real cool the first time you get it right...


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 12:07 PM

I found this definition for ragtime at the Rag-Time.Com site and another definition at The Center for Black Music Research. Neither of the definitions mentions any chord progressions but they seem to make it clear that blues is not ragtime and that ragtime is a rather complex musical form.

Still, a lot of the ragtime tunes that come to mind seem to include a I VI II V progression or circle of fifths somewhere in the piece.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 04:26 PM

Son House, Merle Travis, Blind Blake--three *very* different kinds of fingerpicking for three different styles of music--One is Delta Blues, one is Ragtime, and only one is Travis picking--all are syncopated, all have a strident bass, but the sound different, and the picking mechanism is different--Do you want to know how they are different? Learn to play in each style, then compare ;-)


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: RocketMan
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 08:37 PM

Wow, great thread. I spend 99.9% of my time here lurking, but this is enough to draw me out. I have only a basic command of fingerpicking, but when I read threads like this, I can go back to tunes I've listened to a hundred times and hear something different in the music. Thanks folks.

RMan


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: marty D
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 11:16 PM

Darn Rick and JP. I missed your show on fingerpicking. The thread on it says it's going to be on Mudcat. Is that for sure?

marty


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Marion
Date: 03 Mar 03 - 06:21 PM

I watched that instructional video that Justa mentioned in the opening post. Are all the songs taught really instrumentals, or does Marcel just not like to sing?

Marion


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 03 Mar 03 - 07:46 PM

Marion, The selections are a mix of pure instrumentals and instrumental accompaniment for songs. There are also tabs in the accompanying booklet that aren't taught in the video. I think Dadi wasn't trying to do a performance video as much as an instructional one. I doubt many people would work through this video if they weren't already pretty familiar with Travis' body of work.

I agree with JP, it is a great set of lessons. Any experienced finger picker wanting to try Travis' style should own a copy.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Marion
Date: 18 Mar 03 - 02:49 PM

Does anyone have an opinion on which of the tunes on the Marcel Dadi video are the easiest?

The tunes are: Fuller Blues, Cane Break Blues, Bluebelle, Saturday Night Shuffle, Cannonball Rag, Walking the Strings, and one other blues I can't remember.

Thanks, Marion


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 18 Mar 03 - 03:38 PM

In my opinion, all the tunes are great. Saturday Night Shuffle has always been a favorite of mine but if memory serves that one is included in the tablature but not in the video.

My advice is just take each tune in the sequence of the video and learn the extra ones after you've mastered the video lessons. As I recall, the lessons have a progression of difficulty and one should really master each one before proceeding to the next. The first lessons concentrate on the precision of the thumb pick and which strings to pick and how to get “that sound.” Early lessons also work on making some of the unusual chord fingerings and using the noting hand thumb for the bass E and A strings. The rest of the tunes will will go much easier if one takes the time to really master the earlier technique.

You'll also want to get the video of Merle Travis' Rare Performances and another video with Merle, Chet Atkins, Mose Rager and maybe Ike Everly that I can't remember the name of right now. Perhaps the best purely instrumental album Merle did was on Capital in the early fifties, re-released in the late sixties. I would think there should be a CD version of it but I can't find one on Amazon. I also checked eBay and didn't find this particular album for sale. Still, there's a lot of Travis' material still available and you'll really want to get a bunch of it to steep yourself in the style.

Good luck, I'd sure like to hear you play this style when you're ready.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 19 Mar 03 - 01:18 PM

Don't suppose that you could be persuaded to give a name for that album, Mark, or even better, a list of the cuts?

My favorite cuts of Merle's are the old Grandpa Jones recordings he did on King records, like Eight More Miles to Louisville--he was younger then, and he got nothing but better as he got older, but he layed a heck of a ground work for himself and everybody else with that stuff--


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Marion
Date: 19 Mar 03 - 03:39 PM

Thanks Mark Clark. I don't have the accompanying book, and I only have the VCR for a few more days, so I just intend to do one song off the video. If it goes from easiest to hardest, then I guess Fuller Blues it is.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 19 Mar 03 - 06:04 PM

Just off the top of my head I'd say "Fuller blues" might very well be the easiest. Bluebelle is nice. I learned it years ago from the Merle "Guitar solos" album. Have discovered he played it very differently each time.

I was never able to learn a song from beginning to end in someone else's arrangement. Simply, a short attention span on my part. What I HAVE learned from the Dadi tape is how Merle did his right hand triplets (can't do it his way with just thumb and index) and that wonderful augmented position (also used by Lenny Breau.)

The neat Travis tape I now have (thanks to J.P.) has a cut from Canadian TV in the seventies where Merle plays hotguitar with his son Thom Bresh. Thom didn't know at that time that Merle was his dad!!

Rick


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Stringer
Date: 19 Mar 03 - 06:46 PM

Thom Bresh has an instruction video available on Travis picking which is well worth checking out. (I found it in my local library) It also features him using Merle's D28 with the Paul Bigsby neck

Stringer


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)
Date: 19 Mar 03 - 06:59 PM

We have an old film that my man George Pickow did, of Merle and Mose Reager talking and picking/singing together...I remember they had a sort of confusing conversation concerning "the thumb-lick with the thumb-pick," or "without the thumb-pick," and after the film was made, Merle told us they had after all come to the wrong conclusion! But it's down now on the film for all time... on the film, Merle plays and sings, "I Am a Pilgrim." This was in the early sixties. Also on the film are Clarence Ashley and his band including Doc Watson, and The Walker Family from Nobob,KY (residents have now changed the name of their p.o. to Summer Shade, KY. Some ladies' club was probably responsible. The name of the film was, "Hillbilly Music", part of a series called, "Lyrics and Legends." We still have a copy.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 19 Mar 03 - 07:31 PM

Jean, That sounds like a wonderful film. Do you know if a re-issue has been done or is contemplated? What a treasure that would be. There seems to be very little footage of Mose available and seeing the two of them together would be a real treat.

M.Ted, The album is called “The Merle Travis Guitar,” Capitol SM-650. The jacket is bright yellow and easy to spot in a rack of used LPs. The largest image on the cover is Merle's Gibson Special Super 400 almost from the player's point of view. The cuts are:

Side 1

  1. Blue Smoke
  2. Black Diamond Blues
  3. On a Bicycle Built for Two
  4. Saturday Night Shuffle
  5. Bugle Call Rag
  6. Tuck Me to Sleep in My Old ’tucky Home
Side 2
  1. Walkin’ the Strings
  2. The Memphis Blues
  3. The Sheik of Araby
  4. Blue Bell
  5. The Waltz You Saved for Me
  6. Rockabye Rag
According to the sparse liner notes this is the first album of solos Merle recorded. “…Even though the music in this album sometimes sounds as though several guitars were playing at the same time, no recording tricks of any sort were used.”

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Roger the Skiffler
Date: 20 Mar 03 - 04:16 AM

Of course, most travis picking is done by machinery these days. After all the travis pickers were laid off in the great travis weevil infestation of the '50s, most of them hitched north and got jobs in the auto industry and then minimum wage meant the travis farmers couldn't afford to rehire 'em when government subsidies for replanting travis kicked in. Even wetbacks don't want to pick travis by hand now, so most is now grown in huge fields and picked by the tractor drawn Merle 2003 picker. The Fielding model is favoured in Canada, the mechanics are different but the crop comes out the same.

RtS
(Sorry, guys, couldn't resist it. Fascinating thread but I didn't understand a word- nothing new there!)


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 20 Mar 03 - 10:03 AM

ROGER! LISTEN UP!

Ya put yer right hand down, ya put yer left hand down.

Do the travis pickin', spin yer fingers all around.

Don't forget yer thumb, and don't leave out that rest,

practice for about ten years, You'll be one of the best!

Rick


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 20 Mar 03 - 11:23 AM

Thanks, Mark--it is now on my acquisitions short list--I appreciate you're listing the cuts, because, as you know, sometimes stuff is repackaged when it is released on CD--


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Art Thieme
Date: 22 Mar 03 - 04:47 PM

One of my favorite songs that Grandpa Jones put on a record is his version of "Goin' Across The Sea". Just fine banjo picking on that one---a bit different than Grandpa's normal style.

I told Ramona Jones how much I liked that song one day when we were over at Cathy Barton and Dave Parra's house in Boonville, Missouri. Ramona told me it wasn't Grandpa playing banjo on that track. It was Merle Travis ! Grandpa just did the singing.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 22 Mar 03 - 07:17 PM

Art, Thanks. That's wonderful bit of information. I'm still very fond of my Brown's Ferry Four album too.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Inükshük
Date: 23 Mar 03 - 12:32 PM

What an absolutely magnificent resource this thread is! I've been trying to get that thumb pattern cold for decades. Thanks to J.P.'s meticulously explicit instructions it has all come together over the past few days. My hands are cramped, and my fingers are sore from the new positions, but I am elated.
Years ago I owned an instruction book that dealt exclusively with the Travis style. It pictured some of the unique chords utilized by Merle. I sure wish I had that book now. Would anyone know if such a book still exists?
In the meantime, would some of you more advanced players be generous enough to post a few of the special Travis chords that you have described in this thread as "innovative", "unorthodox", and "unusual"?
Thanks a million.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Fred Miller
Date: 23 Mar 03 - 09:07 PM

This really has cleared up some perplexities for me, I've seen Travis picking mis-applied and wondered why it would be called that, since variants of alternating bass things have been around forever.

I'm not having too much trouble raking the bass strings, I've developed a little feel for it because a do a triplet-roll strum between my thumb and a finger which calls for an evenly raked bass whump. But I still can't use normal thumbpicks, and have to make my own. I do up thumbstrokes in there some. I'm not used to many consecutive downstrokes.

One thing I play which was described as Travis-picking, either wrongly or very broadly, has me moving my index sometimes up into the bass notes for simultaneous grasps, while the ring hits higher strings--it gets my hand into a higher, and closer to a string- parallel position I'm not accustomed to. I may have mis-understood, and was supposed to hit both bass notes with the thumb.

I need to hear more of this style, at this point. But thanks so much for taking the trouble to clearly explain the mechanics. People don't do enough of that, it's very helpful. I'll have to explain the things I know, as soon as I learn something somebody would want to know.

Roger I really liked your rather meticulous explanation of Travis picking also, and may commit it to memory.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 24 Mar 03 - 12:28 AM

Marty, I sent that "Travis fingerpicking" show to Mudcat, to archive. Even recorded it on minidisc so the sound is great. Haven't heard a word since or even an acknowledgement that it arrived. C'est la vie.

Inukshuk, here's an absolutely classic Travis chord...From the bass

4X043 with occasionally a first string fourth fret note. The notes are: G#XDBD (E or G#)

He uses it as a substitute for E major often.

Here's another classic:

3X3443 Remember...for the Travis "sound" use your thumb on the bass string. It's a neat G aug. He uses it prior to a C chord.

Cheers

Rick


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: GUEST,Dustin Laurence
Date: 24 Mar 03 - 01:45 AM

This thread was fun for me because I once (in a fit of private sarcasm) started "collecting" definitions of "Travis Picking." The subconscious rule I worked under was it had to come from a book or something, someplace where there was some reason to expect some care in terminology, or at least from someone who presumably would know (i.e. some bozo you met in the back room of a music store doesn't count). Lessee if I can remember a few of the ones I came across:

* Any kind of pattern picking, probably without a real melodic line (from an instructional book I favor)

* Anything with an alternating bass (seems to pop up here and there)

* A particular pattern the author deems to be "Travis' pattern" (at least one book on my shelf)

* Same thing, but now with melody notes actually inserted into the pattern

* Hurt-style two line melody-over-alternating-bass (a recent book I picked up, if I interpret him correctly)

That's a mighty flexible term, isn't it? Well, at least I learned to investigate further and not make too many assumptions when I came across it.

There must have been more. Notice how none of those are what Justapicker and Rick Fielding tell us is how Travis actually picked? I more or less suspected as much from the proliferation of definitions, no more than one of which could be Travis' style in the first place.

Anyway, I am glad to find out what Travis actually did, just for the record, and collect another definition to watch out for.

What I learned to call "Cotten picking" probably isn't what she did either, but that's veering off-topic.

Dustin


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Fred Miller
Date: 24 Mar 03 - 09:07 AM

I have a little Travis stuff on tapes here somewhere, but wouldn't have known what I was listening to without this discussion.

The exercise above leaves me wondering does one typically omit the muted bass whump when a melody note is played on the 2 or 4? Or do those often get pinched together? I have trouble brushing-down, picking up together. I manage to hit a single note and brush other strings in a stroke, as I think was described, but trying to add a brush with a melody note I wind up throwing in an extra bass note sometimes.

The double-stopping with the ring finger is kinda harsh, y'all. And I do a pretty clean a-form barre with my ring finger, letting the high e-string sound. I can do it--have to let the finger protrude over the neck, but when I add other notes with my pinky it wobbles, I often stop the d-string f too. guess it's gonna have to hurt a little. Thanks again.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 24 Mar 03 - 09:57 AM

One of the problems is....ACTUAL Travis-picking is damn hard! Merle was one of only a small handful who mastered the complicated (at first) left hand chords. I've heard Ike Everly, Mose Rager, Thom Bresh Doc Watson and Marcel Dadi....and beyond those guys, there are VERY VERY few pickers who can do it consistently on ANY song.

You haven't learned a style if you can only pick a couple of songs in that style.....you really have to INVEST. It's worth it, it's a HUGE amount of fun...and definitely better then watching Seinfeld re-runs. One thing I WILL mention is that ALL the guys named used ONLY thumb and forefinger. I can't do that, so I use Thumb and TWO fingers.

If you can....get a video called (I think) 'Rare Merle Travis performances', possibly from Kicking Mule. It's an eye-opener. I can play a fair amount in his style, but after watching this...I realized, the guy's on another planet!!

The earliest clips have him sitting down in hokey rural sets picking his D-28 (with the Bigsby neck.....which is VERY thin!) and later clips have him dressed in Rhinestones, and glitz. One of the best clips is Merle (gettin' on in years) on a TV show with three of my guitar playin friends. I think it may have been taped in Peterborough Ontario. Also on the show is Thom Bresh....his son.....who doesn't KNOW yet that merle's his Dad!!

He was an absolute genius....

Rick


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Marion
Date: 24 Mar 03 - 02:52 PM

About Fuller Blues, as demonstrated on the Marcel Dadi video:

1. There's a measure close to the end that's a long run of triplets - I couldn't tell from the video how the notes were being sounded. It didn't appear to be a strict alternation between thumb and index: was each set of triplets thumb-index-middle, or thumb-index-index, or was he using pull-offs?

2. He went through a 12-bar blues progression three times; is it my imagination, or was the chord progression slightly different each time? It seemed that the IV chords were sometimes omitted or shortened in bars 2 and 10 but not consistently. Is this normal?

Thanks, Marion

PS I miss Justa Picker.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Inükshük
Date: 24 Mar 03 - 03:18 PM

Thanks Rick,
I really appreciate picking up those two great chords. I'll be watching this thread like a hawk just in case you happen to drop a couple more.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: GUEST,Marion
Date: 24 Mar 03 - 03:32 PM

Hi Inukshuk. You can get a lot of guitar information, Travis-related or otherwise, by rooting through the archives of Mudcat threads. Do some browsing through the list of related threads at the top of this thread, and be sure to check out "Help for Pickers Young and Old Part 3" (both its list of threads at the top and the ones that are linked inside the thread).

Off the top of my head, there are some Travis techniques discussed in the threads titled:

Could I play like Doc Watson? Seriously
Pick like Doc? I'm improving at least
What the F is going on at Mudcat?
Does Mudcat seem to be flat right now?
Our friend the movable B7 chord

Marion


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 25 Mar 03 - 12:23 PM

When you see those rare performances, it is worth noting that his playing evolved and developed over many, many years--(which is a nice way of saying that he just kept working out new tricks)-- he had an unfair advantage-- no matter what sort of thing he worked out, it was alway considered Travis picking--


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 25 Mar 03 - 01:10 PM

That's a really good point, M.Ted. Merle didn't just just bop down to the crossroads one night and trade his soul for Travis Picking. It took years of work and I'm guessing it was either succeed at music or die in the coal mines. He had way more natural ability than most of us (especially me) will ever have but he had a lot more motivation too.

I sure would like to have heard Arnold Schulz play.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: GUEST
Date: 26 Mar 03 - 04:41 PM


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: GUEST
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 05:55 PM


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Shane Gibbons
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 09:23 PM

Down in the South, we use "cotton-pickin'" as a derogatory term: eg. "that cotton pickin' fox is in the hen house ag'in." I never knew it was a guitar picking style.

Hi everybody: I'm a lurker who's working through "The Acoustic Guitar Method" books while learning to play my guitar. I just got to the fourth lesson in book 3 entitled "Introducing Travis Picking", and it certainly doesn't fit the definition I've learned here. David Hamburger, the author, writes:

It's time to learn the most essential fingerpicking approach in roots music, known generally as Travis picking (after Merle Travis, who popularized it) or the alternating thumb(or alternating bass) style. ...with Travis picking, you hit a lower bass note on the first and third beat of each bar, and an upper bass note on the second and fourth beat of each bar--or a bass note on every beat.

I found this site last weekend (from a link from Jed Marum's site) and I sure have enjoyed you folks so far. You probably won't hear much from me, but I'll be listening in...and hopefully learning a thing or three.

shane


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Marion
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 11:32 PM

Hi Shane, great to have you here. Are you in Texas as well?

I guess Hamburger's definition is an example of the popular misconceptions that Justa Picker wanted to counter with this thread; while true, it doesn't go far enough, and doesn't distinguish Travis picking from other alternating-bass styles like Cotten picking.

Cheers,

Marion (devoted Jedhead)


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Shane Gibbons
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 11:55 PM

Hey Marion.

Yep. I live in the DFW area, and we've caught Jed a few festivals since "discovering" him at the Celtic Heritage Festival in Bedford last year. We (that is, me and my family) drove to Austin to see him two or three weeks later, and there we discovered Ed Miller and Cluan. Since then, we've seen all three of them at the North Texas Irish Festival and the Texas Scottish Festival (a.k.a. Arlington Highland Games).

Most recently, we caught Jed's third installment of his "Into the West" series on July 3rd. My wife says he's gonna think I'm stalking him or something. I didn't know we were called "Jedheads". Maybe we should start a fan club. :) Anyways, I guess this is a little off topic.

Maybe we'll see you at the next festival (that is, if you're from Texas).

shane


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Marion
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 12:14 AM

Shane, I've been stalking Jed for about a year now, but from a distance (Ontario, Canada). However, I intend to visit Texas this winter, most likely in January.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: DADGBE
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 02:27 AM

A thread like this restores my faith in Mudcat!

Arkie made a quick comment that deserves more notice. He mentioned Eddy Pennington. Eddy and I were on staff at the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop a couple of times so I got to listen to one of the greatest players in the Travis style living today. It would be worth your time and effort to hunt down his recordings.

I just posted a long winded explanation about 'correct' left hand position on the 'How Do You Hold The Guitar Correctly' thread. Eddy breaks ALL my rules and plays better than I ever will. So much for dogma, I guess.

Mark, you asked a question concerning ragtime music. As I understand it, its defining characteristic is syncopation, not any particular chord groupings. (Of course, I may be a right about this as I am about hand positions.

Best,
Ray


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 10:06 AM

Trust us on this one, Shane--there is a bit more to i it than your method book brings up, though it may be that he is presenting it a little bit at a time. Probably a good idea, since learning the ins and outs of Travis picking could keep you busy for the next 20 years, at least if you gloss over some things;-)

Anyway, welcome, and don't hesitate to post whatever comes into your head(everyone else does)--The best part of Mudcat is that you can ask a music question(even one you think is a little dumb) and get an answer fast!! I am most amaze when someone posts a few words from a forgotten song(of any kind) and the name of the song, the lyrics,the history, and often links to MIDI,streaming audio, or MP3 files appear in only minutes--


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Shane Gibbons
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 10:27 AM

Thanks for the welcome, Marion and M.Ted. I certainly agree that my method book doesn't give the full definition, but M.Ted is right--the author is just introducing the concept of an alternating bass fingerpicking style--(and it sure is fun!). The first alt.bass song is Banks of the Ohio, and the next one is Crawdad. Really fun stuff. There seems to be a lot of murder ballads out there...

Anyway, I've really enjoyed The Acoustic Guitar Method, mainly because of the songs that David Hamburger uses to teach the concepts. It's all roots music. While the arrangements are obviously simple, they are a blast to play, and I can look up the songs here on mudcat and learn tons more about their history and usually about a million more verses than what are printed in my book.

Mudcat has been a great find!

happy Monday all,
shane


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 12:40 AM

Just curious--what key is "Banks of the Ohio" in?


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Shane Gibbons
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 10:00 AM

I play it in A.

I asked my [A]love
to take a [E]walk
take a [E7]walk
just a little [A]walk
down be[A7]side
where the waters [D/F#]flow
down by the [A]banks [E]
of the Ohi-[A]o

The picking pattern (on A) is:

  1  and  2  and  3  and  4  and
T5 I3 T4 M2 T5 I3 T4 M2
(substitute T6 for T5 on the 6 string chords)

shane


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 01:55 PM

That's the key I do it in, as well--Where does the melody line fall in?


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Shane Gibbons
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 09:08 PM

Sorry, M.Ted--not sure I understand the question--I don't hang around many musicians, and I ain't "in" with the lingo. You'll notice from my earlier posts that I'm teaching myself using some books--Clarke Buehling (of Clark Buehling and the Skirtlifters fame) once told me that a self-taught guitar student has a fool for a teacher, but I'm too broke to make use of his advice.

Anyway, I know what melody is, but don't understand the question about where the melody "falls in".

shane


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 16 Jul 03 - 04:18 PM

Sorry, "start" would have been easier to understand, I guess--I kind of view Travis picking as being something akin to juggling while riding a unicycle--first you get the alternating bass rolling, then you drop in business of the balls bouncing around--be that as it may--

Not sure what fingerings you are using, but the way I do it, which is with the open A chord(fingered O-O-2-2-2-O, which is E-A-E-A-C#-E), I am alternating on the A and E with my thumb(twice), and after that second E, I start the melody on the third string with my index finger("I asked my") so I hit "Love"(C#, which is the second fret on the B string) with my index finger, at the same time I make it back to the A bass note--

You can also play it with closed position chords(6 string barre chords) using the F-fingering at the fifth fret or as a using the partial D fingering at the ninth fret, which sounds great on a twelve string, with big rolling open bass notes and high register melody notes--

I recommend lessons, because the teacher knows what you need to know, and can tell you when you've got it right--And, I promise,the combination of these two things can save you years of trouble--However, if you don't have the money, you don't have the money--

A good way to get someone to show you how to do it when you can't pay for lessons is to find someone in a club that is playing in this style, watch them play for a while, then at the break, ask them how it works---Or hang around a folk type guitar store til someone starts Travis-picking and do the same thing--Most often, those who've learned to do do it are glad to pass on a few tips to those who want to learn it--


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Shane Gibbons
Date: 17 Jul 03 - 09:52 AM

Hey M.Ted...thanks for all the tips. When I play Banks of the Ohio, the melody falls in when I start singing. {G} I'm just starting the alternating bass fingerpicking stuff, and it's tough enough just to get my right hand going with the basic pattern. I'm not doing any melody with the guitar yet.

Singing while playing is a recent breakthrough for me, though. It just kinda started working a couple of weekends ago--I'm not sure what made the difference, except that my hands are beginning to be able to go on autopilot so that they leave a few brain cycles left to try to sing the words.

shane


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 11 May 06 - 10:57 PM

Three years is way too long for this wonderful thread to sit idle.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Arkie
Date: 11 May 06 - 11:34 PM

What a timely return.   Tomorrow the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas begins its annual Tribute to Merle Travis.   Thom Bresh, Eddie Adcock, Pat Kirley, and Comer Mullins will be on hand to help with the workshop and join in the concerts as well as judge the National Thumbpicking Competition.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 12 May 06 - 12:01 AM

Yes, I know. I had such a great time when Jan and I were down there. I kept thinking this year we'd get back but it just didn't work out. Next year, sure.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 14 May 08 - 11:23 AM

Well I see two more years have rolled around since this thread was last up. And, as it turns out, I will be attending this year's annual Merle Travis Memorial Thumbpicking Competition in Mountain View, AR.

Joy Ward (a wonderful fiddler) and I will be staying at the Wildflower B&B On The Square Thursday evening until Sunday morning.

Hope to see some of you there.

      - Mark
        Castle Ridge


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 14 May 08 - 11:35 AM

Unfortunately, family obligations prevail--our hearts are with you, though--maybe next year--


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: The Sandman
Date: 14 May 08 - 11:46 AM

well I play melody picking,alternating my basses,this gets more interesting in open tunings,such as dadgbd,or ef#bf#bd#,this last tunig gives you three bass strings for sub dominant chord, dominant chord and tonic chord.
not necessary to alternate basses in this last tuning,but stay on single basses,if you want.
in standard tuning using c and g shapes the pinky becomes important to get extra melody notes or harmony notes such as sixths and ninthsand sus 4 chords.Dick Miles concertina player.http://www.soundlantern.com/UpdatedSoundPage.do?ToId=1247&Path=johnblunt2.mp3http://www.soundlantern.com/UpdatedSoundPage.do;jsessionid=11FED9B21275662033F41E99C2703F51?ToId=563&Path=adieu+sweet+lovely.mp3these last two are in ef#bf#bd#tuning


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: PoppaGator
Date: 14 May 08 - 06:07 PM

Sorry I'll be missing Mountain View AGAIN this year. Maybe someday...

I attended once and once only ~ in 1972,if I'm not mistaken ~ and it was great. Founding Father Jimmie Driftwood was still alive then, of course, and was a featured performer.

FWIW, I began my guitar-player life as a student of Mississippi John Hurt-style picking, generally use three fingers (thumb/index/middle), and rarely if ever mute the bass strings. So I suppose what I do is NOT "Travis" picking, and I've never claimed that it was, anyway.

Great thread to refresh!


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: GUEST,Arkie
Date: 14 May 08 - 07:27 PM

As I was reading through this again I was thinking how timely since the Travis Tribute and National Thumbpicking Competition are coming up again this weekend in Mountain View. I suspected Mark was behind it. Comer Mullins and Steve Rector, two native Kentuckians from the hotbed of Thumbpicking and Ben Hall who may have finally made it out of his teens will be performing and doing a workshop. I promise not to do any picking but will be emceeing the Friday concert.

Eddie Pennington is throwing a big party in Princeton, KY in early June that will feature Thom Bresh and Eddie's son Alonzo and others and there is certain to be a goat ropin' as well. There will be lots of Thumbpicking at both events.

The tendency to use the term "Thumbpicking" does not mean that there is any less respect for Travis. The pickers I know have a deep admiration for Merle, and he was the one who introduced a Kentucky guitar style to the rest of the world. Eddy and other knew Mose Rager, whom Travis often mentioned, and other and their influences were people they knew personally.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 20 May 08 - 03:37 PM

I hope Justa won't mind my using his truly wonderful thread to bring up thumbpicking (Travis picking) related things that aren't directly related to technique. The thumbpicking style as so ably exemplified by Mose Rager, Ike Everly, Merle Travis, Comer "Moon" Mullins, Thom Bresh, Eddie Pennington, Ben Hall, Steve Rector, et al. (and of course Justa Picker), is quite different than the folk style finger picking we more often hear and certainly deserves to be category of it's own.

We got back from Mountain View late Sunday night very tired but very happy. A highlight of the weekend was getting to see Arkie again. Dale Rose lives nearby as well but wasn't in Mt. View while we were there. Maybe next year.

The shows were well done. They included some things that related more to the overall mission of the Ozark Folk Center than to thumbpicking specifically but there was plenty of thumbpicking too. We had a great time picking with the folks around the town square, ran into Glen Ohrlin and got to meet Jon Garon of My Favorite Guitars and play some tunes. Jon was there backing up Steve Rector and to help publicize the new Steve Rector signature model guitar from Gallagher.

If you haven't heard Ben Hall play, you need to do that. Ben is a young man (19 - 20) from Okolona, MS, who plays and sings with the ability and confidence of someone twice his age.Right now he's working with Charlie Louvin and I predict many more great things for him in the years ahead.

Unfortunately, there was no contest this year. Not enough thumbpickers are signing up. I hope more thumbpickers will sign up and compete next year. Justa, are you reading this? This event is too good to let it lapse for lack of interest.

The thumbpicking repertoire tends toward American pop standards from the 1920s and '30s plus tunes specifically composed for the style. It isn't anything at all like bluegrass music but shares aspects with bluegrass. It is one of the very few genres of music where we know exactly who started it, when and how it came to be. It also shares two other things with bluegrass music. They both began in western Kentucky and they both were influenced by an unrecorded African-American musician named Arnold Schultz. Given the amount of music that has come from the people he directly or indirectly influenced, Schultz may be one of the most influential people in the history of American popular music.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: The Sandman
Date: 21 May 08 - 03:57 AM

isnt melody thumbpicking,derived from Maybelle Carter,who was taught by Lesley Riddle,or do you mean something diferent from this when you talk about thumbpicking.Dick Miles


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 21 May 08 - 11:18 AM

Maybelle Carter's style involves playing a usually simple melody on the bass strings of the guitar with a thumb pick while playing the associated chords on the treble strings using a finger pick. The style called Thumbpicking is nothing like that.

Justa Picker provided an excellent description of thumbpicking in this thread's initial post. Read the whole thread to learn even more about the details of playing in the Thumbpicking (AKA, Travis picking) style. Thumbpicking is the other way 'round from what Maybelle Carter played. In thumbpicking the thumb plays a heavy bass line with the strings muted to give the effect of a different instrument. The melody is carried by one or more fingers syncopating the melody through a vastly expanded and embellished set of chord changes. Most thumbpickers eschew the use of finger picks but even Merle Travis used them on occasion in his later years.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 21 May 08 - 01:38 PM

A good description of the differences, Mr. Clark--

Back when these things mattered, there were those who Carter-picked, and those who Travis-picked--Carter-picking being regarded as "Old Time", and Travis-picking as modern. Merle did most of his recording work with an electric guitar(all of this is probably in the thread above, or, if not, in one of the related threads)--Travis-picking isn't an easy thing to pick up, and there are relatively few people who can do it anymore, which probably accounts for the fact that there aren't enough players around for the contest--that idea really depresses me--


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: The Sandman
Date: 21 May 08 - 02:23 PM

well, I do both.
however I dont call it travis picking but piedmont style finger picking check out Etta Baker,JohnHurt,Sam Mcghee,who were doing it long before Merle Travis, a four four bass is played with the the melody


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: The Sandman
Date: 21 May 08 - 02:25 PM

Die-hard Travis picking affectionados will tell you you can only use thumb and index to achieve this specific sound. Well yes and no. Mississippi John Hurt and many other notables use thumb, index and middle and it works just fine, and still gives you the sound. (The pendants can split hairs over it.)


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Amos
Date: 21 May 08 - 02:49 PM

Mark:

You have to stop posting these die-for guitar links. I am losing hours over them!! :D

Thanks,



A


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: GUEST,Arkie
Date: 21 May 08 - 04:26 PM

Thumbstyle guitar is probably related to some of the old blues styles but there is a difference. Around the beginning of the 20th century, Arnold Shultz, Kennedy Jones, and Amos Johnson were known to play this style in Kentucky. Ike Everly and Mose Rager picked it up from earlier players and Merle Travis patterned his playing after Rager and Everly. He was at least a third generation thumbpicker. Travis was creative, personable, determined and very good and his work on WLW in Cincinnati and later on Capitol Records and with Cliffie Stone in California brought exposure to the style. Travis never claimed to have developed the style and readily credited Rager and Everly as his mentors. The name Travis picking became attached to the style because he was the one who introduced the technique to Chet Atkins, Doc Watson, and countless others. I do not know if Eddie Pennington came up with Thumbpicking or someone else but it is more commonly used these days.

Enjoyed visiting with Mark during the Travis Tribute in Mountain View. I had been looking forward to that. Also enjoyed hearing Moon Mullins, Steve Rector, and Ben Hall again. Steve grew up in the same mining community where Travis had been born several generations earlier and had also spent a lot of time with Mose Rager. Moon is originally from Kentucky. I suspect that thumbpickers are bred in Kentucky. Ben Hall, now 19, is from Mississippi and certainly showed that he belonged on stage with Moon and Steve.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 21 May 08 - 08:54 PM

Mississippi John Hurt/et al style is not the same, and does not sound the same. Check it out--Travis Picking--The Real Deal Cannonball Rag


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 21 May 08 - 09:09 PM

Merle could strum it simple, as well--Dim Lights, Thick Smoke...


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 22 May 08 - 12:07 PM

M.Ted, those are great examples of Merle's playing (except for that last one ) and of Thumbpicking in general. Thanks for linking those. Travis made a number of soundies (an early version of today's music video) in the late 1940s. The acoustic guitar you see him playing is his 1938? Marting D-28 with the replacement neck by Paul Bigsby. That neck, reproduced on the first solid-body electrics that Merle designed and Paul built, was the prototype for the first Fender Broadcaster/Telecaster necks.

As others have said, Merle's style is nothing like anyone had heard before. It isn't like the Piedmont styles of Etta Baker, Elizabeth Cotten, Rev. Gary Davis, nor is it like the blues styles of Mississippi John Hurt or Blind Blake.

As Arkie said, it comes from the blues. Originally the thumb just kept a regular, heavy pulse going on the bass strings. It wasn't melodic, just a thump - thump - thump to maintain a heavy beat. Much of what Mose Rager played was done this way. Mose loved the blues and often played them in a convincing African-American style.

I got to see Ike Everly once in concert at the Chicago Folk Festival in the late 1960s. Ike was playing more sophisticated things than Mose is playing in any of the clips of Mose that I've seen. I didn't get to see Ike and Merle side by side so I can't say how close their styles were but I think it's safe to say that in the twenty years that Merle had been making records, Ike probably learned from Merle as well. I can bear witness that Ike was a phenomenal player. I wish there were videos or recordings of his playing. There is a short clip in a video about a reunion concert the Everly Brothers did at Royal Albert Hall. They talk about their background and the film has short clips of both Ike and Mose.

It's tough to define a man's whole musical style in a few words but I think these points (all mentioned above) are key aspects of the Thumbpicking or Merle Travis style:
  • It's very rhythmic, characterized by a heavy bass line played with the thumb. The thumb isn't usually playing individual notes, rather it's playing two or even three strings each time it strikes a beat. The groups of strings selected alternate between beats giving a rocking feeling to the already swinging rhythm.
  • Another key feature of the style is that the bass strings are muted by the heel of the hand at the bridge. This creates a tonal separation between the bass line and the melody creating the impression that more than one instrument is being played.
  • One or more fingers are used to play melody and or harmony notes on the treble strings in a highly syncopated fashion. There is no rule about the number of fingers. I've seen clips of Merle Travis when he added the use of a second finger for short passages. The idea is that you use what you need.
  • The compositions usually selected for this style are ragtime, swing, or jazzy tunes with many more than three or four fundamental chords. Progressions based on I - VI - II - V changes or the circle of fifths are common. To the "canonical" progression is added a myriad of transitional chords using lots of 6th, 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th chords in both major and minor forms. Also augmented, suspended and diminished versions of chords. Merle's playing was possible because he invented or adapted a number of unorthodox chord fingerings and learned to interchange these at will.
  • A performance in this style is intended to sound very slick and commercial. It's not supposed to sound like folk music. It isn't rustic or quaint or simple. The style is very difficult to master. Even great players such as Doc Watson and Marcel Dadi have talked about the long span of time they needed just to learn the fundamentals.

You simply cannot learn this style without listening over and over to the masters. No amount of reading or listening to folk musicians will give you the understanding you need.

As for the number of fingers used, it doesn't matter. Thom Bresh, Merle Travis' son, uses three fingers and his thumb. Doc Watson mostly uses his index finger and thumb taking his cue from Merle. I remember trying for years to get Doc's Guitar to sound right but there were a couple of little notes that were never correct. My index and middle finger just tripped over each other. When I discovered that Merle (and Doc) confined themselves mostly to the index finger, I decided to try it that way. It took a lot work but I finally got it. It turned out it was easier to play it with one finger than with two.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: The Sandman
Date: 22 May 08 - 12:45 PM

ok,and I know who I prefer to listen to,and its not Merle,why?because for all his slickness, he has lost something,its called soul.Now thats only my subjective opinion,and we all have different tastes and likes /dislikes.
for me Etta Baker and John Hurt have got it .Merle aint.
granted Merle wrote some good songs,[dark as the dungeon etc]
playing in the style of Merle Travis,as far as I am concerned is a dead end,I think developing ones own style,should be the goal of any performer,being a clone of anyone ,Martin Carthy,Merle Travis Nic Jones is in my opinion a mistake.Dick Miles


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: GUEST,DWR
Date: 22 May 08 - 06:23 PM

Yes, Mark, I am sorry that I missed you in Mountain View over the weekend. I should have been there, but just didn't make it up.

I should have posted this earlier, but KFFB (Follow the Listen Live Link) in Fairfield Bay, AR has a radio show from the Folk Center archives at 7AM Central every Saturday Morning.

Last week we had Comer Mullins doing   Eight More Miles To Louisville and the week before we really had the show well loaded with guitarists in anticipation of the Travis Weekend with Eddie and Martha Adcock, Steve Rector, Duck Baker and Mollie Andrews, and Comer Mullins and Ben Hall playing together.

This Saturday, Comer Mullins is on a couple of times, but mostly as a backup, though when Moon plays guitar, it really never is "backup."

1)    Comer Mullins and Jo Fudge -    On The Sunny Side Of The Street
2)    Buffalo Gals -    Mary Of The Wild Moor
3)    Herbin' League -    Travelin' Shoes
4)    Ron and Alisa Wall and Friends -    I Love These Ozark Hills
5)    Taylor McBane and Bob Atchison -    Jack-O-Diamonds
6)    Barnes Family -    Cambric Shirt
7)    Larry Nelson Family -    I'm Living The Right Life Now
8)    Ariel Hempel and Friends -    This World Is Not My Home
9)    Lifted Up -    Take Your Shoes Off Moses
10)    Charley Sandage and Harmony -    The Sinking Of The Sultana
11)    Classic Country -    One More Ride
12)    Erin and Amber Rogers -    John Stinson's #2
13)    Mary and Robert Gillihan -    Storms Are On The Ocean
14)    Uncle Doc Wilhite -    I'se Gwine Back To Dixie
15)    Jean Jennings and Pam Kirby -    Bonaparte Crossing The Alps

I think Mudcatters are likely to enjoy these live performances from the Ozark Folk Center stage, some going as far back as 1973, the first year of operation and some more current recordings.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 22 May 08 - 10:01 PM

You don't have to like it, Dick, but at least now,thanks to the miracle of YouTube, you know what it is. It is a bit disconcerting to me that when this thread was started, it wasn't possible to hear and see Merle online--because a lot of the misconceptions that Justapicker was addressing with this thread stemmed from the fact that people hadn't actually heard what Merle did.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: The Sandman
Date: 23 May 08 - 07:37 AM

m ted.I Admire it from a technical point of view.It reminds me when hes singing long john,of the phrase white man singing the blues,now Jimmie Rodgers[yodelling Brakeman] a white man and technically not as proficient as Merle Travis,did sing with feeling and did not sound like a white man singing the blues
I agree its great to be able to see it.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: HarleySpirit
Date: 23 May 08 - 08:42 AM

Thanks! A very informative thread indeed!
I've been using an "Alternative Travis/Carter Picking Style" which I would like to share with you.
I have discovered that "Speed Picking", "Triplets" or "Chick'n Picking" melody lines are possible by simply changing the travis thumb down strum to index or middle finger alternate picking "down'up/down'up"... a type of "guitar frailing" if you will.
Let me explain as in 4/4 count: (1, 2&, 3&, 4&)
1 - Thumb 5th string down stroke (with optional index pinch)
2 - Index down stroke with back of nail
& - Index up stroke
3 - Thumb 6th string down stroke
& - Index up stroke
4 - Index down stroke with back of nail
& - Index up stroke
Repeat pattern as desired.
The index down stroke can strike a "single" note or multiple notes/strings, if desired, as if struming with a pick.
The middle finger can replace index finger strokes at times if that fits into your style.
Combined with single index finger alternate picking melody line riffs, "plectum" hi-speed picking can really be attainable for the fingerstyle player.
I have not seen this method mentioned by others. Have I discovered something new here? Or is this style a tried and tested method used by others as well.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: M.Ted
Date: 23 May 08 - 10:06 AM

Well, as a white man who sings the blues, I obviously don't have a problem with it--even still, both playing and singing styles changed a lot from the time of Jimmie Rodgers to the time that Merle was recording. Merle was a top recording artist in a Post-war market that wanted modern sounding country music--and "modern" at that time was Frank Sinatra and Vaughn Monroe--

Post-war country music is a bit paradoxical, because the audiences wanted the contemporary sounds and dance beats, but they also wanted something that was overtly rural, and "old time"--


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Subject: RE: Merle Travis's birthday (29 November 1907)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 23 May 08 - 01:33 PM

Here's a post from Dale Rose (he had trouble getting it to "take"):


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Jayto
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 02:34 PM

Yeah man your are right. Merle learned from Mose Rager. They both used only the index and thumb to play. The also used thier thumb noting and muting the bass strings. They called it "choking" it. People around here still say "chokin' the box" and that goes back years to the early thumbpickers. If you are chokin' the box you are useing your thumb to note and mute the strings on your guitar (or box). Thumping it is another term used alot around here. Mose flat thumped that thing. He had a thumb lick like you wouldn't believe. Merle a hard one as well but Mose's lick was big. Mose didn't alternate on the bass strings though. To the best of my knowledge none of what they call the 4 legends (Ike Everly, Mose Rager, Arnold Shultz, and Kennedy Jones) alternated on the bass strings. Merle created the appearance of alternating by working his thumb to hit his (let's say for example) Big E string noted in the 5th fret and then open giving an A note then E note. He did that alot. The old timers before Merle didn't alternate though from what I have ever heard. Now the pickers that learned from teh old cats have incorporated all kinds of techniques through the years. When they get really traditional with it or play one of the really old songs they will stop alternating most of the time. Rarely do they go back to just the index finger though. When I started playing guitar that is how I was taught was just the index finger and thumb. Of course the heavy mute on the bass strings (something I still do to this day). I learned my forward rolls and everything with just the thumb and index finger. Now there is no way I could hit them like that because I got away from doing them like that so long ago I have lost the touch. Merle played them like that his whole life as did Mose.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Jayto
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 02:46 PM

Kennedy Jones was often heard telling people that he learned the "Thumb lick" from his mother Alice Dearmond Jones. They called him Jonesy and several people have talked about him saying that. I heard his son say it one day the Jonsey always said he learned it from Alice Dearmond Jones as well. Ike played a big role in the development of the style but Mose was one of the biggest contributers. He was the grandaddy in most peoples opinion in Muhlenberg County. It is odd that alot of people (younger people) around here know more about Mose than they do Merle. I will start playing some kind of thumbpicking thing and stories about Mose will start pouring out. I have always thought that was funny. I have never heard any recordings of Jonesy or Shultz. I don't even know if any exist. They all used to congregate at the railroad crossing in Cleaton Kentucky at night. My great Grandfather owned a store right by the crossing. He died way before I was born but I would have loved to talk with him about it. He owned the store the same time periond they used to meet there. They said they would pick for hours. I have always wondered about something. Rosine is not that far away from Cleaton and you know how musicians ramble around and congregate. I wonder if Bill or Charlie Monroe ever stopped by for a jam. Bill and Charlie were rounders and got all over the country side so who knows. I have never heard any stories or anything but I can;t help but wonder. I just saw this post and had to add to it.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Jayto
Date: 05 Sep 08 - 02:59 PM

Ah man I was just reading and saw where some of ya'll went to Mt. View this last May. I was there but I didn't go the Folk Center. I was down at the court square picking all night. I went downtown about 1 or 2 pm and jammed with people until like 2am. I played with 2 thumbpickers toward the end but I can't remember thier names. I played at the yellow store thingy with a killer bass player. My girlfriend and I went out for the contest but they didn't have it so I went dowtown and jammed all day instead. If any of you on here went down to the court square after the Folk Center maybe we met and didn't realize it. Funny man small world.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 06 Sep 08 - 12:03 PM

Jayto, I think you jammed with me and my friend Joy, a fiddle player. I remember enjoying your playing and admiring your technique. You can probably still find an old picture of me here on Mudcat and maybe at the Castle Ridge Web site. I remember you talking about coming for the contest but finding it had been called off for lack of contestants.

I think the other person jamming there was Jon Garon, a fine thumbpicker and one of the performers on the bill that weekend. Jon is also the owner of My Favorite Guitars, probably the country's largest Martin dealer. Jon was there accompanying Steve Rector and helping to promote the new Steve Rector signature guitar model from Gallagher.

If we get down to your area, we'll have to look you up.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: GUEST
Date: 02 Jul 13 - 09:56 PM

Hello,
I was taught to use my thumb and three fingers, using a Alternating bass finger-picking pattern. T(thumb) T6- 3 (String Number)
T6- 3- T4-2 T5- 1 T4- 2. This bass pattern only works on chord roots based on the 6string. So, learn this pattern with the E, F or chords in the open position. E is a good choice.
To play a C chord, where the root lies on the third fret, 5th string, you would pick the T5 string first, then alternate with the other two bass strings. As in, T5, T4, T6, T4. However, I caution you to only learn the first pattern. Once you have that down, I mean so well that you don't even have to think about what your right hand is doing... about 6 months into the learning process. Before that, you will probably not be ready to attempt anything else. But, you need to know that just striking the E string for every single chord won't work. You have to learn that the Root of any chord is the Name of that chord. So, let's say you want to play C7 chord. The Root of that chord is it's name. ans. = C bass note. Root for Bmin. is =B etc. C11+9 would be C. etc. Root goes by first letter of the chord. To really make this finger-picking pattern your own, you must practice it every day, an hour a day is enough. Now, playing the pattern is one thing, adding lead into the pattern is a whole nuther ball game. It can be done, but you have to work into it slowly with the pattern already firmly in your mind. So, only practice the first pattern alone, while learning and the other two patterns will take care of themselves. What is the third pattern? The Open D pattern uses the third pattern. The D chord has D as it's root and the T4 begins the pattern as follows. T4-T3-T5-T4. This pattern only uses TWI fingers on strings 1 and 2. However, many times you might prefer using the C7 chord at the 3rd fret, making the Root the D at the 5th fret, 5 string. A tad easier, so you don't have to move your hand around so much. Also, even though many prefer to touch the body and strings with your right hand while finger-picking, I consider that to be very poor technique. But, I am a classically trained guitarist, albeit, self-taught. So, I do not touch any part of the face of the guitar with my pinky or my palm to slightly muffle the bass stings. If you want to allow the strings to sing, hold your harm almost parallel to the strings and allow your hand to hang down, hovering over the strings. Now, it is not impossible, in fact it took me about a day to get used to the position. Your hand actually is much more relaxed and you can play for hours and not become tired, as you would if you used your pinky on the face of the guitar to steady your hand. I was surprised at the ease of learning this position and playing becomes extremely easy. I see many people play guitar using the pinky as an aid, and they play well. However, that position makes your hand strain and become tired quickly. However, there are many ways of playing guitar and however you do it is up to you. But, if you want to play guitar with ease and play for hours without strain, this is the way to do it. Good luck and happy Guitar playing, Regards, Everett Bonds.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 22 Sep 14 - 04:37 PM

I was doing a Web search for a number called Tuck Me To Sleep In My Old 'Tucky Home and a link to this thread popped up. It was nice to rediscover it.

Joy and I were down in Mountain View, AR, last May for the 2014 edition of their Thumb Picking Weekend. We had a great time meeting with friends, attending workshops and concerts, and playing lots of music. Our friend Doc Rogers from NH got first place in both the traditional and contemporary contests. Another friend, Dean Phelps, was last year's winner.

I asked about Arkie but people told me he is ill with Parkinson's Disease. We didn't get to see him nor did we see Dale Rose. Too bad.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: GUEST,Arkie
Date: 22 Sep 14 - 07:34 PM

Mark, I don't get out as often as I would like but am getting around a little. Don't make it to the Folk Center all that much but am still doing the Saturday morning radio show. I thought about you and would like to have spent a little time at the guitar contest. Sadly, Dale Rose passed away a couple of years ago.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Jeri
Date: 22 Sep 14 - 07:47 PM

Obit thread for Dale. We're losing so many good people...

I'm glad to see Mark & Ark back here, if only for a brief visit.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: The Sandman
Date: 23 Sep 14 - 03:46 AM

i think the secret with finger picking is to be experimental mix up different techniques, try using carter style for one phrase, and maybe piedmont style for another phrase, dont always stick to altenating bass sometimes use bass on same string TO avoid predictability.
take Travis picking and adapt it.


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: Mark Clark
Date: 24 Sep 14 - 12:37 PM

Good Soldier: Your observation is a good one. There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of wonderful ways to pluck the strings of a guitar with one's fingers. No one should feel bound to slavishly imitate the playing of another person, no matter how innovative.

However, this thread, begun more than twelve and a half years ago by the very knowledgeable Justa Picker, was started in order to clarify what Travis Picking (generally called thumb picking) actually is and how to go about learning the technique employed by Merle Travis, Mose Rager, Ike Everly, and others. Sadly, nearly any folk fingerstyle is mistakenly referred to as "Travis Style" or "Travis Picking" these days even when the techniques have nothing in common with the way Merle, et al., played. People (mis)use the term who have never heard a recording of Travis and have no idea how his playing sounded. There is a real treasure trove of information here in this thread that is otherwise difficult to find and learn. It is my hope that this thread will remain a resource and inspiration for those wishing to learn Merle's style and not become a catch-all discussion of all the various ways a guitar may be played.

With respect.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Travis Picking - Misconceptions
From: The Sandman
Date: 24 Sep 14 - 12:39 PM

fair enough, Mark.


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