Learn how to use the Travis picking technique on guitar with Lars Schurse. It can be really useful when you play folk music, but also everything from ragtime to the blues.

Named after country guitarist Merle Travis, the Travis picking technique is achieved by alternating the thumb between two (and sometimes three) bass strings in steady quarter notes while the fingers pluck the higher strings, usually between the quarter notes (on the off-beats).


I was always intrigued by Merle Travis‘ and Chet Atkin‘s guitar arrangements, where they played melody, chord accompaniment and bass line at once.

Due to the father of this guitar style, you call this technique “Travis picking”. Today we will examine this technique and with a little practice you should be able to write your own Travis picking arrangements.


Exercise #1

This exercise shows how Travis picking can be used to play a jazz standard such as John Coltrane‘s Giant Steps.


“Giant Steps.gp”
(click on the image to download the Guitar Pro file)



Let’s break this technique down into its components.

First of all, grab an A7 barre-chord in the fifth position. Exercise 2 – 4 are built around this chord shape.


Exercise #2

This exercise shows you the bassline, the basis of the arrangement. You play the root on beat ‘1’ the fifth on beat ‘3’ of each bar. Be sure to palm mute those bass strings and use downstrokes exclusively.


“Exercise 2.gp”
(click on the image to download the Guitar Pro file)



Exercise #3

Example 3 adds chord notes on D- and G-string. These are played on beat 2 and 4. Again you should strictly use downstrokes.


“Exercise 3.gp”
(click on the image to download the Guitar Pro file)



Exercise #4

The final step is adding melody notes on the higher strings. Those should be plucked with your middle finger (m) and ring finger (a).


“Exercise 4.gp”
(click on the image to download the Guitar Pro file)



Exercise #5

Now let’s look at the modifications you have to make when the root of the chord is located on the A-string like in this D9-voicing.

In this case, you’ll find the fifth for the alternating bass in the same fret as the root, only on the E-string.


“Exercise 5.gp”
(click on the image to download the Guitar Pro file)



Exercise #6

Add chord tones on ‘2’ and ‘4’.


“Exercise 6.gp”
(click on the image to download the Guitar Pro file)



Exercise #7

Melody notes on B- and E-string.


“Exercise 7.gp”
(click on the image to download the Guitar Pro file)



Exercise #8

Now you should experiment with this technique: Write your own Travis picking arrangements!

You can find Giant Steps on my album Noodlin’ which is available on iTunes and Amazon.

Lars Schurse is the author of the books Rockabilly Gitarre and Country Gitarre which are available on Amazon.


Alex - janv. 7, 2018

I sadly cant open the .gp files with GuitarPro 6, but i really want to learn some of the parts.
Are they available in another file format or is the problem on my computer?

linda - janv. 8, 2018

Hello Alex, to open .gp files you need Guitar Pro 7. The others posts are available in .gpx for Guitar Pro 6.

John - janv. 3, 2018

Thanks for Giant steps I a ma country blues travis picker and ragtime player who also plays jazz rhythm and chord melody I rarely mix the two so your arrangement of Giant steps is welcome. I have only ever tried alternating bass with autumn leaves now I have another travis picked jazz standard. Thx again. JH

Devon Liston - janv. 1, 2018

Please be encouraged to send more material. Thank you. All the best for this and many years to come.

Chet Campbell - janv. 1, 2018

love to learn how to pick like that, trying to get that “country” sound is part of it…..

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