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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
JenEllen 06 Feb 02 - 11:53 AM
Marion 06 Feb 02 - 03:49 PM
Justa Picker 06 Feb 02 - 04:21 PM
catspaw49 06 Feb 02 - 04:33 PM
GUEST,Arkie 06 Feb 02 - 05:28 PM
53 06 Feb 02 - 09:34 PM
katlaughing 07 Feb 02 - 12:20 AM
JenEllen 07 Feb 02 - 12:49 AM
M.Ted 07 Feb 02 - 11:18 AM
Peter T. 07 Feb 02 - 11:26 AM
JenEllen 07 Feb 02 - 11:36 AM
Marion 07 Feb 02 - 05:52 PM
John Hardly 07 Feb 02 - 06:15 PM
John Hardly 07 Feb 02 - 06:17 PM
Justa Picker 07 Feb 02 - 06:46 PM
Justa Picker 07 Feb 02 - 06:50 PM
John Hardly 07 Feb 02 - 08:13 PM
Rick Fielding 08 Feb 02 - 12:07 AM
Justa Picker 08 Feb 02 - 08:47 PM
Justa Picker 09 Feb 02 - 08:43 PM
Zipster 11 Feb 02 - 09:52 AM
Mark Clark 11 Feb 02 - 10:11 AM
Mark Clark 13 Feb 02 - 11:53 AM
M.Ted 13 Feb 02 - 01:03 PM
GUEST,Marion 19 Feb 02 - 04:49 PM
Justa Picker 19 Feb 02 - 05:31 PM
Rick Fielding 19 Feb 02 - 09:49 PM
Mark Clark 19 Feb 02 - 11:36 PM
Justa Picker 20 Feb 02 - 12:01 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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