As you listen to country music, you may have noticed the intricate and captivating patterns of guitar playing known as fingerpicking and Travis picking. But have you ever wondered about the history and development of these techniques? How did fingerpicking start, and how did it evolve into the modern Travis picking style we hear today? And which notable players have left their mark on this influential aspect of country music? In this article, we will delve into the fascinating story of fingerpicking and Travis picking, exploring the different styles and techniques, and the impact these techniques have had on country music and beyond. So grab your guitar and let’s take a deep dive into the fascinating history of fingerpicking and Travis picking in country music.
Fingerpicking: The Early Days
The sound of fingerpicking is an integral part of country music, with its roots tracing back to the early days of the genre. From basic chord progressions to intricate fingerstyle arrangements, fingerpicking has been used to accompany country lyrics and create a full-bodied sound that defines the genre. In fact, many beginner guitar players who want to get into country music might start with learning fingerpicking techniques.
In this section, we’ll delve into the history of fingerpicking and its evolution in country music. We’ll examine the origins of the genre, the emergence of different fingerpicking styles, and the influence of legendary musicians such as Merle Travis, who have helped shape the sound of country music. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player looking to improve your fingerpicking skills, this section will offer valuable insights.
The dawn of fingerpicking in country music
In the early days of country music, guitar playing was limited to simple strumming. However, as the genre evolved and guitar players became more skilled, a new technique emerged: fingerpicking. This allowed guitarists to play more complex melodies and rhythms while accompanying singers or playing instrumental breaks. Fingerpicking involves using the picking hand fingers to pluck individual strings of the guitar rather than strumming with a pick.
One of the earliest examples of fingerpicking in country music can be heard in the playing of Riley Puckett, a member of the seminal country band, the Skillet Lickers. His fingerpicking style was characterized by alternating bass notes and melody lines played with the higher strings. This technique was further developed by other early country musicians such as Lesley Riddle, a guitarist and vocalist who played with A.P. Carter of the Carter Family.
Speaking of the Carter Family, they were instrumental in the proliferation of fingerpicking in country music with their signature style that came to be known as the “Carter Family picking.” This style relied heavily on alternating thumb strokes on the bass strings, often called “boom-chick” style, as well as intricate melody lines that weaved in and out of the rhythm. Songs like “Wildwood Flower” and “Can the Circle Be Unbroken” became famous for the unique fingerpicked arrangements created by the Carter Family.
Another important figure in the history of fingerpicking is Merle Travis. Travis was known for his use of a thumbpick in addition to his fingers, allowing him to play even more complex arrangements. His brand of fingerpicking became known as “Travis picking” and was characterized by a steady bass line played on the lower strings while the fingers plucked intricate melodies on the higher strings. Learn more about Merle Travis and his fingerpicking style.
These early fingerpicking pioneers laid the groundwork for the country guitar style that we know and love today. By developing new techniques and incorporating diverse musical influences, they helped to transform the guitar from a mere accompaniment instrument to a complex and nuanced lead instrument. If you’re interested in learning more about fingerpicking as a beginner, check out our beginner’s guide to electric guitar fingerpicking in country music.
The emergence of the Carter Family style
During the early days of fingerpicking in country music, many artists were experimenting with different styles and techniques. One of the most influential of these early styles was the Carter Family style, pioneered by the Carter Family trio.
The Carter Family style was characterized by its use of a steady bass line played on the lower strings of the guitar, while the melody was picked out on the higher strings. This technique, known as “thumb brushing,” allowed for a full, rhythmic sound even with just one guitar.
A.P. Carter was the primary songwriter for the group and was responsible for many of their most popular songs. Maybelle Carter, his sister-in-law, was the guitarist for the group and was the one who developed the Carter Family style of guitar playing.
Maybelle used a unique picking pattern, using her thumb to brush the bass notes while her fingers plucked the melody. This became known as the “Carter lick” and was a signature sound of the Carter Family’s music. Maybelle’s innovative technique had a significant impact on subsequent generations of country guitarists and was a precursor to the Travis picking style that emerged in the mid-20th century.
The Carter Family’s blend of tight harmonies and fingerstyle guitar playing captured the hearts of audiences and had a profound influence on the country music genre. Their legacy can still be felt today, with many contemporary artists including their songs in their own performances and recordings.
If you want to learn more about the Travis picking style that emerged later in country music history, check out our article on Travis Picking for Country Guitar. And if you’re looking to improve your fingerpicking skills, be sure to read our article on How to Improve Your Fingerpicking for Country Guitar.
The influence of Merle Travis
Merle Travis is often credited as one of the most influential fingerpickers in country music history. His unique thumb-picking style, known as Travis picking, has greatly influenced subsequent generations of fingerstyle guitarists. Here are some of the key ways in which Merle Travis left his mark on the genre:
- Popularized the use of a steady bass line: In Travis picking, the thumb plays a steady bassline while the fingers play the melody and syncopated rhythms on the higher strings. This technique, which is now commonplace in fingerstyle guitar, was largely pioneered by Merle Travis.
- Incorporated jazz-inspired chord progressions: Travis was known for incorporating complex chord changes and jazz-inspired harmonies into his songs, creating a sound that was both sophisticated and accessible to mainstream audiences.
- Influenced later fingerstyle guitarists: Merle Travis was a major influence on later fingerstyle guitarists such as Chet Atkins, Doc Watson, and Tommy Emmanuel. His innovative techniques inspired countless musicians to explore the possibilities of fingerstyle guitar and helped to establish the technique as a central part of the country music lexicon.
In fact, Travis picking has become so closely associated with country music that many people use the terms “fingerpicking” and “Travis picking” interchangeably. However, as we’ll explore later in this article, there are actually many different styles of fingerpicking, each with its own unique characteristics and techniques.
If you want to learn more about famous country guitar riffs and fingerpicking or the differences between fingerstyle and Travis picking in country music, check out our articles 5 Famous Country Guitar Riffs You Need to Know with Fingerpicking and Fingerstyle vs. Travis Picking in Country Music: What’s the Difference?.
Travis Picking: The Modern Sound
For those learning to play the guitar, they may come across the term Travis picking. This style of fingerpicking is named after Merle Travis, the country musician who popularized it in the 1940s. But where did Travis picking come from and how did it evolve into the modern sound it is today? In this section, we’ll explore the origins of Travis picking and its impact on country music. Get ready to delve into the world of fingerstyle guitar!
The origins of Travis picking
It is said that the origin of Travis picking can be traced back to the African American blues musicians of the early 20th century. However, the style got its name from its most iconic player, Merle Travis.
Travis picked up the technique from Mose Rager, a Kentucky guitarist who used a thumbpick and two fingers to create a distinctive sound. Travis adapted the technique and added his own flair, creating a style that was unique and immediately recognizable.
Travis picking is characterized by using the thumb to pick out a steady bassline, while the fingers play melodies and fills on the higher strings. It was this approach that allowed Travis to accompany himself on the guitar while singing, creating a full sound without the need for a band.
Travis’ style was hugely influential and inspired countless guitarists who came after him. Perhaps one of the most famous examples of this is Chet Atkins, who was a protege of Travis and went on to become a legend in his own right.
Atkins took the Travis picking style and expanded upon it, incorporating elements of jazz and swing music to create a sound that was both sophisticated and accessible. His use of harmonics and his fingerstyle arrangement of popular songs made him a household name and helped to popularize the technique even further.
Today, Travis picking continues to be an important part of country and folk music. Its unique sound and rhythmic drive have stood the test of time and continue to inspire new generations of guitarists.
The signature sound of Chet Atkins
When it comes to Travis picking, the name that immediately comes to mind is Chet Atkins. He is known for his impeccable technique and his ability to create a smooth, flowing sound on the guitar. Here are some of the signature elements of Chet Atkins’ playing:
- Bass and treble lines: Chet Atkins was a master of creating a bass line with his thumb and melodies with his fingers. This gave his playing a full, rich sound with a distinct separation between the bass and melody.
- Arpeggios: Chet Atkins often used arpeggios in his playing, which involves playing the notes of a chord in a specific order. This added a certain elegance and complexity to his playing.
- Harmonics: Chet Atkins also incorporated harmonics into his playing, which involves lightly touching the string at a specific point to create a bell-like tone. This added a unique texture to his playing.
- Chord substitutions: Chet Atkins was known for his use of chord substitutions, which involves replacing a chord with a different chord that has a similar sound. This added a certain unpredictability and complexity to his playing.
- Jazz influences: Chet Atkins was heavily influenced by jazz guitarists such as Django Reinhardt and George Barnes. He incorporated jazz chord progressions and techniques into his playing, which gave it a sophisticated edge.
All of these elements combined to create Chet Atkins’ signature sound, which was both technically impressive and incredibly musical. He inspired countless guitarists to take up the fingerpicking style, and his influence can still be heard in contemporary country music.
The adaptation of Travis picking in contemporary country music
Travis picking, a fingerpicking style originated by Merle Travis, has played a crucial role in shaping the modern sound of country music. This unique playing style has been adapted and incorporated into contemporary country music by various artists, adding new dimensions to the genre’s sound.
Artist | Song | Year |
— | — | — |
Keith Urban | “Stupid Boy” | 2006 |
Brad Paisley | “Letter to Me” | 2007 |
Taylor Swift | “Teardrops on My Guitar” | 2007 |
Kacey Musgraves | “Follow Your Arrow” | 2013 |
Blake Shelton | “Savior’s Shadow” | 2016 |
One of the earliest examples of Travis picking in contemporary country music is Keith Urban’s “Stupid Boy” from 2006. The song features a beautiful fingerpicking intro and accompaniment throughout, showcasing the elegance of Travis picking. Similarly, Brad Paisley’s “Letter to Me” also incorporates Travis picking in the intro and verses, adding a touch of nostalgia to the song’s sound.
Taylor Swift’s breakout hit “Teardrops on My Guitar” features a simple yet effective Travis picking pattern, adding a delicate and emotional quality to the song. The use of fingerpicking in country music is not limited to just guitars, as Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow” features a ukulele with a fingerstyle arrangement. The song’s fingerpicking style is reflective of Musgraves’ eclectic approach to country music, showcasing her artistic versatility.
In 2016, Blake Shelton released “Savior’s Shadow,” a gospel-inspired track that features Travis picking throughout the song. The song’s instrumentation beautifully blends traditional gospel elements with the modern sound of country music, showcasing the versatility of Travis picking as a playing style.
These contemporary songs demonstrate the enduring popularity and versatility of Travis picking in modern country music. By incorporating this fingerpicking style in their music, these artists have added a new dimension to the genre’s sound, infusing it with a touch of tradition and elegance.
Fingerpicking and Travis Picking: Techniques and Styles
As country music evolved over time, so did the styles and techniques of guitar playing. One of the most distinctive and complex approaches to country guitar is fingerpicking and Travis picking. These techniques require a unique combination of finger movements, rhythm, and melody to create a complex and lush sound that sets them apart from other playing styles. In this section, we will explore the fundamentals of fingerpicking and Travis picking and delve into the different styles and variations that have been developed by players over the years. By the end of this section, you will have a deeper understanding of the intricacies of these techniques and how they have shaped the sound of country music.
The fundamentals of fingerpicking and Travis picking
When it comes to fingerpicking and Travis picking, understanding the fundamentals is key to mastering the technique. Here are some of the essential elements to keep in mind:
|Dynamics||One of the most important aspects of fingerpicking and Travis picking is the ability to create dynamics by varying the volume and intensity of each note. Typically, the thumb plays the bass notes, while the fingers handle the melodies, allowing for a wide range of dynamics and tonal variation.|
|Accuracy||As with any guitar technique, accuracy is essential in fingerpicking and Travis picking. Each note must be played cleanly and precisely, with no extraneous noise or buzzing. This requires careful attention to finger placement and picking technique.|
|Rhythm||The rhythmic feel of fingerpicking and Travis picking is unique, with a steady, flowing pulse that creates a sense of motion and momentum. The thumb sets the pace, creating a steady foundation for the melody to dance around.|
|Independence||One of the most challenging aspects of fingerpicking and Travis picking is developing independence between the thumb and fingers. This allows for intricate melodies and harmonies to be played simultaneously, giving the impression of multiple guitar parts being played at once.|
|Technique||There are various techniques involved in fingerpicking and Travis picking, including finger placement, picking direction, and thumb placement. These all contribute to the overall sound and feel of the technique.|
|Practice||As with any new skill, practice is essential to becoming proficient in fingerpicking and Travis picking. Regular practice, focusing on accuracy, dynamics, and independence, can help develop the necessary skills to master this technique.|
By focusing on these fundamentals and incorporating them into your playing, you can develop a solid foundation in fingerpicking and Travis picking that will allow you to play with precision, nuance, and expression.
Different styles and variations of fingerpicking and Travis picking
Fingerpicking and Travis picking both have various styles and variations that have been utilized by country music artists throughout history. Here are some of the most popular ones:
|Carter Family Style||A technique pioneered by Maybelle Carter, where the thumb plays the melody on the bass strings while the fingers play the rhythm on the treble strings. This produces a distinctive sound that is heard in classic country hits such as “Wildwood Flower.”|
|Merle Travis Style||A more complex fingerpicking approach, where the thumb picks the bass and melody parts together while the fingers play intricate rhythms on the higher strings. This style is known for its syncopated rhythms and was made famous by Merle Travis, who wrote hits like “Sixteen Tons” and “Dark as a Dungeon.”|
|Chet Atkins Style||A variation of Travis picking that involves using the thumb to play a bass line while the fingers pick out a melody on the higher strings. This style produces a more mellow sound and was popularized by Chet Atkins, who is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time.|
|Clawhammer Fingerpicking||A technique often used in old-time music, where the thumb plays the melody while the fingers strike the strings in a downwards motion, similar to the motion of clawhammer banjo playing. This produces a percussive sound and a distinctive rhythm.|
|Thumbpicking||A style of fingerpicking where the thumb plays both the bass and the melody simultaneously. This technique is often seen in the playing of artists like Merle Travis and Jerry Reed and produces a full and robust sound.|
|Hybrid Picking||A style that combines fingerpicking and flatpicking, where the fingers and a guitar pick are used together to produce a more intricate and complex sound. This technique is used by many contemporary country guitarists such as Brad Paisley and Keith Urban.|
These variations require skill and practice to master, but they provide a range of sounds and tones that make fingerpicking and Travis picking integral parts of country music.
Notable Fingerpicking and Travis Picking Players
As we delve deeper into the history of fingerpicking and Travis picking in country music, it’s impossible not to recognize the incredible talent and artistry of the many players who have shaped and defined these styles. From the early pioneers who laid the foundation to the modern-day virtuosos who continue to push the boundaries, there is a rich legacy of fingerstyle guitar players who have left their mark on the genre. In this section, we highlight some of the most notable and influential fingerpicking and Travis picking players of all time. Prepare to be dazzled by their impressive skills and unique styles.
The legendary pioneers of fingerstyle guitar
Fingerstyle guitar has a rich history, and its pioneers have left an indelible mark on the genre. Let’s take a closer look at some of the legendary figures who helped shape the world of fingerpicking and Travis picking.
|Artist||Contribution to Fingerstyle Guitar|
|Merle Travis||Merle Travis helped develop the Travis picking technique, a style of fingerpicking that involves playing alternating bass notes with the thumb while the other fingers play melodies on the higher strings.|
|Chet Atkins||Chet Atkins was responsible for bringing fingerstyle guitar into popular music, inspiring generations of players with his use of harmonics, intricate chord progressions, and impeccable technique.|
|Maybelle Carter||Maybelle Carter, of the Carter Family, played a pioneering role in fingerstyle guitar with her use of the “Carter scratch,” or “thumbbrush” technique. She used her thumb to play both the melody and the bass notes on the guitar, while the other fingers played harmonies and fills.|
|Doc Watson||Doc Watson was a seminal figure in bluegrass and folk music, known for his intricate fingerpicking and flatpicking styles. He was a pioneer of the “high lonesome” sound, and his use of alternate tunings and complex chord progressions set the template for generations of fingerstyle guitarists.|
|Blind Blake||Blind Blake was a ragtime guitar player who combined fingerstyle techniques with syncopated rhythms and complex chord progressions. His recordings in the 1920s and 30s were groundbreaking and helped set the stage for the development of fingerstyle guitar.|
These legendary fingerstyle guitarists paved the way for countless others to follow in their footsteps. Their contributions to the genre have ensured that fingerstyle guitar remains a beloved and dynamic art form to this day.
Modern-day players who continue the legacy
When it comes to the legacy of fingerpicking and Travis picking in country music, there are several modern-day players who have continued to push the boundaries and keep these techniques alive.
Here are some notable players who have made a significant impact:
|Tommy Emmanuel||Australian fingerstyle guitarist known for his dynamic playing and use of percussive techniques.||“Classical Gas,” “Angelina,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”|
|Lindsey Buckingham||Fingerstyle guitarist and founding member of Fleetwood Mac, known for his intricate picking and use of alternate tunings.||“Big Love,” “Never Going Back Again,” “Landslide”|
|Brad Paisley||Country singer-songwriter and guitarist known for his virtuosic playing and incorporation of rock and blues influences.||“Mud on the Tires,” “Whiskey Lullaby,” “Then”|
|Keith Urban||Australian country singer-songwriter and guitarist who combines fingerpicking with rock and pop influences.||“Blue Ain’t Your Color,” “You’ll Think of Me,” “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16”|
|Andy McKee||Fingerstyle guitarist and YouTube sensation known for his unique percussive techniques and use of altered tunings.||“Drifting,” “Africa,” “Rylynn”|
|Brent Mason||Session guitarist and studio musician known for his fast and fluid playing, combining country and jazz influences.||“Hot Wired,” “Allergic to Work,” “Swingin’.”|
These players have taken the foundations laid by the early fingerstyle guitarists and added their own unique voices, incorporating elements from other genres and pushing the boundaries of what is possible on the guitar. Whether through intricate fingerpicking, percussive techniques, or melodic solos, these modern-day players continue to impress and inspire listeners around the world.
The Impact of Fingerpicking and Travis Picking on Country Music
As one delves deeper into the history of fingerpicking and Travis picking in country music, it becomes increasingly apparent that these styles of guitar playing have left an indelible mark on the genre. In this section, we will explore the lasting impact that fingerpicking and Travis picking have had on country music, from the way songs are written and arranged to their influence on other genres. It’s truly remarkable how the mere act of plucking the strings in a certain way can shape an entire musical landscape. Let’s take a closer look at the intricate and fascinating relationship between fingerstyle guitar and country music.
The influence on songwriting and arranging
Fingerpicking and Travis picking have had a significant impact on songwriting and arranging in country music. These styles of playing provide a unique texture and rhythm to a song, allowing for more intricate melodies and harmonies.
Here are a few ways fingerpicking and Travis picking have influenced songwriting and arranging:
- Creating a strong sense of rhythm: Fingerpicking and Travis picking rely heavily on consistent finger movements, which create a strong and steady rhythm. This aspect can be utilized in songwriting to create a strong foundation for the melody and lyrics to sit on.
- Adding complexity to melodies: Fingerpicking and Travis picking allow for a player to incorporate more complex melodies and harmonies into their playing. This added complexity can make a song more interesting to listen to and provide a unique take on an otherwise simple tune.
- Allowing for solo arrangements: Many fingerpicking and Travis picking players are able to play both the melody and accompaniment simultaneously, which means they can play solo arrangements of songs. This innovation has allowed for more flexibility in the way songs are performed and arranged.
- Inspiring new songwriting techniques: Fingerpicking and Travis picking have inspired many songwriters to write songs specifically for these styles of playing. This inspiration has often led to very innovative and creative songwriting techniques.
All in all, the influence of fingerpicking and Travis picking on songwriting and arranging is undeniable. These playing styles have allowed for more complex and intricate arrangements, while also creating a strong foundation for any song. It’s no wonder that many country music legends have utilized these techniques in their music, and why modern-day players continue to incorporate them into their playing.
The incorporation of fingerstyle guitar in other genres
Fingerstyle guitar has not only impacted the world of country music, but has also influenced various other genres. Its influence can be seen in genres such as blues, jazz, folk, and even rock. Below are some examples of how fingerstyle guitar has been incorporated into these different genres:
- Blues: Fingerpicking and Travis picking techniques have been utilized in blues music to enhance its traditional sound. Blues performers such as Mississippi John Hurt and Blind Boy Fuller are known for their use of fingerpicking for their blues ballads.
- Jazz: Fingerstyle guitar can be heard in jazz music with its harmonically rich chords and intricate melodic lines. Jazz legends such as Django Reinhardt and Wes Montgomery are well-known for their use of fingerstyle guitar, creating a unique sound in the jazz genre.
- Folk: Fingerpicking and Travis picking techniques have been a mainstay in traditional folk music. Artists such as Pete Seeger and Joan Baez used fingerstyle guitar to accompany their poetically driven songs.
- Rock: Fingerstyle guitar has been used in rock music to create distinctive sounds and memorable riffs. Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits is a well-known fingerstyle guitar player, using this technique to create their instantly recognizable hit, “Sultans of Swing.”
As we can see, fingerstyle guitar has influenced many genres beyond country music. Its versatility and unique sound have allowed it to find a place in various musical styles, encouraging its evolution and innovation for years to come.
As we come to the end of our journey through the history, techniques, players, and impact of fingerpicking and Travis picking in country music, it is clear that these styles have left an indelible mark on the genre.
Fingerpicking and Travis picking have played a significant role in the evolution of country music, from its earliest days to the modern sound that we hear today. As we learned, fingerpicking emerged as a means of adding melody and rhythm to accompany vocals, with the Carter Family style being a defining influence on the genre. The evolution of fingerpicking continued with Merle Travis, who added complexity and speed to the technique, inspiring a generation of guitarists.
Travis picking marked a new era in fingerstyle guitar, with Chet Atkins being the most iconic player of the style. His signature sound helped popularize fingerpicking and Travis picking, and his influence can still be heard in contemporary country music.
Fingerpicking and Travis picking offer a unique set of techniques and styles, allowing for a wide range of expressive possibilities. Guitarists can explore a variety of techniques, from alternating bass lines to thumb independence, and incorporate different variations based on their musical preferences.
Notably, fingerpicking and Travis picking have given rise to some of the most legendary and innovative guitarists in the history of country music. From the pioneers of the genre, such as Mother Maybelle Carter and Merle Travis, to modern-day players like Tommy Emmanuel and Brad Paisley, fingerstyle guitar continues to produce new talents and push the boundaries of what is possible on guitar.
Overall, the impact of fingerpicking and Travis picking on country music cannot be overstated. From songwriting and arranging to live performance, these styles have transformed the genre, creating a rich tapestry of sound and technique that continues to evolve with each new generation of guitarists. We can only imagine what exciting developments lay ahead for fingerstyle guitar and country music.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is fingerpicking?
Fingerpicking is a guitar playing technique that involves plucking the strings of the guitar with individual fingers instead of a pick.
2. Who is considered the father of fingerstyle guitar?
Chet Atkins is often credited as the father of fingerstyle guitar, as he popularized the technique and created a trademark sound with his innovative approach to fingerpicking.
3. What is Travis picking?
Travis picking is a fingerpicking technique that originated from the playing style of Merle Travis. It involves alternating the thumb between the bass strings while the fingers play melodic lines on the higher strings.
4. Can fingerpicking be used for lead playing?
Absolutely! Fingerpicking can be used for both rhythm and lead playing. It’s a versatile technique that allows for a wide range of expression and musical styles.
5. Is fingerpicking difficult to learn?
Like any guitar playing technique, fingerpicking requires practice and patience to master. However, with consistent practice and dedication, anyone can learn to fingerpick.
6. What are some famous songs that use fingerpicking?
“Dust in the Wind” by Kansas, “Blackbird” by The Beatles, and “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin are all well-known songs that use fingerpicking techniques.
7. Can fingerpicking be used on electric guitar?
Yes, fingerpicking can be used on both acoustic and electric guitar. While it’s more commonly associated with acoustic guitar playing, many electric guitarists use fingerpicking in their playing.
8. What is a fingerstyle pattern?
A fingerstyle pattern is a repeating picking pattern that forms the basis of a song or instrumental piece. It’s often used as an accompaniment to a melody or lyrics.
9. Can fingerpicking be used in other genres of music?
Absolutely! While fingerpicking is often associated with country and folk music, it can be used in many different genres, including blues, jazz, and rock.
10. How has fingerpicking influenced modern guitar playing?
Fingerpicking has had a profound impact on modern guitar playing, as it’s inspired countless guitarists to explore the possibilities of the instrument beyond traditional strumming techniques. It’s helped create a unique and diverse guitar sound that continues to evolve to this day.