Merle Travis Unique Fingerpicking

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Merle Travis is a name that every guitar enthusiast and musician should know. He was a country music singer, songwriter, and guitarist who was known for his unique fingerpicking style. This style has influenced countless musicians and has become a cornerstone of country and bluegrass guitar playing. In this blog post, we will explore Merle Travis’ unique fingerpicking style, its history, and how you can learn it.

Who was Merle Travis?

Merle Travis was born in 1917 in Rosewood, Kentucky, and grew up in a musical family. His father was a coal miner and a fiddler, and his mother played the guitar. Travis started playing the guitar at a young age and was largely self-taught. He developed his unique fingerpicking style, which is characterized by a thumb-picking pattern that plays the bass notes while the fingers play the melody.

Travis’ career spanned several decades, and he recorded numerous albums and singles. He also appeared on radio and television shows, and even had his own show, “The Merle Travis Show,” which aired from 1955 to 1956. Travis passed away in 1983, but his music and legacy continue to live on.

The History of Merle Travis’ Fingerpicking Style

Merle Travis’ fingerpicking style was heavily influenced by the music of his childhood, which included country, blues, and gospel. He was also influenced by other guitarists, such as Mose Rager and Ike Everly (the father of the Everly Brothers). Travis’ style is often referred to as “Travis picking” or “fingerstyle,” and it involves using the thumb to play the bass notes while using the fingers to play the melody.

Travis’ fingerpicking style gained popularity in the 1940s and 1950s, and it has since become a staple of country and bluegrass guitar playing. Many musicians have adopted this style, including Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, and Tommy Emmanuel.

How to Learn Merle Travis’ Fingerpicking Style

Learning Merle Travis’ fingerpicking style can be challenging, but it is definitely worth the effort. Here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Start by learning the basic thumb-picking pattern. This pattern involves using your thumb to play the bass notes on the lower strings while using your fingers to play the melody on the higher strings.
2. Practice the thumb-picking pattern slowly at first, and gradually increase the speed as you become more comfortable.
3. Learn some basic chords and practice switching between them while using the thumb-picking pattern.
4. Once you have the basic thumb-picking pattern down, start adding in some melody notes with your fingers.
5. Practice, practice, practice! The more you practice, the more natural the fingerpicking pattern will become.

Songs to Learn in Merle Travis’ Fingerpicking Style

Here are some songs that are great to learn in Merle Travis’ fingerpicking style:

1. “Cannonball Rag” – This is a classic fingerpicking song that is a great introduction to Travis’ style.
2. “I Am a Pilgrim” – This is a beautiful gospel song that is a staple of Travis’ repertoire.
3. “Blue Smoke” – This is a catchy country song that is a great way to practice your fingerpicking skills.
4. “Deep River Blues” – This is a blues song that is often associated with Travis, even though it was originally written by Doc Watson.
5. “Reuben and Rachel” – This is a fast-paced instrumental song that is a great way to show off your fingerpicking skills.

The Legacy of Merle Travis’ Fingerpicking Style

Merle Travis’ fingerpicking style has had a profound impact on the world of guitar playing. It has influenced countless musicians and has become a cornerstone of country and bluegrass guitar playing. Travis’ legacy lives on through his music and through the many musicians who have adopted his fingerpicking style.

Interested in learning more about fingerpicking styles in country music? Discover the unique fingerpicking techniques of a legend like Merle Travis in our articles on Merle Travis fingerpicking and Merle Travis fingerstyle legend. Dive deeper into the world of country fingerpicking with insights on ACR country fingerpicking, Travis picking in country music, and country fingerpicking techniques.


Merle Travis’ unique fingerpicking style is a must-learn for any guitar enthusiast or musician. It is a challenging but rewarding style that has influenced countless musicians and has become a staple of country and bluegrass guitar playing. By following the tips and practicing the songs outlined in this blog post, you can learn Merle Travis’ fingerpicking style and become a better guitarist. So grab your guitar and start practicing today!

About the author

Hi there! I’m Jack Little – an avid country music fan with tons of live country performances in the past. I used to play banjo in a country band with my best friend John Peters, who’s a true country harmonica master. Those were great years and I’m still mastering new banjo playing techniques, writing my own country songs and lyrics, and collecting banjos!

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