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Introduction and Right Hand Technique (Guitar Lesson)


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Jim Deeming

Introduction and Right Hand Technique

Jim Deeming talks a bit about the history of Merle Travis and his guitar playing. He also explains the basics of his right hand technique.

Taught by Jim Deeming in Style of Merle Travis seriesLength: 10:59Difficulty: 2.5 of 5
Introduction
A broad range of fingerpicking is labeled as “Travis Picking.” However, Merle Travis played in a very distinct and unique style that deserves to be studied and imitated. In this lesson series we will look at several aspects of Merle Travis' style that involve both left and right-hand techniques, discuss how to apply them to song arrangements.

As a supplement to this lesson, I encourage students to make good use of the several videos available (as of the time of this writing) on YouTube containing original performances by Merle Travis.

History
Merle Travis was born in 1917 in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. This was coal mining country and is a recurring theme in some of the many songs he wrote. It also is the source of some of his guitar influences. Most importantly was the playing of Mose Rager, a barber and coal miner Travis credited with much of his inspiration. Also he learned from Ike Everly (the father of Don and Phil – The Everly Brothers).

We will focus here on the guitar of Merle Travis, but his career as a song writer is a large topic in itself, worth reading to the interested student. In addition to being elected to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1977, he was also inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1970, having written many chart topping songs recorded by the likes of Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Doc Watson, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Glen Campbell, Hank Thompson, Tennessee Ernie Ford and others.

We will take a careful look at some things that distinguish Travis Picking from the style used most popularly by Chet Atkins, but it is important to note that Chet always cited Merle Travis as one of his earliest and biggest influences.

Right Hand Technique
There are two main attributes of Travis' right hand technique that set it apart from many thumb or finger styles.

First, Merle Travis played almost exclusively with the index finger – he did not use the second or third fingers for picking. In fact, frequently fingers two, three and four were "anchored" to the face of the guitar.

Second, although he used what appears to be an “alternating” thumb technique that at first glance seems to be the same as Chet Atkins style, it has subtle differences.

Travis tended to use the thumb and thumbpick very aggressively, often to the point that each beat was a “mini-strum”, striking two strings at the same time. For example, the sixth and fifth strings would be played for one beat, alternated by the fourth and third.

This is particularly unique when applied to chords such as open or first position C where the root note is not on the sixth string. Instead he would fret a sixth string, third fret G note and that is effectively played as the root – with emphasis.

Critical to making this style work then is a healthy dose of palm muting. That, combined with the two-string strum of the thumb provides a very percussive accompaniment to either the melody or vocals.

I suspect that Travis developed the style this way because even though he was a talented picker and arranger, the guitar's first job was to accompany him singing songs. In effect then, he built a fingerstyle technique for rhythm guitar.

This is not a trivial technique to get comfortable with and provides some challenges that seem like limitations to guitarists (like myself) already experienced with using two or three fingers on the right hand.

For example, adjacent string rolls are hard to do. The technique is to downstroke the thumb across all of the strings in the roll except for the highest one – the one that the roll will end on – and upstroke that string with the index finger.

This takes a great deal of practice to get smoothed out and play at speed, but Merle Travis developed it very effectively and even used it in such fireball songs as “Cannonball Rag.”

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Member Comments about this Lesson

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ozzbox33ozzbox33 replied on December 18th, 2015

What a brilliant lesson Jim

danonwheelsdanonwheels replied on August 23rd, 2015

I cant wait to have a go yippee!!!!

gbrandogbrando replied on March 21st, 2013

Very interesting... I'm excited to learn more! I highly enjoy Merle Travis's style in finger picking; its quite the phenomenon.

slide4949slide4949 replied on December 24th, 2012

Great Jim, I may have missed it but what is the name of this tune?

wrightitdownwrightitdown replied on December 7th, 2011

I can't seem to grasp how the melody and bass weave together. Is there a slow or tabbed out explanation of it somewhere?

stratmusicstratmusic replied on November 23rd, 2010

Great lesson Jim! I am really excited to see the rest of the videos in this series and learn this style!

dj.phillipsdj.phillips replied on November 23rd, 2010

Excellent.

Style of Merle Travis

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Merle Travis is one of the biggest names in the world of Fingerstyle guitar. In this series Jim Deeming will walk you through the tricks Merle employed to give his music that unique "Travis Picking" sound.



Lesson 1

Introduction and Right Hand Technique

Jim Deeming talks a bit about the history of Merle Travis and his guitar playing. He also explains the basics of his right hand technique.

Length: 10:59 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 2

Left Hand Technique

In this lesson, Jim Deeming talks about Merle Travis' left hand technique.

Length: 10:52 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 3

Merle Travis Turnaround

Jim Deeming teaches a turnaround in the style of Merle Travis. Get your thumbpicks ready!

Length: 15:44 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 4

Travis Style Chords

Jim Deeming teaches several chord shapes that Merle Travis used extensively.

Length: 15:54 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 5

Travis Style Banjo Roll

Jim Deeming demonstrates how Merle Travis played a banjo-style roll.

Length: 4:38 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only

About Jim Deeming View Full Biography Jim Deeming got his first guitar when he was only six years old. His Dad was taking fingerpicking lessons, and Jim wanted to be just like him. The Mel Bay books didn't last very long before he strapped on a thumb pick and added the Chet part to Red River Valley so it sounded better.

Most of Jim's early learning was by ear. With unlimited access to his Dad's collection of Chet Atkins albums, he spent countless hours decoding his favorite songs. They were never "right" until they sounded just like Chet. Around the age of 12, Jim heard Jerry Reed for the first time and just knew he had to be able to make that "Alabama Wild Man" sound. The styles of Chet & Jerry always have been a big influence on his playing.

More recently he has pursued arrangements by Tommy Emmanuel and Doyle Dykes, in addition to creating some of his own and writing originals.

Jim has performed in front of a variety of audiences, including concerts, competitions, weddings and the like, but playing at church has always been a mainstay. Whether playing in worship bands or guitar solos, gospel music is deep in his roots and is also the driving theme behind his debut CD release, titled "First Fruits".

Jim has been playing for about 38 years. He also has taught private lessons in the past but believes JamPlay.com is an exciting and better venue with many advantages over the traditional method of weekly 30 minute sessions.

Jim lives in Berthoud, Colorado with his wife, Linda, and their four children. Although he still has a "day job", he is actively performing and is already back in the studio working on the next CD. If you wonder how he finds time, look no further than the back seat of his truck where he keeps a "travel guitar" to take advantage of any practice or song-writing opportunities he can get.

The opening song you hear in Jim's introductory JamPlay video is called, "A Pick In My Pocket". It's an original tune, written in memory of Jim's father who told him early on he should always keep a pick in his pocket in case he ever met Chet Atkins and got the chance to play for him. That song is slated to be the title track for his next CD, which will feature several more originals plus some of his favorite covers of Chet and Jerry arrangements.

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