Many guitarists know the term “Travis picking,” which describes a certain style of fingerpicking the guitar, but only a small percentage actually have heard the playing of the man it’s named after. Nowadays, like many labels musical and otherwise, “Travis picking” refers more to a broad range of fingerstyle guitar techniques that were inspired by Merle Travis’ original playing than to the playing itself.
Andrew DuBrock’s latest guitar tutorial book, Travis Picking (A Guitarist’s Guide to Fingerpicking Techniques, Patterns and Styles) does an excellent job of giving the guitarist the best of both worlds. He not only breaks down the essential elements of Travis picking, he also provides tips and insights into the playing techniques and idiosyncrasies of this guitar legend, as well as those of Chet Atkins.
Travis Picking is divided into three parts, each dissecting and discussing the three essential elements of the Travis style. First you get the foundation – the solid thumping of the alternate bass notes being played with the thumb while the fingers handle bits and pieces of the chords on the offbeat. Once you get a good grasp of the basic syncopated style involved in Travis picking, DuBrock then guides you step by step to embellish what you’ve learned with three-string bass patterns and pinches of melody notes on the higher strings. He also gives you instruction on incorporating walking bass lines into your picking as well as demonstrates variations on the patterns you’ve learned.
All the time spent on the basics prepares you for the book’s second section, which focuses on adding melody lines into the mix. Not simply adding the melodies, you’ll also enhance them with syncopation and dynamic shifts in notes all made possible by what you’ve learned about Travis picking. Additionally, you get some advice about taking creative liberties with the accompanying chords.
The instruction you get on either one of these two sections is already more than what most books offer you. But on top of this you get a third section that goes into the personal styles of both Merle Travis and Chet Atkins, full of helpful examples and exercises to help you understand and absorb the amazing techniques of these great guitarists.
For those of you who haven’t read any of the fantastic books he’s already written, Andrew DuBrock’s teaching and writing style is a gift to guitarists of all levels. While this book requires the reader to have more than a beginner’s skill set, DuBrock patiently guides you through each step of the process of adding the Travis picking style to your personal repertoire. He is thorough and encouraging and he is also a lot of fun to read!
The CD that accompanies the book is well recorded and DuBrock’s examples are played cleanly and clearly. Some beginners may want to have a “slow downer” type software to have some of the examples played at a slower speed. As the examples become more complicated he does break them down into very short bits which are easy to pick up at the speeds demonstrated on the disc. And his playing is as inspirational as it is helpful.
As mentioned, this book isn’t for the very beginner, but anyone who wants to learn how to create the magic that Travis picking can add to one’s playing should own a copy. You won’t be a beginner forever and Travis Picking will help you make great progress with your fingerstyle playing.