** As featured in issue 27 **
Objective: Learn a simple hybrid picking guitar technique, learn how to play a Travis style rhythm on a 12 bar Blues chord progression in the key of A.
This type of rhythm guitar was popularised by guitarist James Burton in the 1960s. He played and recorded with Elvis Presley on many of his songs. James Burton came up with a Travis style guitar hook that came to be known as the Elvis vamp because it was played at the beginning of every Elvis Presley concert to bring him on stage. The guitar riff was heard by millions. To hear this vamp watch any number of live Elvis concerts on YouTube.
This style is named after Merle Travis and has become known as Travis picking.
Travis picking is a fingerstyle technique where a simple melody is played over an alternating ostinato bass line. It creates the illusion of two guitars playing simultaneously! The muted ostinato bass line is played with the thumb and the melody is played using the middle and ring fingers on the higher strings. The style became known as Rockabilly. Guitarist Brian Setzer is one of the well-known artists that continue to keep the Rockabilly tradition alive.
Getting the sound:
In order to get this rhythm to sound like two guitarists playing at the same time, mute the bass strings using the heel of your right hand and allow the high strings to ring. For even more authenticity, use a slap back delay set at about 140 mls.
Example 1 is a Blues in the key of A. Let’s break it down:
The first 4 measures are on an A chord. Set up the rhythm by fretting the A chord on the top 4 four strings: A, C#, E and A on strings 4, 3, 2 and 1 respectively. Barre with your first finger to play the top two strings of the chord.
The bass notes are going to alternate on the bottom three strings. They will alternate as quarter notes in this order: 5, 4, 6, and 4.
The 5th and 6th strings will be played open and the 4th string will be already fretted.
The bass notes are played with your pick and the higher or melody notes are played using your middle finger.
On the first quarter note, play the open 5th string. The second beat is strings 4 and 1 played simultaneously. This is called a pinch.
Continue alternating bass notes and play the syncopated higher notes using your middle finger. It’s best to watch and listen closely to the video breakdown for this lesson and imitate it rather than having me describe every move.
Play this two bar phrase for 8 measures.
The 4 chord in this example is a D6/9 chord fretted in the fifth position. Refer to the video for fingering details. The bass notes alternate in this order: 5, 4, 6, 4. In order to play this pattern you’ll have to move middle finger between the 5th and 6th strings. The high notes are simply the upper two notes of the D 6/9 chord and played using the same syncopation as the one used in the A chord.
Play this two bar phrase for 4 measures.
The E chord is also a 6/9 played in the 7th position. The bass notes will alternate on strings 5,4,6,4.
The cool riff at the end is a bluesy open string lick in the key of A. Let’s break it down:
The rhythm is steady 1/8 notes and is played using an alternating motion between your pick and your middle finger.
Step 1: Pull off from A to G on the first string. Then play an Eb on the second string followed by an E or open first string.
Step 2: Pull off from D to C# on the second string. Then play a B on the third string followed by a C# on the second string.
Step 3: Pull off from A to G on the third string. Then play F# on the fourth string followed by G or the open third string.
Step 4: Pull off from E to D on the fourth string. Then play C# on the fifth string. Finish by playing an A or open fifth string.
Example 2 is also a blues in the key of A and is a variation of Example 1. Like the first example the idea here is to play a simple syncopated melody on top of steady muted alternating bass notes
Start by fretting an A chord on the top three strings in the 9th position. C#, E, A and C# respectively. The bass notes will alternate on strings: 5, 4, 6, and 4.
You’ll need two fingers to play the high notes on this one. The high notes are syncopated against to bass notes. Use your third finger to fret the F# on the third string and your little finger to fret the E on the first string. Watch the companion for the video for the syncopation of this one.
The IV and V chords are the same as the ones in example 1. D 6/9 and E 6/9. The bass notes alternate: 5, 4, 6, 4. The high notes are the top two strings of the 6/9 chords. The syncopation is the same as before.
For the ending tag I play the same open string blues lick that I did in the first example.
Practice slowly and have fun!