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Finger Picking Lessons; Patterns #1 – 4

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Start by thinking in terms of picking patterns.  We will begin with patterns known  as “Travis picking”. The “Travis pick” is a finger picking “style” that basically means you will be alternating between your thumb and fingers as you “pick” or play the strings of the guitar.  That is, you will pick a string with your thumb, then pick a string with one of your fingers.  Then back to the thumb again, only this time on a different string, followed by another finger on another string, and so on.  (Merle Travis is where the “Travis pick” got its name but actually he only used one finger and a thumb in imitation of his fathers banjo playing.  But when I teach the Travis pick we will use three finger picks for reasons discussed on the other pages of this site.  For our purposes we’ll refer to this as “Travis picking.” or the “Travis pick” even though it isn’t exactly the same way that Merle Travis did it.( click to review)

There are many variations of the “Travis pick” or “Travis picking.”  Please try to learn as many as you can.  You will also find on this site other finger picking patterns that are not “Travis picking.”  Your goal will be to learn one finger picking pattern (or variation) then go on to the next.  Once you’ve learned the 2nd pattern, go back to the 1st until you can play them both smoothly while changing from one pick pattern to the other in one continuous flowing rhythm.  Then add a 3rd pattern.  Learn to play all three changing back and forth.  Add a 4th and so on.  The changes here from one pattern to the next are small.  But by the time you get to picking pattern #13 you will see a big difference from picking pattern #1.  Because you have made those changes gradually from one pattern to the next you will find the picking patterns are easier to learn.  It’s like building blocks, because one picking pattern builds on the previous picking pattern and so on.    

By the time you learn the first nine Travis picking patterns shown on this site, you can start to think again about your left hand again.  Then, you will be ready to start making progressive chord changes and learning some songs. I’ll explain more about that after pattern #9. 

FOR NOW — Remember that your only working on your RIGHT HAND skill.

So concentrate solely on your picking hand… nothing else.

With these first four picking patterns you’ll be int the FIRST POSITION with your right hand. 

What is that?

Read Finger Picking Hand Position to find out before beginning the picking patterns.


Guitar finger picking Tab.
Picking Pattern
#1  (Travis pick)
Start this
Travis finger picking pattern by pinching the 4th and 1st strings with your thumb and 2nd finger.  Begin each measure with a “pinch”.  (your pinching the notes “d” and “f #” in the D chord)

Start very, very, very slow. Remember it’s more important to play the picking pattern correctly then going fast.

Speed will come in time.  DO NOT rush it!  Remember and use the RULES for HOW to Learn  finger picking found on the above mentioned page that you should read…  Practice those RULES for the best results.

To understand how to read the Tablature on this site.


Notice that both measures are exactly the same. So repeat over and over until smooth and rhythmic.

Audio samples  / Pat.1.slow / /   

     D   chord    

………2    T    1    T    2    T    1             2    T    1    T    2    T    1
………T                                                 T
……(Pinch)                                         (Pinch)


Guitar finger picking Tab.
Picking Pattern
#2   (Travis pick)

Pinch to start this finger picking pattern in the 1st measure.  Notice that the second measure it is not the same as the first.  In the second measure there is no PINCH with the 2nd finger and Thumb.  The thumb starts the second meaure without a pinch.  Repeat both measures over and over until smooth, continuous rhythm.  You will only pinch every other measure.

Audio samples  / Pat.2.slow  /  /  /

  D   chord   

……….2     T     1     T     2     T      1                     T     2     T      1      T      2     T      2


Another exercise – try playing without returning to the first measure. That is start with the “pinch” then continue playing the picking pattern without returning to the pinch. So you’re playing only the second measure over and over. This will help sound down into your memory the pattern.

After doing this for some time then return to the first measure where you begin with a “pinch”.  Then repeat the second measure three or four times before returning to the first. Learn to begin with a pinch at any given interval. Buy changing back and forth you will learn to do the pinch at any time you feel you would like to.


Guitar finger picking Tab.
Picking Pattern
#3   (Travis pick)

This finger picking pattern is the same as exercise #1 except you alternate the bass thumb from “d” string to “a” string.  When learning this pattern you want to concentrate on the bass notes as you increase your finger picking speed.  Practice this until you can “Think” about the “bass pinch”, but then just let the other notes automaticly happen with little thought.

Audio samples  / Pat.3.slow /  /

D   chord


……..2     T    1    T     2    T    1         2     T    1    T    2    T    1
……..T                                               T  


Guitar finger picking Tab.
Picking Pattern
#4   (Travis pick)

Pinch to start this pattern.  Alternate the bass thumb.  Second measures you don’t pinch.
Again, “think” about the “bass” line.   Try to just let the other notes happen as you play.
Repeat over and over until mastered.  Concentrate on the thumb as you’re learning these.

Audio samples / Pat.4.slow  /  /


D   chord

         2   T    1    T    2    T     1         T   2    T    1    T    2    T    1

Now try these exercises:

After you have these basic guitar finger picking patterns down and you can pick them without interruption, there are some things you can do to help you further imprint the picking patterns in your mind.  

One thing you can do is to accent individual notes each time as you pick a pattern.  For example in Pattern #1 start by accenting (or picking harder) the fist notes (those you pinch) more then the rest of the notes in the pattern.  Do that each time you come to those notes. 

Next, accent only the second note.  Make it stand out above all the rest of the notes in the pattern. In this case it would be the “a” note, picked with the thumb.  Accent it every time you hit that note and do not accent any other notes in the pattern. 

Then do the same with the third note.  Accent it and no others in the pattern and so on until you have learned to accent each note individually in the pattern.   Doing this exersise will not only help with memory, it will also help with your coordination.  It will also help later when you want to perform certain licks, chord progressions and add melody lines as your finger picking a song.  

Here is an exercise
you can do to help you increase speed. Begin picking a pattern at a slow tempo and as you do continue to increase speed gradually. Go faster and faster until you are going as fast as you can and keep picking for as long as you can and as fast as you can without making any mistakes.
If you begin to make mistakes –
Then- STOP!!!

Start again very slowly this time and pick all the strings very hard!  As you do this increase your speed slowly. Keep picking the string very hard, increasing speed until you are going as fast as you can without mistakes. Go as fast as you can for as long as you can.
When you start to make mistakes STOP!!!  

Start again, but this time very lightly picking the strings, very soft and faintly, as you do… increase speed.  Go as fast as you can and as lightly as you can.  Notice as you increase speed you will want to play the strings harder.  DON’T do it.  Keep it soft, Soft, SOFT!  Until you start to make mistakes and then…  STOP!!!

Try Again…. Again…. and Again….

You will notice that your speed and ease of playing will improve as you do these exercises. By going back and forth with these exercises and using a metronome you will actually see your improvement in speed.

Your metronome will show you that you have improve.

These variations in approach will help you to learn all new pick patterns and should be used for all of the patterns you attempt to master.  

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