Travis Picking with an Anchored Left-Pinky Finger

Lesson #227 • Mar 18, 2019

Video Overview

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Editor’s Notes

Over the past week, I’ve been practicing my Travis fingerpicking with a distinct focus on two techniques that are new to me. First, I’ve been working on anchoring my right pinky on the guitar near the sound hole - which adds stability to my picking hand (so it isn’t floating in space). Second, I’m focusing on only using my right index finger to pick notes played on the thinnest three strings —— this might seem like it complicates things, but in practice I find it actually frees up my mind from wondering which finger to use. In combination, these technique have made Travis picking a whole lotta fun to practice – and I want to share with you the exercises I’ve been using.

For context, I found myself in this groove while starting to practice the John Moreland song “Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars”. Watching live video of him playing, I noticed he is using the two techniques I describe above. These are things I’d read about before, but seeing them used made me determined to give them a whirl. The exercises to follow us the opening intro to that song, as well as the intro to “Clay Pigeons” which is one the only other songs I’m able to Travis pick at this time. Ultimately, I’m noticing my confidence with this style go up – which feels great! I look forward to learning it on various other songs of this style. In the meantime, here’s the notes from this recent practice milestone.

Here’s the video of John Moreland playing “Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars,” which kicked off this entire exercise:

I hope this helps out if you too are looking to learn how to Travis pick! Special thanks to Barkley for the support on Patreon, as well as recommending this song – I’ve had John Moreland on repeat all week and have been loving his music. - David Potsiadlo (March 18, 2019)

Chords we’ll be using

First, let’s understand the chords used in this lesson. For the G, we’ll want to be fluent with these three variations:

E ––––––                     E ––––––                     E ––3–––  <= Left pinky f.
B ––0–––                     B ––3–––  <= Left pinky f.   B ––0–––
G ––0–––                     G ––0–––                     G ––0–––                        
D ––0–––                     D ––0–––                     D ––0–––                        
A ––x–––    (muted)          A ––x–––    (muted)          A ––x–––    (muted)             
E ––3–––  <= Left ring f.    E ––3–––  <= Left ring f.    E ––3–––  <= Left ring f.       
    G                            G                            G                           

And for the C & D chords, we’ll want to use these voicings. The C is technically a C/G, but let’s just call it a C – the important thing to note is that your left ring finger stays in the same spot that it is when playing the G. For the D (technically a D/F#), it may feel very unnatural when compared to a typical xx0232 D shape. Give this one a shot though, once you get familiar with it I believe you’ll find it quite helpful when it comes to this style of playing.

E ––––––                          E ––––––
B ––1–––  <= Left index f.        B ––1–––  <= Left index f.
G ––0–––                          G ––2–––  <= Left ring f.
D ––2–––  <= Left middle f.       D ––0–––
A ––x–––    (muted)               A ––x–––    (muted)
E ––3–––  <= Left ring f.         E ––2–––  <= Left middle f.
    C                                 D               

Understanding the domain of the right index finger

After we understand that the right thumb will always be alternating between the 6th (thickest) and 4th strings, we can then focus on using our right index finger on the 3 thinnest strings. Whenever a note is played on any of those strings, within this exercise, I’ll pluck the string with my right index finger.

E ––3–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  <= right index
B ––0–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  <= right index
G ––0–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  <= right index
D ––0–––     ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––    (right thumb)
A ––x–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                
E ––3–––     ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––    (right thumb)
    G          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

E ––0–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  <= right index
B ––1–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  <= right index
G ––0–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  <= right index
D ––2–––     ––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––    (right thumb)
A ––x–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                
E ––3–––     ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––    (right thumb)
    C          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

E ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  
B ––1–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  <= right index
G ––2–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  <= right index
D ––0–––     ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––    (right thumb)
A ––x–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                
E ––2–––     ––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––    (right thumb)
    D          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

John Moreland’s “Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars” intro tab

Note, this is played capo 5 on his album.

Phrase 1 of 5

E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––0–––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––
G ––––––––––––0–––––0h2–––––––2–––––0–––––––––0–––––––––––0–––––––––
D ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––3–––––––3–––––––2–––––––2–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––
    G               D               G               G               
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Phrase 2 of 5

E ––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––1–––––––––––––––––––––1–––––––––3–––––––––1–––––0–––––––––––––––
G ––––––––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
D ––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––
    C                               G                               
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  

Phrase 3 of 5

E ––3–––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––––––––––––––––––––––1–––––––––3–––––––3–––––––1–––––––––––––––
G ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
D ––––––0–––––––0–––––––2–––––––2–––––––0–––––––0–––––––2–––––––2–––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––
    G               C               G               C               
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Phrase 4 of 5

E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––0–––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––0h1–––––––––––––
G ––––––––0–––––––––0h2–––––––2–––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
D ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––2–––––––2–––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––3–––––––3–––––––2–––––––2–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––
    G               D               G               C               
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Phrase 5 of 5

E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––
B ––0–––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
G ––––––––0–––––––––0h2–––––––2–––––0–––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––
D ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––3–––––––3–––––––2–––––––2–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––
    G               D               G                               
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

John Prine’s “Clay Pigeons” intro tab

Note, this is played capo 3 on his album.

Phrase 1 of 4

E ||––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
B ||––––––––0–––––––––0h1–––0–––––––––|––––––––1–––––––––1h3–––1–––––––––|–
G ||––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
D ||––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––|––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––|–
A ||––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
E ||––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––|––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––|–
      G                                  C                               
      1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Phrase 2 of 4

E –|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
B –|––––––––0–––––––––0h1–––0–––––––––|––––––––––––––––––0h1–––0–––––––––|–
G –|––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––2–––––––––––––––––––2–––––|–
D –|––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––|––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––|–
A –|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
E –|––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––|––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––|–
      G                                  D                               
      1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Phrase 3 of 4

E –|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
B –|––––––––0–––––––––0h1–––0–––––––––|––––––––1–––––––––1h3–––1–––––––––|–
G –|––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
D –|––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––|––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––|–
A –|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
E –|––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––|––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––|–
      G                                  C                               
      1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Phrase 4 of 4

E –|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––||
B –|––––––––0–––––––––––––––1–––––––––|––––––––0–––3–––––––––––––––––––––||
G –|––0–––––––––––––––2–––––––––0–––––|––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––||
D –|––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––|––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––||
A –|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––||
E –|––3–––––––3–––––––2–––––––2–––––––|––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––||
      G               D                  G                               
      1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Good luck!

I hope this was helpful for you. As always, when chewing off bigger challenges for yourself - find ways to make them easy by breaking them into approachable steps.

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