UD #30 Thumb and Finger Notes: Travis Picking

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Travis picking is a right-handed finger picking technique named after Merle Travis, here is a video:

As you can hear from the video, Travis picking creates a beautiful layered texture where the thumb of the right hand lays down a steady beat as the fingers (or finger in the case of Merle) add chord and melody notes.

It’s very important technique for playing folk and blues music. Also many singer-songwriters use it as a staple technique. Players like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney and many others. Here are a couple of samples:

Bob Dylan playing Don’t Think Twice

Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright [Bob Dylan 1962] from Dan Pick on Vimeo.

John Prine playing Mexican Home (My favourite John Prine tune)

Okay let’s try and play some Travis picking.

The most important part of Travis picking is the alternating thumb technique.


For Travis Picking on the ukulele the thumb will be pick the G and C strings on every beat. Alternating back and forth like this:

T= thumb


Whatever chord you’re playing the thumb will be playing the G and C string alternating back and forth.


The finger notes In Travis picking for the Ukulele are usually played on either the E or A strings.

These finger notes can be played ON THE BEAT like this:


Or the finger notes can be played OFF THE BEAT (between thumb notes) in which case they are called “syncopated”.


Here’s a video that will help:

Video #1

I recommend that you work on video #1 for a long time until you’re really comfortable with keeping thumb notes going as you add finger notes. That’s the key to Travis style picking.

Once you’ve got Video #1 down. You can move on to video #2 where I show you a simple Travis picking pattern. Have fun with it!

Video #2

NOTE: If you want to use the same finger for both the E and A strings that is fine. That’s what Merle did…

Here are the chords to Don’t Think Twice in the key of C (original version is the key of E)
C   G Am Am
F   F   C    G

C   G Am Am

D7 D7 G   G

C  C   C7  C7

F  F   D7  D7

C  G  Am F

C  G   C   C

Okay that’s all for this week. Next newsletter will be in two weeks on November 11th. Until then strum well!


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