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What style of playing IS this? (Chet Atkins/Travis)

Discussion in 'Music to Your Ears' started by ChrisLarcombe, Sep 13, 2020.

  1. ChrisLarcombe

    ChrisLarcombe Tele-Meister

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    Hey y'all -

    I really want to get into some picking in the style of Chet Atkins, with the alternating thumb bass patterns and melody on top, but I am unsure what the exact name of this style is?

    I'm gonna maybe buy a book about it, so needed the name to really start looking around.

    I have heard the term Travis Picking of course, but are there any subtle differences to this vs Chet's style?
    Thumbpick, e.g?

    I am thoroughly uneducated on this topic so please spoil me with any knowledge you have; I'd love to hear it.

    Thanks!
     
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  2. Fretting out

    Fretting out Poster Extraordinaire

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    I’d just call it finger picking, finger style

    A lot of the delta blues guys pioneered it trying to replicate the sound of a ragtime piano

    Playing “bass keys” with thumb and “treble keys” with fingers

    Heck I play with a thumb pick and I’m not sure other than that what you would call it
     
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  3. EsquireBoy

    EsquireBoy Tele-Afflicted

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    As @Fretting out said, you need a book about "finger picking".
    I personally would consider a lesson on TrueFire, rather than a book, since you'll be able to see video close-ups of fingers in action.
     
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  4. xtelesquirex

    xtelesquirex Tele-Holic

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    Travis Picking is probably the 'search term' you're looking for. A thumbpick isn't neccessary, but some people prefer it. There is a classical style of fingerpicking that differs slightly from the style Chet and his contemporaries used.

    The biggest difference is that in classical music there is rarely an alternating bass line - the thumb covers the low E, A, and D strings and the first 3 fingers cover the G, B, E strings respectively. You may see the term pima which is a method for abbreviating the digits of the right hand: p = thumb, i = index, m = middle, a = ring.

    I learned the classical style and have been trying to learn the Chet style. The big difference I see is that with the Chet way of doing things the thumb is independent. It keeps a steady rhythm on the bass strings while the finger(s) flesh out the melody on and between the beat.

    That is nearly all my knowledge of fingerstyle. Good luck and godspeed!
     
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  5. JoesTele

    JoesTele Tele-Holic

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    Chet Atkins is real tough. He does thinsg that are really his own.

    You might want to start with what is called Travis Picking. It has variations, but the essential nature is it is a very strict pattern that is to be followed. That fact makes it the easiest of finger-picking techniques to learn. (By calling it the easiest does not mean it is easy. It's not. It will take a full three weeks to a month before your fingers will automatically do the pattern.)

    Advice:

    - forget the thumb pick. I can pick up any guitar anywhere and do finger picking because I don't need a thumb pick. No thumb pick frees you to play anytime, anywhere.

    - forget buying a book. youtube will show you the pattern of Travis Picking. All you need is to see it laid out once and then just start slowly trying it.

    - it will feel impossible in the beginning. Go slowly. Don't think you can match the speed of fingerpicking records you know.

    - "Dear Prudence" The Beatles song. That's the best advice I can give. Play the verse section. Get a tab to see the order that the strings are to be plucked and start doing it. It is best to learn Travis picking by playing a song that you know; that way if you make a mistake, you notice it instantly. "Dear Prudence" is a good one to learn Travis picking. It has the specific pattern plus a walking bass line. (And you don't have to do Drop D to play it so it sounds right. You really are just using the song to teach you the pattern.) Lennon songs from 'The White Album" are great ways to learn Travis picking, but "Dear Prudence" is the best one for a beginner.

    Travis picking is a great thing to know. I always pick up an acoustic and my fingers automatically do the pattern. You will struggle...but then it magically just clicks. it really does. Suddenly you are doing it without thinking. By the way, thinking actually hinders the learning process. Saying to yourself, "Now I pick with the middle finger, then I hit the fifth string with thumb...." that stuff screws you up. Just hear "Dear Prudence" in your head and soon enough your fingers will be doing the right thing on their own.
     
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  6. Archtop Bill

    Archtop Bill Tele-Holic

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    Muriel Anderson has a class on Truefire for Chet’s thumbpicking style. Muriel attributes the style to Maybelle Carter who gave Chet his first break.

    Not to be too picky (pun), I think Elizabeth Cotten was first with the style on Freight Train. The phrase “keep your Cotten picking fingers off”, came from Elizabeth, not cotton picking. Shoot, her name is misspelled in the YouTube video.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Cotten

     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2020
  7. hepular

    hepular Tele-Holic

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    except, that Elizabeth Cotton . . . well

     
  8. JoesTele

    JoesTele Tele-Holic

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    You are joking with that, right? You can't be serious. A phrase that has been around for hundreds of years in America, centuries...and you say it came about because of a guitar player in the '40s. Wow.

    Are you out of your cotton-picking mind? Uhh, did that phrase come about because of Elizabeth Cotten's mind?
     
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  9. Wallaby

    Wallaby Tele-Afflicted

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    I was going to mention "Freight Train" as a good starting point.

    Also "I Am a Pilgrim".

    Gotta get that thumb alternating automatically while syncopation happens with the other fingers.
     
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  10. Tele-beeb

    Tele-beeb Friend of Leo's

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    I live thirty miles to Merle Travis homeplace. Around here, those who play that style call it Thumbpicking. Fingerpicking or fingerstyle would cover a broader set of styles (around here that is.)
    I have many friends who are thumbpickers... some awardwinners... they are self-labeled Thumbpickers (with a variety of wrap-around thumbpicks and many times a naked thumb.)
     
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  11. Tele-beeb

    Tele-beeb Friend of Leo's

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    By the way... to answer more of your question... you’d likely watch Merle Travis and Chet, however... all the thumbpickers choose one to emulate... and they want to sound just like that guy. They get close, but, the better they get, the more they develop their own style.
    I have a friend who so wants to play every nuance just like Chet. I’d rather hear my friend, he just has a crazy (Thumb) rhythm that I can’t do? Model somebody and develop on your own style maybe?
     
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  12. thesamhill

    thesamhill Tele-Holic Silver Supporter

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    Are you talking about plain old finger picking, like John Prine, John Moreland, etc, where it's basically a rhythm plus some sort of directed flourishes on the higher strings?

    That's just more or less getting your thumb rhythm dialed in and then deciding what you like on the high strings and practicing.

    If you're wanting to play like Chet Atkins, like, play Yankee Doodle Dixie, that's industrial strength witchcraft. Might be best to look into classical training. You can learn a song or two, if you spend enough time, but if the goal is to play like that as more than a party trick you're prob going to want to get someone to keep you from making a bunch of bad habits.

    If you look at this video, he's playing like a classical guitarist. Set between legs, left knee elevated, neck at that ankle, right hand plucking from first knuckle, etc. He does kick into that Travis picking alternating thing halfway thru but it's kind of like Yuja Wang playing Axel F

     
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  13. davidge1

    davidge1 Friend of Leo's

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    Chet Atkins started out emulating Merle Travis' style of playing and evolved his own sound, but it's basically the same style of playing. It's done with a thumb pick playing the bass notes, which are palm-muted. This provides the rhythm. The melody is picked on the higher strings with mainly the first and second fingers. Merle Travis picked with the meat of his fingers and Chet Atkins used his nails, so that accounts for a little bit of the difference in sound. Chet Atkins was more refined and subtle, but they're both great.

    I'd recommend getting some of the earliest Chet Atkins albums, like Stringin' Along With Chet Atkins, where he's playing mainly that style. After his first few albums, there's less of the Travis influence. Also, there are plenty of great video clips on youtube.

    The Merle Travis album Walkin' The Strings is a great collection of Merle Travis instrumentals played on acoustic guitar. You should check that one out too.

    I wouldn't recommend studying classical music. Study Chet Atkins if you want to play like Chet Atkins.
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2020
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  14. Dano-caster

    Dano-caster Tele-Meister

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    I Would give a good listen to Stefan Grossman and his approach to finger style.Lots of it out there and some of the stuff is pretty accesible to the novice.It's hard to play well and the Liz Cotton stuff is a good place to start.And she was a lefty by the way.Not that there's anything wrong with that...
     
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  15. PhredE

    PhredE Tele-Afflicted

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    Just for kicks.. Chet playing Recuerdos de la Alhambra (a very mainstream piece in the classical guitar repertoire). I'll let his playing speak for itself: :)

     
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  16. getbent

    getbent Telefied Silver Supporter

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    the hard core travis guys call it Thumb Style. Merle's son is a great teacher and player... you can totally get that style going.. Doc watson's fingerstyle was very much like Merle Travis and Chet always said that it was Merle who caught his hear.

    google thom bresh and be ready to be amazed.
     
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  17. codamedia

    codamedia Poster Extraordinaire

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    It's commonly known as Travis Picking and is rooted in Ragtime piano! Merle didn't invent it, he just popularized it!
    Chet took Merle's approach and refined it (added more fingers and precision) then combined it with a large dose of Django Reinhardt.
     
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  18. E5RSY

    E5RSY Doctor of Teleocity

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    Great old Folkways video:

     
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  19. thankyouguitar

    thankyouguitar Tele-Meister

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    "Hybrid picking" and "chicken picking" are two other search terms that will help locate learning materials.
     
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  20. thesamhill

    thesamhill Tele-Holic Silver Supporter

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    I was going back over some Chet Atkins videos and no wonder they called the guy "Mr. Guitar."

    I'm going to clarify my earlier comment. I'd suggest getting some training in classical guitar technique (not classical music theory) if you want to play that real serious stuff. I'm not saying you have to study classical guitar for years to play that kind of music, or that classical theory will help somehow. Just that you might get insights that can get you over some hurdles.

    That Chet/Merle style is every bit as intricate as classical guitar music- and as @PhredE pointed out, sometimes IS classical guitar music- and it seems pretty obvious to me that those players are drawing on classical technique when they get down-and-dirty and start playing the hard stuff.

    If you look at the Merle Travis video posted by @Tele-beeb (good stuff!) it looks really folksy and he's sitting in a barn. But that box isn't just a random milk crate that he's folksily resting his leg on, it's a footstool just like the classical guys use to support classical posture.

    He starts out playing like most "folk-slingers" play. Then at 9 seconds in, he shifts his guitar to the left and brings the neck angle up, which puts it closer to the classical posture.

    And if you look close you'll see other bits of classical technique in there as well.

    What formally-trained guitarists call "bad habits" can eventually become "your own style" and that's fine, worked for Jimi and lots of others. But those bad habits tend to put a ceiling on how good you can get at formal technique, that's why those formal players call them "bad habits." IMO they what keeps a lot of people (me included) from making a jump from John Prine/John Moreland fingerpicking to Chet/Roy Clark/Merle fingerpicking.
     
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