Now we’re starting to get someplace interesting!
First came the basics of Travis-style thumb technique.
Next, we looked at basic ways of incorporating the index and middle fingers into the Travis-style alternating bass. However, in that lesson, we were focusing on using either the index or middle finger rather than incorporating both fingers in the same accompaniment pattern.
Today, then, let’s begin working some basic Travis-style patterns that call on both the index and middle finger to play in between the steady alternating Travis bass.
Here is a video to illustrate the patterns we’re going to be looking at today:
I’m going to refer to these two patterns as:
(remember: P refers to the thumb, I refers to the index finger and M refers to the middle finger)
For now, always keep your index finger on the 3rd string while your middle finger remains on the 2nd string.
When you play the first pattern (PIPM), the index finger plays after the first bass note, and the middle finger plays after the second. This creates a tight 4-note pattern with two alternating bass notes against two treble notes.
The key here is to make sure your treble notes ring out exactly in between the two bass notes. This pattern won’t sound right if your timing is off. To figure out how to get the timing right-on, use a metronome. Work slowly at first by putting the metronome to 60 beats per minute. Try playing one note per click, and once you have the feel for each of the notes occupying its proper amount of space, you can increase the speed.
As is usually the case with practicing at slow speeds, this pattern won’t really sound like music until you get it moving at a certain clip (say, 80 beats per minute playing 1/8th notes…). However, the slow, patient practice you put in to master the fundamentals of the PIPM pattern will absolutely carry you forward far faster than simply stumbling over yourself trying to play fast without actually being able to.
For the second pattern (PMPI), you simply switch the order you played your middle and index fingers. Otherwise, the same keys apply: go slowly, pay close attention to the rhythm and use a metronome.
Some Important Details Regarding these Patterns
If you want to increase the effectiveness of these patterns, practice them at very high volume. Force yourself to push for loudness, particularly if you are prone to playing quietly. The more power you have at your disposal as you play these patterns, the more you’ll be able to use them for powerful musical effect.
As you’re just beginning, really work on having good movement in all your fingers. Refer to my previous lessons if you’re not sure what good finger movement feels like.
To recap: the thumb should remain relatively firm and straight as it plays through its notes. Don’t let it float all over the place. Instead, move it powerfully and efficiently from one note to the next and back again. Pull from high up in the thumb toward the palm where you have a lot of power.
For the index and middle fingers, take care not to claw at the strings with most of the movement coming from the knuckle closest to the fingertip. Instead, use a waving motion with both fingers pulling from the middle knuckle and the knuckle closest to the palm.
Pay attention to the sound you get as you play these patterns. Strive for clean, crisp and powerful notes. Developing these things takes time, but every bit of attention and focus you can bring in at the beginning will absolutely pay off hugely for you down the road.
Between the video and these instructions, I hope that sets you up for success with these Travis-style patterns. As always, let me know what you think in the comments and I’ll do everything I can to help you master these foundations of fingerstyle guitar.