Thumb Technique for Travis-Style Guitar
Today, we’re diving into the wonderful world of Travis-style guitar playing.
Travis-style is all about the alternating thumb. That bouncy bass drive pushes Travis-style songs forward, so paying attention to how you use your thumb really packs a wallop in terms of your musical impact when playing this dynamic guitar style.
Check out this video for the live demonstration of how best to utilize your thumb for Travis-style:
If you’re new to Travis-style (and particularly if you plan on accompanying your Travis-style playing with your own singing), please take some time to work the alternating thumb bass on its own. Things get complicated real quickly in this style. No need to bring your index and middle fingers in until your thumb is comfortable bouncing back and forth across the bass strings.
To work this basic thumb alternation, form a normal C major chord with your left hand.
Then, play the bass notes with your thumb bouncing from the 5th string to the 4th string.
As you play the 4th string, move the ring finger of your left hand up to the 3rd fret of the 6th string to prepare the new low bass note that you’ll use to spice up the accompaniment.
Then, bounce your thumb from the 6th string to the 4th string.
Here’s how that looks in tab:
The big thing to keep in mind when it comes to your thumb technique is that you want your thumb to be what I call “spring-loaded.” This means your thumb bounces directly from the note it plays to the place it next needs to be in order to play the next note in the sequence.
Avoid the dreaded “floating thumb” at all costs–that’s where you just sort of let your thumb float all over the place without paying attention to it. Sometimes it makes it to the next note (just in time), and otherwise it is always holding you back because it’s never quite in position to let you make any actual rhythmic music.
So, instead of allowing your thumb to float, just consider where your thumb needs to be next and get it there as soon as possible. Allow it to rest on the next string or let it hover as close as possible to the next string it needs to play, and then let ‘er rip when you’re ready for your next note.
When you get this thumb technique rolling, Travis-style is a whole lot of fun to play.