Let's talk about the gear you'll need to learn how to Travis pick.
You probably already have it with you. You can learn on pretty much any guitar. It's traditionally played on an acoustic steel string guitar, but you can learn on an electric.
You can also learn on a classical guitar. Although there are some fingerings I'm going to teach you that are commonly used by fingerstyle guitarists that involve fretting with your thumb on the sixth string and a classical neck is so wide that this is usually impossible for people. There are workarounds, so if you have a classical guitar, or if you have a small hand and that wrap around thumb trick doesn't work for you on any guitar, don't fret. There will often be alternatives. But yeah, steel string acoustic is the typical guitar.
Let's talk for a second about finger picks, fingernails or neither. I don't use finger picks or thumb picks, at least not usually. Finger picks and thumb picks are going to give you a louder sound: A brighter, clearer attack, which is the sound of your fingers hitting the strings.
Let's talk about finger picks. First of all, you often see those used with Bluegrass players and blues players playing in a band, and I think it's because they're a little louder. They cut through the mix more. Definitely with Bluegrass, the acoustic guitar is often competing with other louder instruments to be heard, and so having finger picks can give you a little bit more of an edge. But they're not as useful for a solo guitarist--and most of us are solo guitarists--unless you really like that tone. But just understand it takes a while to get used to. I tried finger picks for a while, but I always felt like Edward Scissorhands with them on. I was stumbling over myself a lot and just decided that it wasn't worth it.
Frankly, I like the sound of fingernails or just bare skin on the strings a little bit more, so I grow my fingernails out a little bit. I do like that little bit of extra clarity you can probably hear it. This gives just a little bit brighter attack than if I just used my skin. There it is with just skin, it's a little quieter, a little softer sounding. But my nails--you know, I like to rock climb--my nails are fairly thin and so half the time they've broken off and I can't use them anyway. But when I can, I get them grown out to about that length just so I can catch the string a little bit.
If I'm playing blues Travis style and I'm palm muting, I do like to use a thumb pick often because the thumb kind of helps compensate for the fact that my palm mute is making the bass string quiet. Without that thumb pick, the bass note can kind of get lost a little bit.
That's pretty quiet, right? But with a thumb pick, that palm muted bass cuts through the mix a little bit more. Doesn't that sound nice? That's all to say, if you just want to play with the skin of your fingertips Travis picking, it's going to sound fine. And if you want to get picky and go to thumb picks or finger picks because you like that sound, that's great, but they take a little longer to learn how to use.
How's it going?
Are you loving the lesson? Confused? Have a suggestion? I'd love to hear from you.