Thursday, September 30, 2010

Guitar Workshop: Beginning Travis Picking

Forty years ago, I was a sophomore in high school. There was a music shop in Milford where I took guitar lessons. I had hit a slump in my playing, wondering which direction to go. My instructor (more about her next week) showed me a technique that made a whole new player out of me.

What we call “Travis Picking” today, originated in the early 20th century, and was inspired by ragtime piano. It found an early voice on the guitar with such "race record" artists as Blind Blake in the 1920s and 1930s. It was also found among rural black players in the Tidewater and Piedmont regions of southern Virginia and North Carolina. The name itself is for Merle Travis, an early country-western recording artist, known for such hits as "Sixteen Tons" and "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke (That Cigarette)." We might think it exploitation for naming an essentially black style of music after a white artist, until we consider that the terms applied to it back in the day -- "cotton picking," "chicken picking," and one that begins with the letter "n" -- were less charitable.

We'll start out here with a video lesson from Andrew Wasson of Creative Guitar Studio. A more complete version of this lesson can be found here. This is a beginner's lesson, but it assumes you know basic chords, and can move from one to the other seamlessly.

In the coming weeks, we'll explore this style of guitar playing further, as well as how it played an important role for yours truly.

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