What is thumbpicking?

Thumbpicking, also known as thumb-and-finger style or Travis picking, is a style of guitar playing that primarily emerged out of the coal mining communities of western Kentucky around the turn of the 20th century. The style was made popular in the mid to late 20th century by Merle Travis.

Thumbpicking has roots in Delta blues guitar and ragtime piano. The guitarist uses a thumbpick on the thumb of the picking hand to play alternating bassnotes on the downbeat and to strike chords on the back beat, much like the left hand of ragtime or stride piano. The index, middle and ring fingers are then free to play melody notes. The picking hand often rests lightly on the bridge in order to dampen the bass strings slightly and give the chords a more percussive sound.

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