That blend of rock n roll, country and jazz known as rockabilly is one of the most fun guitar styles there is. It combines rawness with sophistication and can be as primitive or as elaborate as you want to make it. A key component of this genre is the travis- picked rhythm guitar technique you can hear in the playing of Scotty Moore and many others.
In this lesson I’m going to get you started with that technique. We’ll start by learning a simple, essential picking pattern, then we’ll develop it over a chord progression. I’m splitting this lesson into two parts: Part 1 deals with the basics, and Part 2 develops things further and adds a bit of rockabilly flash. If you’ve not played this style before I suggest focussing on part 1 as this will give you a solid grounding in this technique. More advanced players might like to skip straight to the second piece. Click here for a high-quality PDF of the entire piece.
Part 1: learn the basic pattern and apply it to a chord progression.
This whole lesson is based on this right-hand picking pattern. Nail this in isolation and it’s just a question of applying the basic idea to the chord or chord progression of your choice. It’s worth spending a bit of time getting this right. Here’s what it looks like written out:
Next we’re extending the pattern to create this 2 bar phrase:
Now try the same pattern using a 5th-string root D7 grip:
Got all that? Next, let’s try taking out pattern through a complete rockabilly style chord progression:
Part 2: a more complex bass part, and some fancier chord voicings
Now were going to introduce a bit more movement to the bass part. The part on the higher strings stays exactly the same. Here’s how the new pattern looks applied to an open A7 chord:
And here’s the A voicing I use in the actual piece:
For the D7 with a 5th-string root you’ll need to move your third finger over to catch the low bass note:
Finally, here’s the complete piece with all the flourishes added:
A couple of quick rockabilly lick lessons: