Get Travis Picking Under Your Belt with This High-Speed Exercise

This swampy, exciting riff will give both hands a workout.
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When my brother in English language defilement, Matt Blackett, beckoned me to come forth and offer some Gristle Tidbits for the good readers of the mighty Guitar Player magazine, I was at once flattered and befuddled. 

Flattered to be a part of the glorious legacy of this legendary publication, but befuddled as to how to find the time to do something that would tickle the proverbial fancy of both the gristle initiated and the virginal gristling.

What is this gristle I speak of? The phrase “pound the gristle” was employed one evening after a debauched, post-gig food fight at a late-night dining establishment on Milwaukee’s East side, sometime in the dark, waning days of the last century. 

The term went on to signify everything from spirited musical congress to other deeds both nefarious and wholesome … but usually the former and formerer. With frequent use of these gristly terms I would become known in various sectors as “Gristleman,” although Greg is preferred.

Okay, okay, now that we have the gristle problem addressed, here is the tidbit I’ve decided to share with you in this episode. It is a swampy little selection that incorporates a slightly more syncopated version of the “Working Man’s Blues” or “Mystery Train” type of riff, along with some Travis picking and banjo-roll goodness. I get asked about these things all the time so I thought I would illustrate them in a hopefully fun way.

greg koch tab

Now dig it, I use hybrid picking for this type of activity and, for the main riff in A that starts off the tune and repeats here and there, I have my 2nd finger on my picking hand on the D string and my 3rd finger on the G string. 

In the first bar, the pick plays the first quarter-note - which is slightly palm muted - followed by the eighth-note mute which is the 2nd and 3rd fingers on the picking hand, plucking the D and G strings simultaneously while the 1st finger on the fretting hand is muting the D and G strings at the 5th fret. 

The double-stop on beat two is played with the pick hitting both the D and G strings at the same time. On beat three, the pick plays the open E string (again slightly palm muted) and the upbeat double-stop is played with the 2nd and 3rd fingers on your picking hand. Beat four is all muted. 

The D string is played with the pick and is muted by the 2nd finger on your picking hand for the first eighth-note, and the upbeat is your 2nd and 3rd fingers plucking the D and G strings while your fretting hand is muting those same strings at the 7th fret in a way that almost gets you a harmonic double-stop. Got it?

The next thing to tackle is the Travis picking on the D9 and C9 chords. The E-, D- and G-string utterances that land on the quarter-notes are all done pick-style with palm muting while the high E and B string notes are plucked with your 3rd and 2nd fingers, respectively.

After going back to the original riff, we then go to an E7 Travis picking pattern that is tackled the same way as the above chords followed by a banjo-roll pattern. This is one of my “Gristlisms” that I use frequently with all manner of different chords. It’s a five-note flourish that starts with an open string plucked with the pick, followed by a hammer-on, then by a “pick, 2nd finger, 3rd finger” banjo roll triplet.

Four of those in rapid succession outlining the D7 peppered by the occasional odd-sounding open string really brings the gristle to a boil. Whatever that means.

The open-string run that functions as a turnaround over the E7 is played by picking the string with the double hammer-on and using the 2nd finger on your picking hand to pluck the open string at the end of each four-note flourish. You can speed this one up and add it to your key-of-E grab bag of sonic wrongdoing and your piracy rating will increase exponentially.

The very last chord after you have repeated the piece is a scary, Roy-Buchanan-meets-James-Burton maneuver. I pre-bend the chord up a half-step, strum it and bend it back down. The last root note is played with the first finger of picking hand. It’s a bold statement that usually is the tipping point that makes the bartender finally turn the TV above the band off as a show of respect (in a parallel universe).