Ukulele Secret #2: Folksy Fingerstyle Travis picking

Top, inside, outside, inside. Top, inside, outside, inside.

There is nothing new under the sun. This is a common fingerstyle pattern for ukulele, as well as three finger banjo or guitar (but that’s another blog or two). It is also known as Travis picking. I am just offering a different angle at showing you how to play it.

In the video I am not counting out the time or beats proper. I use words as a shortcut to playing music in a cool, badass way.

Pay particular attention as to which right hand fingers are to pluck which string. RIGHT HAND fingering explained..
T = Thumb, I = Index Finger, M = Middle Finger, A = Ring Finger

So.. what are the beats we’re playing?

Follow along with the video. I use a lot of repetition. YOU will use a LOT of repetition. Dozens or even hundreds of reps are not uncommon in learning a new technique or pattern or section or song. Don’t be intimidated by those numbers, though. When you practice this way results come within minutes. The more uninterrupted the reps, the faster the results, and the more badass you become. I promise.

Practice this as slowly as it takes and speed it up only when you are comfortable.

If you have questions just comment to this post. I will do my best to help you along.

Now, kick some ass…

[BTW, as promised.. here is the TAB for that Ring of Fire riff demonstrated in the video.

30 responses to “Ukulele Secret #2: Folksy Fingerstyle Travis picking

  • Connor

    After fifteen minutes of practice I had to go look into the mirror to make sure… yep, more badass already.


  • Clare

    That’s one sweet little roll! I would love to see the tab for “Ring of Fire” that you mentioned in the video. Thanks a bajillion!

  • Aurora F

    This is very nice and helpful, but you seem to have different fingers used in the blog than in the video. Thanks!

  • ukulelesecrets

    Connor – I felt a tremor in the force
    Clare – Thanks, I will write up a tab just for you

  • Bonita

    Why not just use “one finger per string”, always using T on 4, I on 3, M on 2 and A on 1? And unless you already fixed it, what is written is what I see you playing.

    • ukulelesecrets

      Thank you! You may certainly use “one finger per string”. In fact, that is so engrained in my own head that I accidentally posted fingering just for that. I recommend it for most fingerstyle, especially campnela, as you might see in pretty much most of my videos on youtube.

      However, my approach to this particular pattern is more from a guitar or banjo player’s perspective using the thumb to play an alternating bassline . The mechanics of it make more sense to me and I can play it slowly or as fast as I want. This is an offering of that approach.

      • Bonita

        Thanks for your response. Do you think it would make a difference in the way it sounds. Played guitar 40 years ago and not very well and don’t play banjo (banjo uke only). So is the thumb the only digit that can play an alternating baseline, the mechanics that makes more sense to you?

      • ukulelesecrets

        It could make a difference, Bonita. For me, it makes it easier to use sensitive dynamics. With my thumb playing on the 1 and 2 downbeats, I can emphasize the 1 beat and soften the 2 beat for a nice effect. I hope that makes sense.

        I just sat and tried it the “one finger per string” way and I just have to say do what works for you, although you may have more fun with the alternating thumb. =)

  • Stephen

    This is immensely helpful. I’ve been practicing this for a bit this evening; I’m glad to be learning some different finger styles and strumming early on, where I can learn on both hands and diversify. I’d love to see more videos on fingering / strumming. Actually, even the the tabs break it down pretty well…
    Time to dive into the site!

  • Sue Williams

    Thanks so much. Very helpful. I will be looking forward to your blog posts.

  • alec

    I spent the last week ingraining that pattern cause it sounds badass when played really fast. Thanks. Watch a movie – if nobody’s home – and repeat for two hours, then watch another.

    Bonita, if I may, I would recommend learning all four right away (if you’re pretty serious) because it’s way easier to switch to three fingers later than it is to learn a whole new finger later.

    Still, some songs (as Tim said) are better for three fingers, especially when it’s alternating thumb every second note (like it is here). Here, for example, the thumb is playing those two first notes with an empty beat in between, so it’s essentially thumb every other beat, which makes it really rhythmic.

    More complicated songs (especially campanella like Tim said) I find are way smother if one finger is ‘dedicated’ to a specific string.

    Tim, this site is filling in my gap every week of waiting for Al to post something I want to learn. Badass indeed. Thanks!

    • ukulelesecrets

      Alec – That is exactly how I burn in patterns. Watching TV. I don’t use too much thought but instead let the kinesthetic memory burn in. Especially if it is complicated.

      Thanks for the comments. I totally agree. When playing a certain song or type of music I let the situation dictate how many right hand fingers I use. When I worked up Larry O’Gaff to top speed I changed my right hand fingering several times as I flushed out inefficiencies. It was a true case study. And I had to watch a lot of TV

  • pepamahina

    This is a great lesson and a great site. Thank you so much! I am finding that practicing this with a metronome really helps. I practice it at one speed until it’s comfortable, take a break, pet the cat, and come back and turn it up one notch at a time. If I only increase the speed one notch each time (about 4bpm) I find that it keeps me from speeding up too fast and getting tangled.

  • Ross

    Great website, loving the lessons and the super sleek style on an iPad. Will be a favorite.

  • joe

    Just found this over on UU. Thanks for this. The problem I’ve been having with most tutorials is they just show the pattern. That’s probably good enough for most, but I need to see it actually used in a song, to see how it works in chord changes. Again, thanks.

  • Audrey

    Holy holy holy holy crap. THANK YOU!!! I feel like I’ve seen the light. I’ve been stumbling around not knowing how to start moving beyond strumming, and well, I’m so grateful I found this!

  • Herb Mundon

    Great tutorial! I took a break from practicing the ukelele for a year while I focused on learning Hawaiian Slack Key. In slack key, the recommended style is to use the four fingers to pick the six strings. For me, that fits right in with four fingers on the uke. Mahalo (thank you)!

  • Kona don price

    Just found you on UTube today. What took me so long?

    “When the student’s ready, the teacher appears”

    be well
    Kona don

  • susanjeanbarnett

    thank you- very clear instruction, quite helpful!

  • MikeO

    Sweet and simple… A major move forward on fingering/strumming for me, a nubie. Much thanks!

  • music theory

    Very good info. Lucky me I came across your blog by chance (stumbleupon).

    I’ve saved it for later!

  • Paul

    Thanks for this. I love it and can now do it pretty fast. What I cant see though is the chord you are changing to when you are playing fast. It goes from G to C to G to ??. This is about 4 mins 40 seconds in. Please enlighten me!!

  • Sally W

    Looks like it will be very helpful.

  • Janet

    It’s really nice. Thanks.

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