A Guide To Guitar Chords

Travis Picking | Dust in the Wind


We talked about fingerpicking in the previous lesson, now I want to teach you a special kind of finger picking called travis picking. Travis picking is named after Merle Travis, an American country and western singer, and is made popular by fingerpicking guitarists like Chet Atkins and Tommy Emmanuel.

So, what is travis picking? Travis picking is a style of finger picking in which the right hand follows a pattern and the left hand plays standard chords. Wow, that sounded complicated...

Travis picking is not complicated though, it just takes some practice, once you get it going it becomes a natural thing.


Let's have a look at the right hand finger pattern. We are using 4 fingers: the thumb, index, middle and ring finger:

 Ring   |x       x     |
 Middle |    x       x |
 Index  |  x       x   |
 Thumb  |x     x       |


Now let's have a look at a chord example. We use the above pattern to play a C chord:

Travis Picking

This is the picking pattern known as Travis picking. Of course Merle Travis used a lot of other and more complicated picking patterns...


There are many songs that use Travis picking, like Simon and Garfunkel's Leaves That Are Green, but the most famous Travis picking song is Dust in the Wind, played by the band Kansas.

Here's a video of Dust in the Wind:


Here are the guitar tabs for the verse of Dust in the Wind. In the above video, the verse starts at 0:25. First look at the chord symbol and fret the whole chord. All chords are basic, but some might wonder what the G/B is. That's a G chord with a B-note in the bass. The picking pattern is Travis picking.


Dust in the Wind Tabs


This lesson was about basic Travis picking, if you're interested in more, there's a very good book I recommend, called The Art of Contemporary Travis Picking: How to Play the Alternating Bass Fingerpicking Style (with CD), written by Mark Hanson:




Some Trivia About Dust in the Wind

  • Most people think this song is recorded on a 12-string guitar, but it's actually 2 guitars playing. One of the guitars is tuned in Nashville tuning: the E, A, D and G strings are tuned one octave higher (using the octave strings from a 12-string set). Pink Floyd has a song called Hey You (from the album The Wall), that uses the same tuning.
  • Kansas guitarist Kerry Livgren wrote this song after reading a Native American poetry book. That's were he got the lyrics "All we are is dust in the wind".
  • Dust in the Wind was Kansas first acoustic song.
  • Kerry Livgren didn't want to use this song for their album. The other band members convinced him to record it and it became their biggest hit.