Learning guitar is all about being influenced and inspired by other guitar players, both past and present. This fuels your desire to play, and finding someone new to listen to and study is a great way to get yourself out of a period of little to no progress, reigniting your inspiration, motivation, and creativity with your own guitar playing.
A guitarist worth studying for these very reasons is Chet Atkins. We are going to take a close look at some of the key parts to his guitar playing style and in the process you will expand upon and improve improve your own playing.
At the core of Chet Atkins' style was country, however he could play most other things including jazz, flamenco, and classical, giving him the nickname of "Mister Guitar". Trying to cover everything that made up Chet Atkins' style of guitar playing is just not realistic to even try to do in a single article. It will be much better if we narrow our focus to a few key aspects and see how we can apply them to our own guitar playing and become better players in the process.
Before we do however, why is it that we should study the styles and techniques of other guitar players? Well, as already mentioned, it will improve your own guitar playing and fuel your desire to play the thing, right?
This is all true, however in addition to this, studying the styles and techniques of other guitar players will also have a big influence on your attitude towards your playing.
How is this?
When you really get into a particular player you want to know everything about them and go beyond simply copying some of their trademark riffs and licks. You want to know what makes them tick and what has gotten them to the level that they are at. It goes beyond the physical aspects of playing a guitar, and this is a massive benefit to studying other players.
Today, however, we will focus more on the physical aspects of Chet's playing, but the point above should never be underestimated.
Double Stops: Harmonising With 3rd's And 6th's
A double stop is when you play two notes together at the same time on the guitar. These notes can be on adjacent and non adjacent strings. Chet used double stops extensively throughout his playing. Most times the two notes he played created either a 3rd or 6th harmony.
Chet would often use these double stops to harmonise the melodies of the tunes he played as well as filling the pockets between a vocal line if he was playing with a singer. The result would be beautiful and rich sounding melodic lines that would feature heavily throughout Chet's playing.
To easily use the harmonies of 3rd's and 6th's in your own guitar playing, you need to be able to visualize them on the fretboard.
Once you have done this, the next step is to get these harmonies into your own playing. Studying the style of Chet Atkins is a great start as he used double stop riffs extensively throughout his guitar playing.
3rd's and 6th's should be a part of any guitar players arsenal. They have a unique sound and provide a great contrasting texture to your single note lines. I highly recommend you start getting these into your guitar playing today!
The Art Of Travis Picking
At the core of Chet Atkins' guitar style is a fingerpicking technique known as travis picking. The name comes from a guitarist called Merle Travis who developed this style of playing. Merle was a huge influence of Chet's and naturally this fingerpicking technique found its way into his playing.
Travis picking is a very impressive technique as it allows you to play bass, harmony, and melody to a song all at the same time. It's easy to be tricked into thinking there are two or more guitars playing when in fact it is just one.
The driving force behind the travis picking sound is the bass line. This is played on the bottom 3 strings of the guitar with the thumb of your picking hand. The melody and harmony parts are played with your index (I), middle (m), and ring (a) fingers on the top 3 strings.
The order of the strings on which the bass notes fall in travis picking is how we name the patterns. For example a 6, 4, 5, 4 pattern is when the bass notes fall on the 6th, 4th, 5th, and then 4th string again, in that order. This type of pattern is best suited for chords whose root notes fall on the 6th string.
So what about chords whose root notes are on the 5th string?
Chet would typically use a 5, 4, 6, 4 pattern in this situation, and you guessed it, the bass notes fall on the 5th, 4th, 6th, and then 4th string again with this pattern.
To help the melody and harmony parts stand out more, Chet would palm mute the bass when travis picking. This is important to do as it really helps both the harmony and melody to sit on top of the bass and feature, instead of getting lost in it. Chet would also use a thumb pick at all times, and I highly recommend you do the same as your bass lines will sound much better using one. It can take some getting use to but is well worth the effort for the sound you'll get.
As soon as I learn something new on guitar, I'm looking for as many ways possible to use it in my own playing because I know that this is the key to mastering it. So once you are familiar with some basic travis picking patterns, look for as many ways possible to apply it to various musical contexts.
Think of this article as a starting point, and not an end point, when it comes to the guitar playing of Chet Atkins. We have barely skimmed the surface of what this great guitar player provided throughout his career. However, if you implement what you have learned here into your own playing, you will be off to a great start.