Thumb-Picking Guitar
by Clem Small

Thumbpicking is the art of playing rhythm accompaniment with the thumb on the guitar's bass strings while using fingers to play the melody on the higher-pitched strings. This workshop will briefly cover the historical derivation of the thumbpicking styles of Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, and Doc Watson. These styles are quite different from folk-style fingerpicking, and from black, delta-blues fingerstyle guitar. The major part of the the hour will be devoted to demonstrating playing songs in these thumbpicking styles both instrumentally, and as accompaniment to singing. Supplimentary techniques such as rolling hammer-offs, and various kinds of harmonics will be covered. Some simple rolls will be covered which, when diligently practiced, can lead to learning how to keep the thumb going on the bass accompaniment while playing melody with the fingers.

Clem Small, A.K.A. " M. Missouri Clem," now 71 years old, started playing guitar at 16 years of age. Before that he played harmonica, which he sometimes still plays along with the guitar. A lifelong admirer of the thumbpicking of Merle Travis he figured out a bit of it on his own, but has learned most of the more authentic stuff from teachers, friends, and videos. The thumbpicking of both Chet Atkins and Doc Watson was inspired by Travis's style, and somewhere along the way Clem has picked up a bit of the playing style of each of these guitarists. In addition to thumbpicking Clem's playing bears the influence of classic country like Ernest Tubb, western swing ala Bob Wills, pop songs of the 40s and 50s, and swing jazz.


SFFFF 2004: