Which Fingerpicking Book Do I Start With?

Posted on Posted in Stories, Tips from Mark

Folks write to me on occasion asking which of my fingerstyle books to start with: Contemporary Travis Picking or Beyond Basics Fingerstyle Guitar. My response:

•    The Art of Contemporary Travis Picking is strictly alternating-bass (“Travis Picking”), using pretty basic chords until later in the book. It is largely about training the PICKING hand. You get two actual guitar solos amongst the 14 pieces in the book; the other 12 are accompaniments to a melody that is played/sung by a second instrument. The techniques in this book allow singer/songwriters to beautifully accompany their songs, but it also provides all the necessary groundwork for the solo guitar style of Art of Solo Fingerpicking.
•     Several years after publishing these two “Art of” books, Warner Brothers asked me to design an introductory fingerpicking book (actually a video, originally) for them. For this project I wanted a different approach from my “Art of” books, and Beyond Basics Fingerstyle Guitar is the result.
•     This title was designed to provide guitar solos from the very beginning—including melodies— so they are somewhat (but not hugely) more demanding of the fretting hand than Contemporary Travis Picking. And, there are many fingerpicking patterns other than Travis Picking patterns used in this book. Check out “Canyon Canon” on YouTube. It’s the first piece in the book. Many people have recorded themselves playing it because it makes them feel successful: soon after starting the book they can play a lovely piece of music that isn’t too taxing technically.
•     So, my suggestions to developing guitarists:
1) If your fretting hand is still in the basic stages of development, STRUM songs and practice changing chords until they are quite smooth and accurate, THEN start fingerpicking with Art of Contemporary Travis Picking;
2) If your fretting hand is under control, start with Beyond Basics. You’ll get nice sounding instrumental solos from the very beginning. You WILL get some Travis Picking in Beyond Basics: my tunes “Wheels” and “Key to the Kingdom.” Once you master that book, you can go (fairly quickly) through Art of CTP and then move onto Art of Solo Fingerpicking – a book included in 50 Greatest Guitar Books!
Addendum:  The new 30th Anniversary Edition of Art of Contemporary Travis Picking features 140+ minutes of online audio (expanded from the 72-minute CD version), making it exceedingly user friendly. It is available in two formats: book & online audio, and as a complete digital download.
•     The new 30th Anniversary Edition of Art of Solo Fingerpicking (also available in those formats) features 20 new pages, and four new instrumentals of mine—shown on YouTube—including “Cast Away,” “Easy Virtue” and “Mythos.” Beyond Basics Fingerstyle Guitar is available in book/CD format and as a DVD.
•     I hope that helps with your decision!
Mark Hanson
© Accent On Music LLC, Feb 26, 2019

7 thoughts on “Which Fingerpicking Book Do I Start With?

  1. Exactly the question I had, so thanks for anticipating! My first thoughts about the Beyond Basics book, before purchasing it, were that anything other than blues wouldn’t appeal to me as that what I tend to be attracted to. But it was a very pleasant surprise to find myself connecting to the music.
    Not sure if this is an appropriate place for a question but I will take a chance. Don’t see much too much happening at the dusty end in this style. I’m trying out 12-frets-to-the-body guitars to help my aging left hand. Do you think a cutaway would be beneficial to this style? Perhaps as a ‘just in case’ option? Thanks!

    1. I’m glad you are enjoying it, John!

      I am partial to cutaways, but let me say this first: you might consider a ‘short-scale’ guitar.
      A ‘short’ scale length guitar has somewhat less tension on the strings compared to a normal scale length (25.4″), so that might help your fretting hand. Cutaways make it easy to go up high on the neck (I sometimes go up to the 16th fret in the key of E), although my main guitars for the first 35 years of my career were a Martin D-28 and Collings SJ, neither of which has a cutaway. And be aware that 12-fret guitars are not necessarily short scale.

      Go to some stores and try a few to see how they feel. You may fall in love with a particular guitar – no telling!
      Mark H

      1. Hey mark I know some picking! But want to be able to move off the first 3 frets you have a book for beginners that go into your style then progress down the frets board

        1. Hi, Bob. Sorry for the delay. I would suggest the download of my “Triad Power” to learn how to play up the neck. It starts with three-note fingerings on the three treble strings, combined with an open bass string. There are many relatively easy exercises, plus etudes/tunes of mine to play. The final tune — Mt. Tabor Breeze — is pretty challenging, but the rest is manageable. Only $13. You download it from our digital download delivery service: Platform Purple.
          Hope that helps!
          To purchase/download:

  2. Thanks Mark! Will focus on 12 frets-to-the-body, under 25” scale, small body with a cutaway option. As a long time electric player I’m immediately comfortable with Taylor necks but will spend a bit of time trying different guitars as curious to learn more about V neck shapes as might be found on vintage Martins. As a user of occasional thumb over the neck technique that might be a determining factor.
    Just purchased Art of CTP as it sounds like an important link to Solo.

  3. Dear Mark. I’m trying to get my alternate thumb picking to be independent from my fingers. Will your book on Travis picking help me? I’m 75 years old & been playing for 60 years and I tend to syncopate my thumb instead of playing a steady 1-2-3-4 beat. I can improvise and come from the caged system. Thank you, Gordon Gundersen.

    1. Sure, Gordon. The Art of Contemporary Travis Picking is ALL ABOUT training the picking hand to do what is necessary to “Travis Pick.” The exercises in the first half of the book give your thumb LOTS of practice at steady alternating bass, with the finger notes and chords kept simple.

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