Practice Log

Learning to Travis Pick with "Clay Pigeons"

Lesson #173

Video Overview

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Editor’s Note

Around 2017 or so, it became painfully obvious that (a) I was falling deeply in love with so many songs that required Travis Picking; and (b) I had zero experience with the Travis Picking technique, and kept putting off learning it. Summer of 2018, the dam broke - and β€œClay Pigeons” was the song that got me over the hump. In this entry into my Practice Log, I’ll show you some of the exercises I used to get familiar with the technique, and eventually gaining the ability to play the β€œClay Pigeons” intro in the style of John Prine. These exercises are based on G, C, and D chord shapes.

Start with these chords

The first two chords you’ll want to learn are the G and C (technically, the C is a β€œC/G” - but we’ll refer to it as a C for simplicity going forward). The great part about these two chords, is that your left ring finger stays in the exact same position for both chords. The only β€œtransition” you do is putting your left middle & index fingers down for the C, and then lifting them up again for the G.

E ––––––                        E ––––––    
B ––0–––                        B ––1–––  <= Left index f.    
G ––0–––                        G ––0–––    
D ––0–––                        D ––2–––  <= Left middle f.  
A ––––––                        A ––––––    
E ––3–––  <= Left ring f.       E ––3–––  <= Left ring f.
    G                               C     

Next, let’s add this D chord (technically, it’s a D/F# – but again, let’s keep it simple and refer to it as D). This one is trickier, because you’ll need do a bit more finger re-positioning than you will when playing the C & G. First learn this chord by itself, then practice going from the G or C to this chord, and back again. If this chord totally stumps you, ignore it and follow the rest of the lesson only using the G and C chords.

E ––––––
B ––––––
G ––2–––  <= Left ring f.
D ––0–––
A ––0–––
E ––2–––  <= Left middle f.
    D

Start with the right thumb, by itself

The first thing you’ll want to do is practice the alternating bass-note via the right thumb - and not bring in any additional right-hand fingers just yet. For each tabbed sequence below, study & practice this repeating thumb pattern for each chord shape. Again, if the D gives you trouble, you can skip it.

E ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––0–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
G ––0–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
D ––0–––     ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––
A ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––3–––     ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––
    G          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

E ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––1–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
G ––0–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
D ––2–––     ––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––
A ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––3–––     ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––
    C          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

E ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
G ––2–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
D ––0–––     ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––
A ––0–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––2–––     ––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––
    D          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Adding a pinch on the 1 count

Next, let’s take things a single step further - by playing the second string with our right middle finger on the β€œ1” count of each measure. The important thing to realize here, is this creates β€œpinch” between our right middle finger and our right thumb. That is, both notes are being played at the same time. Everything else (the repeating right thumb) stays the same!

E ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––0–––     ––0–––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––  <= right middle f.
G ––0–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                     
D ––0–––     ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––  <= right thumb    
A ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                       
E ––3–––     ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––  <= right thumb    
    G          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

E ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––1–––     ––1–––––––––––––––1–––––––––––––––  <= right middle f.
G ––0–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                     
D ––2–––     ––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––  <= right thumb    
A ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                     
E ––3–––     ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––  <= right thumb    
    C          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

For the D, just note that we’re using our right index finger instead of our right middle finger (this makes things easier on the left hand, since no left-hand note is required on the B string).

E ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  
G ––2–––     ––2–––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––  <= right index f.                   
D ––0–––     ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––  <= right thumb    
A ––0–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                     
E ––2–––     ––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––  <= right thumb    
    D          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Adding a β€œ2 +” note

After you have the β€œpinch” addition mastered, the next step is to add a single note on the β€œ2 +” count of each measure. For the G and C chords, this new note will be with a different finger than is used on the β€œpinch” 1-count note.

E ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––0–––     ––0–––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––  <= right middle f.
G ––0–––     ––––––––0–––––––––––––––0–––––––––  <= right index f.                  
D ––0–––     ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––  <= right thumb    
A ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                       
E ––3–––     ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––  <= right thumb    
    G          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

E ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––1–––     ––1–––––––––––––––1–––––––––––––––  <= right middle f.
G ––0–––     ––––––––0–––––––––––––––0–––––––––  <= right index f.
D ––2–––     ––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––  <= right thumb    
A ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                     
E ––3–––     ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––  <= right thumb    
    C          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

We’ll keep the D the same as before - no changes. Again, this keeps things easy for the time being.

E ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  
G ––2–––     ––2–––––2–––––––––2–––––2–––––––––  <= right index f.                   
D ––0–––     ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––  <= right thumb    
A ––0–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                     
E ––2–––     ––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––  <= right thumb    
    D          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Changing the picking order

If you want to take it even further, a good next-step is to keep the same notes you just played - but change the right-hand picking order. For example, here I swap the order that the right-hand middle and index finger are played. Compare this to the prior tab sequences to see what I mean. This starts to show you how far you can mix up the sound by making very small changes.

E ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––0–––     ––––––––0–––––––––––––––0–––––––––  <= right middle f.
G ––0–––     ––0–––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––  <= right index f.                  
D ––0–––     ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––  <= right thumb    
A ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                       
E ––3–––     ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––  <= right thumb    
    G          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

E ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––1–––     ––––––––1–––––––––––––––1–––––––––  <= right middle f.
G ––0–––     ––0–––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––  <= right index f.
D ––2–––     ––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––  <= right thumb    
A ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                     
E ––3–––     ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––  <= right thumb    
    C          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Add hammer-ons and you have Clay Pigeons

To wrap things up, let me show you one more change - and how this maps to what you’ll hear in John Prine’s version of Clay Pigeons (add capo 3rd fret to play along with him).

E ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––0–––     ––––––––0–––––––––0h1–––0–––––––––  <= right middle f.
G ––0–––     ––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  <= right index f.                  
D ––0–––     ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––  <= right thumb    
A ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                       
E ––3–––     ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––  <= right thumb    
    G          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

E ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––1–––     ––––––––1–––––––––1h3–––1–––––––––  <= right middle f.
G ––0–––     ––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  <= right index f.
D ––2–––     ––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––  <= right thumb    
A ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                     
E ––3–––     ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––  <= right thumb    
    C          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Here’s the D he plays - note the new note needed on the B string (1st fret) with your left hand. A bit tricky! But master it, and oh the fun.

E ––––––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––1–––     ––––––––––––––––––0h1–––0–––––––––  
G ––2–––     ––––––––2–––––––––––––––––––2–––––  <= right index f.                   
D ––0–––     ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––  <= right thumb    
A ––0–––     ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––                     
E ––2–––     ––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––  <= right thumb    
    D          1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

John Prine’s β€œClay Pigeons” intro tab

Here’s the full tab of John Prine’s β€œClay Pigeons” intro. Note, you’ll need a capo on the 3rd fret! You have a lot of sequence that repeat themselves here (e.g., the G and C measures) – it’s really the D sequence that changes between part 1 and part 2. See my video lesson for reference, and good luck!

Part 1 of 2:

Capo 3rd fret

E ||––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
B ||––––––––0–––––––––0h1–––0–––––––––|––––––––1–––––––––1h3–––1–––––––––|–
G ||––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
D ||––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––|––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––|–
A ||––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
E ||––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––|––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––|–
      G                                  C                               
      1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

E –|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
B –|––––––––0–––––––––0h1–––0–––––––––|––––––––––––––––––0h1–––0–––––––––|–
G –|––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––2–––––––––––––––––––2–––––|–
D –|––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––|––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––|–
A –|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
E –|––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––|––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––|–
      G                                  D                               
      1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Part 2 of 2:

E –|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
B –|––––––––0–––––––––0h1–––0–––––––––|––––––––1–––––––––1h3–––1–––––––––|–
G –|––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
D –|––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––|––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––|–
A –|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–
E –|––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––|––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––|–
      G                                  C                               
      1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

E –|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––||
B –|––––––––0–––––––––––––––h1––––––––|––––––––0–––3–––––0–––––––––––––––||
G –|––0–––––––––––––––2–––––––––0–––––|––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––||
D –|––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––|––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––||
A –|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––||
E –|––3–––––––3–––––––2–––––––2–––––––|––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––||
      G               D                  G                               
      1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Good luck!

I hope this was helpful for you. As always, when chewing off bigger challenges for yourself - find ways to make them easy by breaking them into approachable steps.

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