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Chet Atkins Fingerstyle Lesson: Very Basic

So you may be asking, what’s the big deal about Chet Atkins? When I first started becoming obsessed with learning the guitar I kept reading article after article about Chet Atkins and how he pioneered this or influenced that.. and to be honest, when I heard my first Chet Atkins album (my dad’s), I wasn’t immediately blown away. I thought it sounded clean and simple and… well, nice. It wasn’t until I analyzed what was actually going that I began to realize what a genius he was.

Born June 20, 1924 in Luttrell, Tennessee, Chet Atkins was a pioneer that helped reinvent the guitar. Chet worked as a session player and backed up several great acts in his early career before graduating on to a solo artist and then on to a prominent Nashville producer, producing acts such as Waylon Jennings and Elvis Presley. In the late 1950’s as rock n roll became more and more popular, traditional country albums sales were starting to decline. To help increase country album sales, Chet helped create the “Nashville Sound” which was basically a movement to scrap all of the fiddles and pedal steel guitars and “twang” that had been associated with country music up to that point and introduce a more contemporary, “produced” sound with heavy back-up vocals from groups like the Jordanaires and even orchestral string arrangements.

I must admit it’s nice to see that some areas of country music are heading back to their roots and bringing back the “twang” – sorry Chet.Chet is best known for his finger-style technique on his right hand, which always consisted of a walking bass line (his thumb), and a rhythm and melody (his second, third, and fourth fingers). Because so much is going on with his right hand when he plays, it actually sounds like 2 or 3 guitar players. I remember hearing Chet say that he sounded like 2 bad guitar players playing at the same time. Hah! Bad by who’s standards? In every interview I've ever seen with Chet Atkins he seemed like such a humble, down-to-earth guy which is pretty amazing considering how powerful he became in the music industry.

Here’s a list of those who influenced Chet Atkins:

  • Merle Travis
  • Les Paul
  • Django Reinhardt
  • Jimmie Rodgers
  • Mark Knopfler
  • Jerry Reed

Top 10 list of my favorite Chet Atkins songs:

  • Borsalino
  • I'll See You In My Dreams
  • Yakety Axe
  • Vincent
  • There'll Be Some Changes Made
  • I Still Can't Say Goodbye
  • I'll Say She Does
  • Gallopin' Guitar
  • Petite Waltz
  • Do I Ever Cross Your Mind

Video Lesson:So let’s take a closer look at Chet Atkins’ unique finger style technique (which he stole directly from Merle Travis by the way). In this video, I’ll walk you through a simple Chet-style melody complete with walking bass line and a melody. In the beginning you'll have to do this very slowly ... like REEEAAALLY slowly to get the hang of it. It's kind of like the old patting the top of your head and rubbing your belly at the same time trick.

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Chet Atkins Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson


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  1. No Avatar Selected
    Posted by: Kathy on January 15, 2010

    I’ve heard of Chet but didn’t know much about him.  Thanks for the great lesson.  I’m just beginning to learn guitar but hope to be able to play like that some day.

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    Posted by: JSHARP1686 on June 25, 2010

    i am so glad that some one has taken time to honor and remember this legend. Mose Rager “mentored” merle travis, merle travis chet atkins, and chet atkins so forth. i am an old soul in a young mans body, but even i can see that THIS is MUSIC. pure talent. please post more lessons of chet!

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    Posted by: cbearw on August 18, 2010

    NIce intro to Chet’s style. Enjoyed this one!

  4. Posted by: maxxs26000 on October 15, 2010

    Thank you. You are great teacher.

  5. Posted by: maxxs26000 on October 17, 2010

    Please one more from Chet :)

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    Posted by: Hec on October 31, 2010

    Hi Brian,
    Tommy Emmanuel was heavily influenced by Chet Atkins also. Tommy is one incredible player.

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    Posted by: marcy on March 15, 2011

    Please do more instruction on Chet’s style. You do a wonderful job teaching. Thank you very much!

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    Posted by: dicksandy on March 21, 2011

    Great lesson - very well done. Have you ever played this with the thumb on strings 4,5,6 and the pointer finger on the 3rd? Hoping for more travis style lessons.

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    Posted by: Mrfingerdancer on March 28, 2011

    Hi Brian,please…..more lessons of chet s playing style.. Brian

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    Posted by: Misca on April 21, 2011

    Brian I am a more mature wannabe guitar player strumming since 1963,I really did not know how to play the guitar until the advent of the internet which I only used last year,now with the help of you and others whose lessons have show me how to do little things that I envied others ability wondering if I would ever be able to do,such is my excitement at learning your lessons that I jump all over the place trying to obsorb as much as I can,it’s unbelieveable that I could not do any finger picking until last week when I came upon your lessons on Chet and albeit but slowly I am actually making music,God bless,Jim

  11. Posted by: Brian on April 21, 2011

    Hey Jim, that’s great to hear!  That’s very impressive that you just started playing and you’re already learning the Chet finger-style technique.  Best of luck to you.

  12. Posted by: JMax on January 8, 2012

    Brian - that is waaaay to cool.  I started getting into Chet a few months ago. Black Mountain Rag is my favorite, followed by Do I Ever Cross Your Mind.  Thanks for everything.

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    Posted by: StreakyPete on January 11, 2012

    Thoroughly enjoyed picking (geddit?) this lesson up.  I had previously played my own version of Chet’s picking style which never sounded quite right.  After watching this lesson, I see where I was going wrong - everywhere!  So, if that’s the ‘very basic’ Chet style, I’ll keep practising it in the hope that you issue a slightly more advanced lesson.
    More power to you!

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    Posted by: tomperry on February 19, 2012

    I have played and been a fan of Chet and Merle since the early 50’s. I had the privilege to be invited to a sit down with Chet when he introduced the Gretch White Falcon Stereo guitar. The ease with which he played all those complicated melodies absolutely floored me and inspired me to learn all I could about the man and his music. This lesson was very good for anyone who wants an introduction to finger style guitar. something interesting. All of Chet’s melodies were more intricate than Merle’s. Why? Because Merle played with only his thumb and one finger. He used the back of his index finger to strum chords and used the front to puck melodies.

    I am currently into Blues and have found great value in your lessons. Super job. Now I’m going to look for a place to donate.

  15. Posted by: Brian on February 19, 2012

    Hey Tom thanks for the comment.  Color me jealous that you got to hang out with Chet.. wow, that would be a life changing event I’m sure.  I grew up outside of Nashville yet never had a chance to meet him, something I still regret.  You’re right about Merle and the 2 finger style - I’ve heard that before.. that he is really just playing a melody and a bass part, whereas Chet worked in the rhythm part as well.

  16. Posted by: Dorian on March 2, 2012

    Darn, got it in 2 days off and on. Just got to polish it up now. Must be the simple way you walk us through it Brian. I know you spend alot of time on this stuff and your teaching methods are second to none. Good job!! Thanks


  17. Posted by: luch_handt on March 5, 2012

    Brian your lesson is very good. You are so right about it being like patting your head and rubbing the belly at the same time. I never was any good at that either. I am sure it will take me a while to get this one. The problem I am having right off the bat is I am muting the fourth string with my left hand. I can chord the 7th’s fine, but when it comes to the bass on the 6th string I mute the 4th. You sure are gifted in making it easy to comprehend what is going on, and I think with some practice and patience I will eventually get it.

  18. No Avatar Selected
    Posted by: guitarjt on May 28, 2012

    hi brian just signed up today everything you teach is great, easy to understand. thanks alot sir.

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    Posted by: les kutsera on October 24, 2012

    Hi Brian, I just signed up and wanted to say this is the best explination of the basic technique, I’ve seen on the web thus far….L

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    Posted by: Mr. Gasoline on November 2, 2012

    Hi Brian,  This is an excellent lesson.  I have been trying to master it six hours a day for the past five days and I am getting close.  It would be a great benefit to the less adept like myself to present a four or five step set of drills that break this lesson into manageable chunks.  Your video is a fine overview.  I spent the first eight hours or so discovering ways to dissect the motions into the following:
    Drill #1: Left hand pinkie on sixth string pluck string three then string four - do this 1,000 times
    Drill #2: pinkie on fifth string-pluck then pluck strings four(pointer) and two (ring finger)  simultaneously. (1,000 times)
    Drill #3: You get the drift - break the exercise into four sections - practice them independently then assemble them into larger modules.  It has taken me all week all day each day to develop the muscle memory in right hand fingers for this.  Very rewarding but don’t underestimate the struggle for beginning guitarists.  Maybe it’s that I’m left-handed and I’m trying to do something designed for right-handed levels of natural dexterity.  Thanks again for ALL of the great lessons.  You are a gifted teacher with superb tech skills.

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