A Mind-Bending Fingerstyle Workout

Tommy Emmanuel’s “The Bug,” which he thinks of as a never-ending song, pairs a looping jazz-inspired chord progression with Travis picking (Ex. 1). Palm-muting the bass notes helps give the piece a driving feel. Though Emmanuel frets the 6-string A notes with his thumb, alternatively you can play them on the open 5th string. For a real treat, be sure to hear Emmanuel grab his Maton to play this and the following two examples.

An intriguing variation on the main theme of “The Bug,” Ex. 2 is a neat picking pattern that includes an open-E common tone between the chords. Try plucking the 4th-string notes with your thumb and the rest with your other fingers, and let all the notes ring throughout.

Emmanuel is known for his masterly use of harp harmonics, a technique he borrowed from Chet Atkins and Lenny Breau. Like Atkins and Breau, Emmanuel pits the harmonics against fretted notes to create beautiful cascading effects. To play Ex. 3, keep each chord shape fretted for one bar, and for the harmonics, gently touch the string 12 frets above the fret-hand note (at the fret indicated in parentheses), while plucking the string with your thumb. Once you’ve got this figure down, see if you can extend the idea to some of your own favorite chord voicings.