Paul Simon demonstrates his Travis picking style on acoustic guitar: "The thumb is always moving"

Paul Simon
(Image credit: The Howard Stern Show / YouTube)

"The guitar is like a universe, you can never come to the end of what you can learn from it," explains Paul Simon to Howard Stern, confirming the idea of the journey without a destination that all musicians are on. 

"If I don't play I am uncomfortable," the legendary songwriter says of his love for the guitar. "I play every day. It's not like I play every day and I practice – I'm not practicing, I'm just following around with stuff." He then demonstrates to Stern what the last idea he was fooling around with is.  

He also breaks down what his father taught him as his first chord lesson for the 1954 song Earth Angel by American doo-wop group The Pengiuns and how those fit over many songs of that era too.  It's fascinating to watch as Paul shows how he then incorporated Travis picking into his style; demonstrating its use in the Elvis version of Mystery Train, and the Simon & Garfunkel classic, The Boxer.

"It's named after Merle Travis, the great country guy," explains Paul. "What's going on with this kind of picking is the thumb is always moving."

Viewers will notice how long Paul's nails are on his picking hand. He explains that he used to use thumb and fingerpicks but now only uses his nails. "I put acrylic on my nails so they're very hard," he reveals. "So if I want to play [harder], I'm not gonna break my nails."

If you want to get started with Travis picking yourself – check out our Travis picking guitar lesson


Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar. I've currently set aside any pipe dreams of getting anywhere with my own songs and I am enjoying playing covers in function bands.