Cannonball Rag Guitar Lesson

Cannonball Rag Guitar Lesson (Merle Travis/Tommy Emmanuel)

This is the full guitar lesson for how to play Cannonball Rag. Cannonball Rag was originally written by Kennedy Jones but when Merle Travis recorded the song in the 1940s he received all the credit for it. Life can be so cruel!

This is a very popular song amongst fingerpickers and I personally can't think of a better song to practise regularly for developing good technique, picking strength, dexterity and speed.

When at full speed it's no doubt very hard to play but, like most things, when slowed down it's not too difficult at all. This is why it's such a good tune for working on techniques and why I encourage players of intermediate level and above to start working on it.

Alright, let's start learning how to play Cannonball Rag!

Song Details:

  • Key - G 
  • Tuning - standard 
  • Tempo - 150 bpm (slower or faster if you desire)
  • Difficulty - advanced

Cannonball Rag (Performance)

As you learn to play Cannonball Rag, be sure to frequently return to the performance as a good reference point and guide.

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Cannonball Rag Guitar Lesson - Lesson 1

We're going to be looking more at Tommy Emmanuel's version of Cannonball Rag as opposed to Merle Travis'. However, I have to say that I've never seen two people play this song the same way, so feel free to add your own spin on it if you desire. Most covers are a blend of Merle, Atkins and Emmanuel.

Cannonball Rag - Lesson 2

Hopefully you were OK learning the first part of the song, now we're going to look at the second section. 

Want to learn more fun fingerpicking songs of a similar standard?

Lesson 3

Tommy Emmanuel puts in a blisteringly fast, but very cool, chromatic lick coming out of the B section. If you've not tried alternate picking using a thumb pick before this will be very awkward at first - believe me!

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Lesson 4

This section is a huge amount of fun to play and it's actually one of the easier parts of Cannonball Rag.

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Lesson 5

In this section we have a fast moving bass line to execute. It may seem relatively simple at first but when played up to speed it's actually pretty tough to get right.  

Lesson 6

You've made it all the way to the outro! That's very impressive. The vast majority of your hard work is done now, there's really just one more chromatic lick to learn. 

Let me know what you thought of the lesson in the comments section below. Say what you found hard/easy, what level you're at and what your fingerpicking goals are. 

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  1. Devon Goldberg left a comment on 18th February 2021 at 2:34 am

    Thanks for the great lesson Chris! I’ve been playing so much with covid and after hearing Merle play for the first time last May I’ve made it my mission to play this song. Thanks to you I almost got it down.

    • Six String Fingerpicking left a comment on 21st February 2021 at 7:34 pm

      Really pleased I could help you out!

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