Travis picking derives its name from a Merle Travis. The foundation of Travis picking revolves around the combination of alternate-bass fingerpicking and syncopated melodies.
The thumb alternates between bass notes, often on two different strings, while the index and middle fingers alternate between two treble notes, usually on two different strings.
This style is commonly played on steel-string acoustic guitars. Pattern picking is the use of “preset right-hand pattern[s]” while fingerpicking, with the left hand fingering standard chords. This involves playing a steady bass pattern with the thumb and filling out some syncopated rhythms with the fingers of the right hand (assuming a right-handed guitarist). It is a great accompaniment style for folk and ragtime music among other styles.
The essence of the Travis pattern is the steady bass against the syncopated figure played with the fingers. The use of the term “syncopated” is perhaps stretching it a bit. This term refers to a rhythm that is “offbeat” with reference to the basic pulse. In this case, the overall rhythm of the Travis pattern is not syncopated, however when you break the pattern down into its two elements, one part (played with the thumb) is on the beat, and the other part (played with the fingers) is sometimes in between the beat, hence the term syncopated. It is important to understand, however, that when both thumb and finger are working together this should not produce an offbeat jerky rhythm but instead a lively yet comfortable feeling groove with a steady pulse.