Carter Family picking, also known as the thumb brush, the Carter lick, the church lick, or the Carter scratch,is a style of fingerstyle guitar named after Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family's distinctive style of rhythm guitar in which the melody is played on the bass strings, usually low E, A, and D while rhythm strumming continues above, on the treble strings, G, B, and high E. This often occurs during the break. The style bears similarity to the frailing style of banjo playing and is the rhythm Bill Monroe adapted for bluegrass music two decades later.
With this technique, Carter, who "was among the first" to use it as such,"helped to turn the guitar into a lead instrument". It is unclear how Maybelle developed her then-unique style.
It is known that Maybelle first learned the blues fingerpicking technique around 1930 from Lesley Riddle, an African-American guitarist who used to frequent the Carter family household.Carter can be heard playing in this style on a number of Carter Family recordings. She also played slide guitar and, later, with a flat-pick.
The earliest origins of the Carter scratch style of guitar picking are unknown although it is rooted in the music of Appalachia and the American South. The style rose to prominence with the Carter Family, who became popular after their 1927 Bristol Sessions Recordings. Maybelle Carter both sang and provided instrumentation in the group, playing guitar, banjo, and autoharp. Maybelle learned to play the guitar at the age of thirteen by ear, never reading sheet music.She relied on the example of her brothers and mother to learn playing techniques and traditional folk songs. In the 1920s and 1930s, guitar was not yet a popular instrument in folk or country music. Maybelle recalled that "there weren't many guitar players around. I just played the way I wanted to, and that's it." Maybelle's guitar style has been characterized by archivist and musician Mike Seeger as having a "fluid, flowing, rhythmic sound, a way of playing the melody that… brought you in because it had rhythm and life to it." One student of Maybelle, Ruby Parker, commented on her guitar picking, stating that "She could make that guitar talk to you."
Maybelle did not single-handedly invent this playing style, which would become known as the Carter scratch. She recalled that she was influenced by the gospel music of her youth which she heard at Holiness revivals.Additionally, Maybelle listened to the radio and phonograph records and attended local music jams, "anything to get a little something different," she said. She credits Lesley Riddle, an African American musician, as a major influence on her style. Riddle accompanied fellow Carter Family member A.P. Carter on his song-collecting trips and was known for his incredible ability to remember and reproduce any tune. For several years, Riddle and the Carters spent a lot of time together, learning new songs and perfecting their technique. Riddle remembered that for all his visits with the family, he rarely heard the Carters play for him: "They never sang for me. I'd have to do all the picking and singing." Instead, the Carters, Maybelle especially, attentively watched and listened to Riddle picking the blues for hours. But Riddle recollected that "You don't have to give Maybelle any lessons. You let her see you playing something, she'll get it. You better believe it." Riddle is credited with teaching Maybelle and the Carters one of their famous tunes, "Cannon Ball Blues."
Several songs highlight Maybelle's signature guitar style. "Single Girl, Married Girl," one of their most popular early recordings, illustrates the "innovation, versatility, and breadth" of the Carter Family's work."Wildwood Flower" is perhaps the most famous song of the Carter's that includes Maybelle's unique style. Since its recording, it has become a key piece learned by countless fledgling guitarists.
Maybelle’s daughter June Carter Cash remembered her mother’s playing technique this way:
“She’d hook that right thumb under that big bass string, and just like magic the other fingers moved fast like a threshing machine, always on the right strings, and out came the lead notes and the accompaniment at the same time. The left hand worked in perfect timing, and the frets seemed to pull those nimble fingers to the very place where they were supposed to be, and the guitar rang clear and sweet with a mellow touch that made you know it was Maybelle playing the guitar."
The Carter Family’s music is usually played in 4/4 time and is “slightly uptempo.”The Carter scratch, also known as the Carter lick, church lick or thumb brush technique, is based on old banjo frailing style. Flatpicking expert Eric Thompson stated that Maybelle’s style “smoothly combines rhythm and lead playing, the two intertwining to form a nicely melodious coherent whole.” The style mimics the rhythm of African American music including jazz and bluegrass with its steady upbeat, also known as a backbeat. Maybelle often played in the keys of C and F, which she tuned down to remain in C for a more comfortable singing register. A few songs, including “Lonesome Homesick Blues” and “Coal Miner’s Blues,” were dropped to D where the low E-string is tuned to a D note. In addition to her iconic Carter scratch, Maybelle played in several other styles, one of which was played on the steel guitar. Mike Seeger, archivist and member of the New Lost City Ramblers, described her famous Carter scratch in detail:
“She plays the melody mostly on the three bass strings, although she does sometimes go to the third and second strings. She plays in a four-pattern measure. She would play on the one count with her thumb downward, and then she would brush upward with her first finger on the treble strings. Then down on the third count, brushing with her first finger, and up with her first finger on the fourth count.”
The Carter scratch, and more generally Maybelle Carter, have had a great impact on multiple genres of music including country, folk, rock, and bluegrass. Maybelle’s guitar style has been widely copied and is credited with “transform[ing] the instrument from background rhythm to the dominant lead sound in pop culture.”The Carter’s music bridged the gap between traditional, Appalachian folk music and new “hillbilly music,” which would evolve into country music. For her contribution to country music, Maybelle was the first woman inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In the 1960s when folk music grew in popularity, Maybelle’s picking style was resurrected.Until this time, Maybelle did not realize the significance of her music, stating that she was “just playing the way I wanted to and that’s it.” Maybelle was “proud and happy” that her style had become influential in folk and country music because it would keep the genre alive. In 1962, Maybelle played with bluegrass star Earl Scruggs, who grew frustrated that he could not reproduce her distinctive style, yet Maybelle picked it effortlessly in the studio for him. That same year, Maybelle accompanied the New Lost City Ramblers to the Newport Folk Festival, where she led workshops to teach young musicians the Carter scratch. Maybelle also played with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, who admired her musical aptitude, on their famous album Will the Circle Be Unbroken. John McEuen, founding member of the band, remarked that Maybelle “took the guitar and she used it in a way that nobody had thought of before.”
Maybelle’s great niece Rita Forrester once remarked that “I’m sure that anybody who has ever played a guitar has used something of Aunt Maybelle’s—they’ve had to. There’s no question in my mind…it would have be hard for [anyone] not to be touched by the way she played."Many folk and country artists acknowledge Maybelle’s influence on their music including: Perry Como, Doc Watson, Chet Atkins, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Marty Stuart, Emmylou Harris, Woody Guthrie, Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, and Johnny Cash. Doc Watson learned the Carter scratch as a boy and adapted it into his own flatpicking style, which was influential in its own right. Woody Guthrie based his most famous song “This Land is Your Land” on Maybelle’s lick as well.
I'll play a little bit of a tune here [in] the style that I learned from a colored man that used to come to our house and play guitar, and he played with his finger and his thumb.... His name was [L]esley Riddles.
[W]hen Seeger was recording Lesley, he could see and hear the similarities between Lesley's picking style and that of Maybelle Carter so he asked him if he ever gave her lessons. Lesley replied, 'No, I didn't have to. She would just watch and learn. She was that good.'
Leslie Riddle, an African American guitar player, ... taught Maybelle Carter how to play melody and pick rhythm on the guitar at the same time—a style for which she became famous.
The banjo is a stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity to form a resonator. The membrane is typically circular, and usually made of plastic, or occasionally animal skin. Early forms of the instrument were fashioned by African-Americans in the United States, adapted from African instruments of similar design. The banjo is frequently associated with folk and country music, and has also been used in some rock songs. Several rock bands, such as The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and The Allman Brothers, have used the five-string banjo in some of their songs. Historically, the banjo occupied a central place in African-American traditional music and the folk culture of rural whites before entering the mainstream via the minstrel shows of the 19th century. Along with the fiddle, the banjo is a mainstay of American styles of music, such as Bluegrass and old-time music. It is also very frequently used in traditional ("trad") jazz.
Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson was an American guitarist, songwriter, and singer of bluegrass, folk, country, blues, and gospel music. Watson won seven Grammy awards as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Watson's fingerstyle and flatpicking skills, as well as his knowledge of traditional American music, were highly regarded. Blind from a young age, he performed with his son, guitarist Merle Watson, for over 15 years until Merle's death in 1985 in an accident on the family farm.
Scruggs style is the most common style of playing the banjo in bluegrass music. It is a fingerpicking method, also known as three-finger style. It is named after Earl Scruggs, whose innovative approach and technical mastery of the instrument have influenced generations of bluegrass banjoists ever since he was first recorded in 1946. It contrasts with earlier styles such as minstrel, classic or parlor style, clawhammer/frailing/two-finger style, jazz styles played with a plectrum, and more modern styles such as Keith/melodic/chromatic/arpa style, and single-string/Reno style. The influence of Scruggs is so pervasive that even bluegrass players such as Bill Keith and Don Reno, who are credited with developing these latter styles, typically work out of the Scruggs style much of the time.
Clawhammer, sometimes called frailing, is a distinctive banjo playing style and a common component of American old-time music.
The Carter Family is a traditional American folk music group that recorded between 1927 and 1956. Their music had a profound impact on bluegrass, country, Southern Gospel, pop and rock musicians as well as on the U.S. folk revival of the 1960s.
"Mother" Maybelle Carter was an American country musician and originator of the ”Carter scratch.” She is best known as a member of the Original Carter Family act from the late-1920s until the early-1940s and was a member of the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle.
The autoharp is a musical instrument in the chorded zither family. It features a series of chord bars attached to dampers, which, when pressed, mute all of the strings other than those that form the desired chord. Although the word autoharp was once a trademark of the Oscar Schmidt company, the term has colloquially come to be used for any hand-held, chorded zither, regardless of manufacturer.
Ralph Edmund Stanley was an American bluegrass artist, known for his distinctive singing and banjo playing. Stanley began playing music in 1946, originally with his older brother Carter Stanley as part of The Stanley Brothers, and most often as the leader of his band, The Clinch Mountain Boys. He was also known as Dr. Ralph Stanley.
Fingerstyle guitar is the technique of playing the guitar or bass guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or picks attached to fingers, as opposed to flatpicking. The term "fingerstyle" is something of a misnomer, since it is present in several different genres and styles of music—but mostly, because it involves a completely different technique, not just a "style" of playing, especially for the guitarist's picking/plucking hand. The term is often used synonymously with fingerpicking except in classical guitar circles, although fingerpicking can also refer to a specific tradition of folk, blues and country guitar playing in the US. The terms "fingerstyle" and "fingerpicking" also applied to similar string instruments such as the banjo.
The Keith style of playing the 5-string banjo emphasizes the melody of the song. Also known as the "Melodic" or "Chromatic style", it was first developed and popularized independently by Bobby Thompson and Bill Keith in the early 1960s. It is used primarily by bluegrass banjoists, though it can be applied to virtually any genre. Most banjoists who play Keith style do not use it exclusively, but integrate it as one aspect of their playing, a way of adding spice to the more common 3-finger style of Earl Scruggs.
Hybrid picking is a guitar-playing technique that involves picking with a pick (plectrum) and one or more fingers alternately or simultaneously. Hybrid picking allows guitar players who use a pick to perform music which would normally require fingerstyle playing. It also facilitates wide string leaps which might otherwise be quite difficult. The technique is not widespread in most genres of guitar playing, but is most often employed in "chicken pickin'"; rockabilly, country, honky-tonk, and bluegrass flatpicking styles who play music which occasionally demands fingerstyle passages.
Hybrid picking involves playing with the pick and the right hand m and/or a fingers...at the same time. The pick is held in the usual way...and the fingers execute free strokes in the typical fingerstyle manner...Hybrid picking allows fingerstyle-like passages to be freely interspersed with flatpicked passages...without any delay.
Flatpicking is the technique of striking the strings of a guitar with a pick held between the thumb and one or two fingers. It can be contrasted to fingerstyle guitar, which is playing with individual fingers, with or without wearing fingerpicks. While the use of a plectrum is common in many musical traditions, the exact term "flatpicking" is most commonly associated with Appalachian music of the American southeastern highlands, especially bluegrass music, where string bands often feature musicians playing a variety of styles, both fingerpicking and flatpicking. Musicians who use a flat pick in other genres such as rock and jazz are not commonly described as flatpickers or even plectrum guitarists. As the use of a pick in those traditions is commonplace, generally only guitarists who play without a pick are noted by the term "fingerpicking" or "fingerstyle".
Crosspicking is a technique for playing the mandolin or guitar using a plectrum or flatpick in a rolling, syncopated style across three strings. This style is probably best known as one element of the flatpicking style in bluegrass music, and it closely resembles a banjo roll, the main difference being that the banjo roll is fingerpicked rather than flatpicked.
Lesley "Esley" Riddle was an African American musician whose influence on the Carter Family helped to shape country music.
Guitar picking is a group of hand and finger techniques a guitarist uses to set guitar strings in motion to produce audible notes. These techniques involve plucking, strumming, brushing, etc. Picking can be done with:
George Shuffler was an American bluegrass guitar player and an early practitioner of the crosspicking style. During his career Shuffler played with The Bailey Brothers, The Stanley Brothers and Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys. He was a 2007 recipient of the North Carolina Heritage Award and in 2011 was elected to the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.
When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland: Their Complete Victor Recordings (1929–1930) is a compilation of recordings made by American country music group the Carter Family, released in 1995. It is the third of nine compilations released by Rounder Records of the group's Victor recordings. The original Carter Family group consisting of Alvin Pleasant "A.P." Delaney Carter, his wife Sara Dougherty Carter, and his sister-in-law Maybelle Addington Carter recorded many of what would become their signature songs for Victor Records.
In bluegrass music, a banjo roll or roll is a pattern played by the banjo that uses a repeating eighth-note arpeggio – a broken chord – that by subdividing the beat 'keeps time'. "Each ["standard"] roll pattern is a right hand fingering pattern, consisting of eight (eighth) notes, which can be played while holding any chord position with the left hand."
Bluegrass mandolin is a style of mandolin playing most commonly heard in bluegrass bands.
"I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes" is the title of a country/folk song by A. P. Carter. A. P. Carter was a collector of old songs and lyrics. I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes is one of these old songs he discovered. The song is a hillbilly folk song, the foundation of early country music. The song became a hit in 1929. The song is a sad tale of a love that had been lost far across the sea, set to traditional English folk music. The song peaked at #10 on the national pop music charts. Due to the song's popularity and historical importance, many have covered the song. Some artist shorten the title to Broken Ties or Broken Vows or Broken Hearted Lovers. In February 1939 on XET Station, Mexico, Sara Carter dedicated the song to her long lost boyfriend Coy Bays, who was in Washington State at the time. On February 20, 1939 Sara Carter and Coy Bayes married at Brackettville, Texas. Mother Maybelle used the Carter Family picking on the song, which was new at the time, the bass notes are played with her thumb and she strums with her other fingers. The song was later put on the Carter Family album: My Clinch Mountain Home: Their Complete Victor Recordings (1928–1929). Ralph Stanley in 2006 recorded a complete album of Carter Family songs, including I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes, titled A Distant Land to Roam: Songs of the Carter Family.