Cathy gets you started playing melodies in the bass in this video. She starts by showing you how to play a C major scale with your thumb while your left hand stays in a C chord shape as much as possible. Then she shows you how to alternate melody notes with the thumb and your index finger stirring the chords.
Check out these songs featured in the Maybelle Carter–Style Guitar course.
Cathy talks about what you’ll be learning in the Maybelle Carter–Style Guitar course.
In this lesson, you’ll learn Maybelle Carter’s picking-hand technique, commonly called the “Carter scratch.” Maybelle used a thumbpick and a fingerpick on her index finger, but she turned her fingerpick around so it was opposite to the way fingerpickers wear fingerpicks. This is because the Carter scratch includes a down strum with the finger, not an up pick used in fingerpicking. Maybelle’s daughter Anita said that what her mother did was play the melody notes on the bass (with the thumb) and “stirred the other strings with her fingers.”
The Carter Family repertoire is centered around songs, as opposed to instrumentals, even though this course is focused on Maybelle Carter’s instrumental style. Singers, of course, choose the key that suits their voice the best, but Maybelle’s playing is centered around the C, F, and G7 chord shapes. When she wanted to change keys, instead of using different chord shapes, Maybelle used a capo to play in keys higher than C, and, to play in keys lower than C, she did what she called “running her guitar down.” For example, the Carter Family recorded their classic song “Wildwood Flower” in the key of Bb, so Maybelle tuned her guitar down a whole step, which makes the key-of-C shapes sound in Bb.
The first Carter Family song you’ll learn is “Worried Man Blues”, which the Carter Family recorded in May 1930. Cathy starts by showing you the melody, which is played with the thumb, and then adds strums, showing you a few minor variations as she goes.
The beautiful melody “I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes” was recorded by the Carter Family in 1929 and again in 1935. It’s since become a bluegrass and country music classic, but the melody they used may be a bit different than one you’ve heard. There are a couple of places where you have to do a little “strum magic” worth with the phrasing of the melody.
“Will the Circle Be Unbroken” is one of the most popular traditional songs of all time. You’ll hear it in almost any jam session you go to. The original Carter Family version of the song was called “Can the Circle Be Unbroken” and the timing was a bit unusual, but it’s become straightened out over the years. Cathy shows you the way most people play it these days, but also shows you how to play along with the original recording.
The Carter Family song “Gold Watch and Chain” has a beautiful melody and the two halves of the guitar part are almost identical. On the second half, Cathy shows you an alternate strum part for the G7 chord.
The beautiful song “Wildwood Flower” is one of the most iconic pieces in the Carter Family. Maybelle’s playing on “Wildwood Flower” has influenced generations of guitarists, and every country and bluegrass guitar player plays it.
“Keep on the Sunny Side” is another Carter Family classic and it’s one that has become a favorite in all styles of American roots music. You’ll learn a solo on the verse melody as well as Maybelle’s instrumental tag that uses the last line of the chorus.
“Kissing Is a Crime” is a particularly fun Maybelle Carter lead to play. It’s a little more complicated than usual, probably because there are more notes and words in the song, and Maybelle includes some chromatic passing notes in her solo.
Maybelle’s playing on “My Dixie Darling” has a nice bounce because she played the melody with a flatpick. Cathy teaches it to you with a flatpick, but she also shows you how to get a flatpick-like sound with a thumbpick and index finger. She starts with an exercise on playing down-up (alternating) picking with a flatpick and then walks you through Maybelle’s bouncy guitar solo.
“The Winding Stream” is a beautiful old song in 3/4 time with some interesting rhythmic things going on in the lead, which doesn’t quite match the phrasing of the sung melody. Cathy plays “The Winding Stream” with a flatpick and there are a lot of lead notes on the G and B strings.
“You Are My Flower” is one of the few examples of Maybelle Carter adding something to the song that isn’t the melody. In the verse and chorus she plays a fill behind the sung melody, and also plays the fill in her lead. Cathy plays “You Are My Flower” with a flatpick and starts by showing you the fill Maybelle plays, which includes a chromatic line.
“Jealous Hearted Me” has a 12-bar blues form (with an extra half measure in the middle), and Maybelle plays it with a flatpick in the bouncy style she likes.
The cowboy song “Buddies in the Saddle” is one of the rare songs that Maybelle Carter is credited with writing. The lead that she plays on the Carter Family is unusual for her because so much of it is in the high notes, on the upper strings instead of on the bass strings, and she has a rhythm guitar player playing behind her. In this lesson, Cathy shows you what Maybelle played on the Carter Family recording as well as how to play the melody to “Buddies in the Saddle” on the lower strings in typical Carter style.
“Give Me the Roses While I Live” is in 3/4 time with an AABA form. Maybelle only plays the first part (A) of the melody, but the B part is pretty easy to play, so Cathy shows you how to play it Maybelle style.
“There’s No Hiding Place Down Here” was recorded by the Carter Family in 1934. Maybelle’s lead is a great example of the Carter scratch, and there’s a lot of thumb–up–down–up strumming, which really fills out the sound.
Maybelle Carter played “Hello Stranger” in a fingerpicking style with steady alternating bass played by the thumb along with a couple of short single-note melodic lines. Cathy shows you Maybelle’s basic fingerpicking pattern and then walks you through her solo on “Hello Stranger” phrase by phrase.
“I Never Will Marry” is a very sad song, but the guitar part is really fun. Cathy shows you Maybelle’s lead as well as a couple of chromatic bass lines she plays under the vocal.
“Cannonball Blues” is a fingerstyle showcase for Maybelle Carter. She plays fingerstyle with her thumb and index finger but if you’re used to fingerpicking with your middle and/or ring fingers, you can do it that way as well. The most important thing is that you get the melody notes and keep your thumb steady.
“Victory Rag” is another fingerstyle showcase for Maybelle Carter. It has a ragtime-style chord progression, so Cathy starts by showing you the chords before showing you Maybelle’s arrangement of “Victory Rag.”
Maybelle’s lead to “Lonesome Pine Special” is another great demonstration of the classic “Carter scratch.” In addition to learning the main lead, you’ll learn Maybelle’s quirky intro, which doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the song but is fun to play.
Maybelle’s lead on “Coal Miner’s Blues” is an amazing confluence of early country music and blues. Unusually for Maybelle, it’s in the key of G (without a capo), with G, G7, C, and D chords. Cathy plays it with a thumbpick and index finger, but it can also be played with a flatpick.