Maybelle Carter’s Guitar Style


This pathfinder serves as a beginner’s guide to the unique guitar style developed by Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family. This style is usually referred to in one of the following ways: the “Carter Scratch,” “Carter Lick,” “Carter Style,” “Drop Thumb,” “Thumb Brush,” or “Mother Maybelle Style.” This pathfinder will help those interested in learning about the development of Maybelle’s technique and her influences, how to master this style, and Maybelle’s lasting impact on the guitar world. Her development of this different method greatly influenced early country music and she existed as a major musical inspiration for many modern musicians.

Introductory Text: 

Zwonitzer, Mark. Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? The Carter Family and Their Legacy in American Music. New York: Simon & Shuster, 2002. ASU APP COLL STACK ML421. C33 Z86 2002p>

Library of Congress Subject Headings: 

Highly relevant:

Bluegrass Music—History and Criticism

Carter Family (Musical Group)

Country music—United States—biography

Country music—History and criticism

Guitar—Methods (Bluegrass)—Self-instruction

Country musicians—United States

Guitar music (Bluegrass)

Bluegrass music -- Instruction and study

Also relevant:

Folk musicians—United States


Blues (songs, etc)—Southern States—History and criticism

Folk songs, English—Southern States—History and criticism

Library of Congress Call Numbers: 

Other books including material about Maybelle’s playing style can usually be found within these Library of Congress call number ranges:

M 128

ML 3561-3930

ML 421

MT 582-588


Cantwell, Robert. Bluegrass Breakdown: The Making of the Old Southern Sound. University of Illinois, 1984. ASU APP COLL STACK ML 3520 .C36

Malone, Bill C. Country Music, U.S.A., Revised Edition. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1985. ASU APP COLL STACK ML 3524 .M34 1985 c.2

--. Stars of Country Music. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975: 99. ASU APP COLL STACK ML 385 S73 1975

Paul Kingsbury and Alanna Nash (eds.) Will The Circle Be Unbroken: Country Music in America. New York, New York. DK Publishing, p. 38, 2006. ASU APP COLL STACK ML 3524 .W53 2006

Guides, Encyclopedias, and Dictionaries: 

All Music Guide to Country. San Francisco, CA. Miller Freeman Books, p. 74-77, 1997. ASU APP COLL STACK ML 156.4 .C7 A45 1997

Bob Allen, Editor. The Billboard Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music. New York, NY. Billboard Books, p. 28, 2007. ASU APP COLL STACK ML 102 .C7 B55 2007

Atkins, John. The Carter Family. London: Old Time Music, 1973. Print. ASU APP COLL STACK ML 421.C33 A8

Carr, Joe. Mel Bay’s Getting into… Bluegrass Guitar. Pacific, Montana. Mel Bay, p. 10-11, 2004. ASU APP COLL STACK OVSZ MT 588 .C37 2004

Carr, Patrick. Editor. The Illustrated History of Country Music. Garden City. Doubleday, p. 50, 1979. ASU APP COLL STACK ML 3561 .C69 I4

Country Music Magazine Editors. The Comprehensive Country Music Encyclopedia. Country Music Magazine. New York. Times Books, p. 56, 1994. ASU APP COLL STACK ML 102. C7 C6 1994

Dawidoff, Nicholas. In the Country of Country. New York. Random House, p. 59, 1997. ASU APP COLL STACK ML 3524 .D39 1998

Dewitt, Mark F. Roots Music. Great Britain. TJ International LTD, p. 39, 2011. ASU APP COLL STACK ML 3545. R66 2011

Hill, Fred. Grass Roots: An Illustrated History of Bluegrass and Mountain Music. Rutland, Vermont. Academy Books, p. 18, 1980. ASU APP COLL STACK ML 3520 .H54

Irwin, John Rice. A People and Their Music. Atglen, PA. Schiffler Publishing, Ltd., p. 46-49, 2000. ASU APP COLL STACK ML 394 .I78 2000

McCloud, Barry. Definitive Country: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Country Music and Its Performers. New York, NY. Berkley Pub. Group, p. 138, 1995. ASU APP COLL STACK ML102. C7 M33 1995

Oermann, Robert K.. The Listener’s Guide to Country Music. New York, New York. Quarto Marketing, Ltd., p. 7-9, 1983. ASU APP COLL STACK ML 3524 .P48 1997

Seeger, M. “Traditional music: Keys to Carter-style picking.” Frets Mar. 1986: 50-51. Music Index. Web. 27 Sept. 2012.

Shelton, Robert. The Country Music Story: A Picture History of Country and Western Music. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co, 1966. Print. ASU APP COLL STACK ML 2811 .S5

Traum, Happy. Bluegrass Guitar. New York. Oak Publications, p. 12, 23, 1974. ASU APP COLL STACK M 128. T7 B5 c.2

Willis, Barry R. America’s Music: Bluegrass. Franktown, Colorado. Pine Valley Music, p. 23,1989. ASU APP COLL STACK OVSZ ML 3520 .W55 1992

Abstracts and Indices: 

Abstracts and indices that function as helpful research guides include:

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature

Music Index


Bluegrass Unlimited. Broad Run. VAL Bluegrass Unlimited, 1967- Present. ASU APP COLL STACK ML1. B68

Frets. Cupertino, CA: GPI Publications, 1979. Print. ASU APP COLL STACK ML1 .F678

Jemf Quarterly. Los Angeles: John Edwards Memorial Foundation, 1900. Print. ASU APP COLL STACK ML1 .J55

The Journal of Country Music. Nashville: Country Music Foundation, 1971 - Present. Print. ASU APP COLL STACK ML1 .C91774

The Old-Time Herald: A Magazine Dedicated to Old-Time Music. Galax, VA: Old-Time Music Group, 1987. Print. ASU APP COLL STACK ML1 .035

Audio and Video Sources: 

Conkwright, Kathy, Mary Makley, and Robert Duvall. The Carter Family: Will the Circle Be Unbroken. United States: PBS Home Video, 2005. APP COLL VIDEO DVDisc 104

“Mother Maybelle’s ‘Carter Scratch’”. United States: Mebcon Production, 1990. APP COLL VIDEO VC 63

Seeger, Mike, Janette Carter, and Alexia Smith. Guitar Styles of the Carter Family. Woodstock, NY: Homespun Video, 2000. APP COLL VIDEO VC 396

“Wildwood Flower.” Carter, A P, Sara Carter, and Maybelle Carter. The Carter Family, 1927-1934. London, England: JSP Records, 2001. Sound recording.

Compiled by: 

Misa Giroux

2 October 2012