How To Play The Carter Scratch (Featuring Courtney Marie Andrews)

Published by Jan Heaney on

How To Play The Carter Scratch (Featuring Courtney Marie Andrews)

Hi. My name is Courtney Marie Andrews, and
I’m here to demonstrate the Carter-style picking — which is also commonly known as
the Carter scratch. The Carter scratch was developed by Maybelle Carter. Many people consider her the matriarch of country music, but more importantly, she was one of the first lead guitar players. [guitar] Before the 1920s and Maybelle Carter, the
guitar was primarily used as a rhythm instrument. And a rhythm instrument doesn’t
pick out any melodies or any bass lines or anything like that. It just sort of [guitar] is one continuous strum. [guitar] And the reason why Maybelle was so
revolutionary is because she was one of the first musicians and guitar players
to use the guitar as multiple instruments in one. And she was very
popular for using the fingerpicks. She used a thumb pick and generally two
steel picks. I’m nowhere near as amazing
as Maybelle is at, at her own style, and so I’m just gonna, I’m just gonna
demonstrate with two fingerpicks today. Maybelle was an incredible guitar player
because she thought of adding multiple roles into her playing.
She was playing the bass, she was playing the rhythm and
she was playing the melody all at once. And at that time, it was just not common
to see guitar playing like that. And that is why so many people have emulated
Maybelle’s guitar playing and she’s perhaps the most emulated
guitar player of all time. The way that she played was that she would play the bass notes on the D, A and E strings and then she’d sort of frail with her pointer finger
and her middle finger, so she’d create a lot of volume when she played. The thumb pick and the thumb are sort of
alternating between these strings, [guitar] while the pointer finger is frailing. And
“frailing” is a term that basically implies you’re just — it kind of sounds like
how it is — you’re frailing along the strings. Frail. [Laughs.] And so she’d alternate
between the bass strings. So I’m just gonna play the bass part for you — what
she would do. And that is — [guitar] and then I’ll add the frailing in for
you so you can sort of see how the two play with each other. So that’s — [guitar] bass, frail, bass, frail,
bass, frail, bass, frail. And then she’d often sort of. To keep the
tempo, have a pep in the step tempo, you can add — the frailing can go
up and down or down and up. And that sort of goes like this. [guitar] And then, the probably, arguably the most
important part of the Carter scratch is that she’d play the melody on the bass
strings while frailing, and this enabled her to, to play everything very loudly
for theaters and churches and all these places that weren’t, you know, wasn’t
capable of amplifying yet. And so they’d have to be played —
she’d have to play very loud. And I think that sort of played a huge hand
in developing her style and playing. And so I’ll add the melody in, with the bass and the frailing. So — [guitar] Maybelle’s style was developed by watching a African American blues guitarist named Lesley Riddle. And that may have played a
big factor in her playing. And also the Carter Family had a show on the
Mexican-Texas border, and Maybelle was said to have loved Mexican music, and
that might have had, in her later years, a bigger, big effect on her playing as well. She also, in her early years,
played the autoharp and the banjo, which are both fingerpick instruments. And that also probably had a big effect on, on her
style and — the classic Carter scratch is definitely played with fingerpicks, but over the years people have sort of had their own versions, including myself. And I — my own version includes a flat pick. Now Maybelle did occasionally use a
flat pick in her style but only on a couple songs. “Wildwood Flower” is actually
a song that she, she’d used a flat pick on. But I certainly feel more comfortable
using a flat pick, and I’ve sort of loved to play the Carter scratch with a flat
pick, and I’m going to show you how that’s done. I’m going to demonstrate
with a song called “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” and it’s an old hymn. And the Carter Family
actually did their own version of this song called “Can the Circle Be Unbroken,”
but I’m gonna play the original hymn. So this is called “Will
the Circle Be Unbroken.” [guitar] Will the circle be unbroken by and by, Lord, by and by? There’s a better home awaiting in the sky, Lord, in the sky. [guitar] So that’s the Carter scratch.
I hope you learned something. My name is Courtney Marie Andrews,
and I’m turning the tables.


Doug FA · September 3, 2019 at 9:14 pm

Thanks for the lesson… got to go down and experience some of the Carter Family magic and see a lot of their history this past spring. It was a great experience.

Jose Torres · September 4, 2019 at 8:51 pm

Great video I learned a lot thank you

Joseph Petrocelli · September 5, 2019 at 12:57 am

An historian, a teacher, a guitarist and vocalist all in one delightful lady. Thank you , from an old musician who just learned something new.

Andrew Allen · September 5, 2019 at 11:06 am

Saying that there was no lead guitar before Maybelle is false.

danger stranger · September 5, 2019 at 2:24 pm

Am I in a time warp? The date says August 15 2019. Great video by the way

Bill Rogers · September 6, 2019 at 11:14 am

I have Ms. Andrews's "Honest Life" record. If you don't have it, you need to go get it now. You'll thank me later.

Gib Williamson · September 8, 2019 at 4:08 am

Courtney Marie Andrews,, Hi & welcome to the Southern Hemisphere of Auckland New Zealand, You might like to show your viewers what your left hand fingers were doing whilst your right hand pick was hitting the strings, otherwise not to bad

Mark Nomura · September 9, 2019 at 2:35 am

What guitar is she playing? It looks like a Martin D-18, but I don't recall seeing one with a rosewood bridge and fingerboard before.

Anthony Grantham · September 10, 2019 at 7:46 pm

Awesome! I was taught by a lady across the road who called it "pluck strum" – beautiful voice she had.

Bob S · September 12, 2019 at 8:24 am

I recommend you always play an example of what you are about to teach first.

Ray Staar · September 14, 2019 at 5:18 am

Hm. Shouldn't that be flailing? (wave or swing or cause to wave or swing.) Frail means weak and/or delicate, which Maybelle Carter certainly wasn't.

Uncle Ned · September 14, 2019 at 5:56 am

0:11 Hey! I'm over here!

Boone Docker · September 14, 2019 at 4:55 pm

I can't believe people would actually vote this down. Nice job Courtney.

Joe Cancemi · September 16, 2019 at 4:17 am

wow the magic happens when you add the melody played with the bass notes, great job!

Poowawa TV · September 16, 2019 at 9:56 pm

blues players were definitely throwing in bass pre 1920s lol also Love ma Carter!

Johnny Guitar · September 17, 2019 at 1:41 am

chewing chewing chewing gum , chewing chewing chewing gum , chewing chewing chewing gum , chewing chewing chewing gum , chewing chewing chewing gum , chewing chewing chewing gum , chewing chewing chewing gum

Larry Kenney · September 17, 2019 at 2:02 am

Is your finger pick the wrong way?

Clayton Walter · September 17, 2019 at 10:34 am

That isn't a "frail", it's a plain strum. Also, a huge number of musicians, blues and otherwise, used bass, strum, and melody at the same time.

Will Strickland · September 17, 2019 at 3:14 pm

Maybelle did both downstroke and upstroke on the top strings giving it that rhythm on the “2 and” – and “4” beats. Like 1 “2 and” 3 “4” setting up that county rhythm heard later on. Like the stereotypical dun chinga dun ching dun chinga dun ching- if that makes sense haha

Oh I see now she did the upstrokes but I think maybelle must’ve had a finger pick that wasn’t curved but flat perhaps to hit those upstrokes smoothly as down strokes

The Gardening Astronomer · September 17, 2019 at 10:20 pm

I’m an untrained folk musician. I play songs I like, the best I can, and pick up little tricks from here and there. I don’t deliberately copy any particular style. What comes out is definitely my personal style, but I would never say I invented anything. I’m pretty sure that’s common among all musicians.

Paul Williams · September 17, 2019 at 10:49 pm

Love it!!! Love the songs

Mike Selsvik · September 18, 2019 at 10:32 pm

You have the finger picks on upside down

MegaGuitarpicker · September 20, 2019 at 7:13 pm

Very nice!

Teachering · September 24, 2019 at 3:36 pm

Thank you, Courtney Marie Andrews. Yes, I have learned something watching and listening to you play.

Ryan Hulin · September 25, 2019 at 5:12 pm

She’s very knowledgeable but I hope the young folks watching this is HER interpretation of the Carter Scratch it’s not very close to Maybelle though so for reference check out videos of Maybelle and audio of the Carter Family

Mike C · September 26, 2019 at 11:27 am

I like this, seems easier than Travis picking. You have a lovely voice – singing and speaking.

J · September 26, 2019 at 6:41 pm

So she is wearing the finger pick upside down. No one else here a picker and noticed that? Since she does not even know the proper way to wear a finger pick I question her knowledge on other information, oh wait, I also happen to know a lot about the Carters, bluegrass and picking and her information is more opinion than fact. Just saying.

Michael Ogden · September 27, 2019 at 2:08 am

Nice job! Loves me some Martin guitar!

0713mas · September 27, 2019 at 5:17 pm

If you can't wait to wait to hear this girls amazing voice go to 5:29. Great guitar player and storyteller as well!

Jordan Sheppherd · September 28, 2019 at 2:39 am

2:09 Frail! She has a cute dorky laugh.

Dinka Boutit · September 28, 2019 at 5:55 pm

That's not frailing, that's just strumming with your index finger. To see frailing, search "clawhammer banjo". Also, she got CLOSE to the Carter scratch, like once, but mainly all she did was alternate the bass notes while flatpicking, which would be best described as: competent flatpicking.

Most people demonstrate the Carter scratch by playing the song " Wildwood Flower", which- chronologically at least- seems to have been where the technique really crystallized for Mother Maybelle, and because of the slow tempo, which makes the individual components of the style easy to pick out.

Dinka Boutit · September 28, 2019 at 6:02 pm

There should be a recognized female equivalence of "mansplaining," where it doesnt matter if you know what you're talking about at all, or if you're actually capable of doing the thing that you're supposed to be demonstrating, but as long as someone (who was trying to fuck you) told you that you were really good at it one time, you're totally qualified to teach. Because that's what this video is. Literally not qualified to carry Maybelle Carter's guitar.

K B · September 28, 2019 at 7:56 pm

Fit as fuck

Something Wicked This Way Comes · September 28, 2019 at 11:24 pm

Very nice tutorial on the Carter Scratch. I’ve played guitar for 50 years but never knew the proper terminology of what I was playing. It’s always wonderful to know the history of things like this so we can continue to pass it down to our children. You have a wonderful voice too. Thank you for your presentation.

Al Qumran · September 29, 2019 at 5:12 am

Very well presented video on the Crater scratch. I grew up in Australia and as a 10-year-old spent hours with a wind-up gramophone playing some of the old Carter 78 songs. I just love their music. It's kind of timeless and very spiritual music.

Steve Jones · September 29, 2019 at 10:00 pm

Thank you for beautiful music and lesson !!!

hencape · September 30, 2019 at 9:33 pm

That was awesome. I watched the history of country music and this fits in very nicely. Thanks

Catfish Cooler · October 1, 2019 at 12:03 am

Maybelle Carter was a direct influence on Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, Luther Perkins, and Hank Garland. She was an indirect influence on virtually everyone else.

WaterDrive1 · October 1, 2019 at 5:02 pm

You are amazing!

superdave2112 · October 2, 2019 at 2:35 pm

The banjo playing of her early years was likely clawhammer/frailing and not picking at all, and goes way back to Africa, although it sure did get more refined here in the states in the 1800s. That's what I hear when I hear the "Carter Scratch." Bum ditty bum ditty bum ditty bum-pa ditty.

Benjabola · October 2, 2019 at 10:53 pm

Great to see the upside of these bulkly dreadnaught guitars that I actually do love.

Corey McMahon · October 2, 2019 at 11:07 pm

She looks like she can brew up a nice tall glass of sweet tea and probably make amean fried chicken and biscuit dinner

Steven Schenck · October 4, 2019 at 5:20 am

Very nice and full of great information – Thanks

David Parnell · October 4, 2019 at 7:05 pm

Who knew instruction could be so personable!! Mother Maybelle would be proud! You keep the sound alive…thanks so much. (Your love of the music is evident in your voice and expression.)

Don Stewart · October 4, 2019 at 11:13 pm

You need to look again Maybelle used a thumb pick on Wild Wood Flower.

Nick Williams · October 5, 2019 at 6:48 am

Fantastic !

Bryan Dov Bergman · October 5, 2019 at 10:35 am

Thanks. This video is great. I've been trying to figure out the Carter scratch. This gives a lot of insight into not just how to play but how it works, and what Maybelle Carter was trying to do in her style.

Gold Hunter · October 6, 2019 at 5:27 am

Good stuff. Nice voice, nice playing. Thanks.

Michael Ashba · October 6, 2019 at 2:21 pm


KesselRunHero · October 7, 2019 at 12:41 am

How are the tables being turned? What does that mean?

GrassFedMeats · October 7, 2019 at 2:29 pm

NPR…home of the anti family feminist agenda but still needing internet traffic. Maybelle picked up the style from a fellow player. Leslie Riddle…she just happened to make it famous

Allan Sherwin · October 7, 2019 at 3:26 pm

So who is she looking and talking to when the camera angle changes? A real amateur cop out from the videographer, she comes across really well without confusing cutaways.

friedcash · October 9, 2019 at 7:31 pm

am I the only one who has the finger pick the other way.. interesting

Blueser100 · October 12, 2019 at 1:58 pm

Excellent video. I love playing Carter style.

YesSirNoMam · October 15, 2019 at 11:16 am

Angers me I could only give it one thumbs up.

Roger Newton · October 15, 2019 at 3:04 pm

What an interesting environment.

Ryan Sutherland-Charlton · October 15, 2019 at 6:55 pm

really , please you need to learn some joe pass

John Irby · October 15, 2019 at 9:22 pm

From the inside out, you are a beautiful human being. Thank you!

Kevin Nunley · October 15, 2019 at 10:07 pm

Ahh an old D-18 before Martin messed it up with a new design. Such a classic sound. Thank you.

robert lerma · October 16, 2019 at 9:23 pm

You have beautiful hair and legs!

Trunk McEight · October 17, 2019 at 1:17 am

Came for some musical technique, left when it turned into a political lecture.

Noodlin' Nirvana · October 17, 2019 at 12:37 pm

Leslie Riddle did not have an influence on Maybelle's primary bass-melody style, but only on some later styles she continued to incorporate. I edited the Encyclopedia of Appalachia's music section–folks in them there hills know what's what.

eagle49 · October 17, 2019 at 7:18 pm

Thanks Court! wish you were my neighbor, we could jam all the time.

snaggletooth 70 · October 18, 2019 at 3:33 am

You are great picker young lady,,god bless

John Jenkins · October 18, 2019 at 11:51 am

I like this style. It’s clean and melodic.

Custis Long · October 18, 2019 at 12:52 pm

Carter family made their mark in bluegrass, gospel, country, and Americana music for sure.

JISCO DATA · October 18, 2019 at 4:22 pm

It was very common amongst the blacks blues musicians to Play bass melody and rhythm to name a few Mississippi John hurt, fred McDowell ex

dufus · October 19, 2019 at 4:25 am

thanks, pretty voice and great picking.

John Sadler · October 19, 2019 at 4:47 am

These theories apply to all music. What a great lesson on thought in music. Playing for the sake of playing is not always music is what it should have said

tom thompson · October 19, 2019 at 9:37 am

the camera and strings look so great at 2:02 , its just like waves flowing

MIKE TRAVIS · October 19, 2019 at 7:49 pm

the show was actually in monterrey mx. they made a one million watt antenna on a hill about 4,000 ft up

ClassicRockLivesOn · October 20, 2019 at 12:59 am

This is an awesome lesson, she's a great teacher, and I want to see more like this, but the most emulated guitarist has to be Hendrix or Page.

Here'smytake · October 20, 2019 at 6:11 am


zbudda · October 20, 2019 at 12:04 pm

She has a young Joanie Mitchell look.

Max Cyclone · October 20, 2019 at 8:19 pm

Thank you Courtney. That was great.

Richard Prutz · October 21, 2019 at 12:38 am

LOve your Voice- Keep on Picken

ArgentAbendAzure · October 21, 2019 at 7:33 am

I think Maybelle had a great deal of natural talent and ability.She started playing the guitar at 13.She met Leslie Riddle in about 1928 after the Carter family had already started recording.She didn't invent finger picking.But she already knew how to do it.She was 18 years old ( and pregnant ) when this first song was recorded by Ralph Peer at the Bristol sessions.

And Leslie Riddle himself said how brilliant she was."You don’t have to give Maybelle any lessons," said Riddle. "You let her see you playing something, she’ll get it- you better believe it."

Maybelle Addington and Sara Doughherty were cousins.The family was clearly very musically talented before they married the Carter brothers.
Maybelle's mother played the banjo.Both Maybelle,and Sara could play the autoharp.
Maybelle's daughters Helen,Anita,and June also became musicians.

I hear some people tend to over emphasize Leslie Riddle's influence on her.She wasn't stealing his style.She knew what she was doing on her own.Of course all musicians learn from each other.He did help A.P. on song hunting trips.And he did teach the Carter's songs that he knew.
A.P. did copy write many of these old songs.But the original writers were probably already deceased in most cases.
It's just a profound blessing that all these talented people joined together to save so much great American music.

Bill dedrick · October 22, 2019 at 3:13 am

What year D18 is that? late 60's early 70's? What strings were you using here?

Ivy Brynn Becker · October 24, 2019 at 3:31 am

There was a news piece this morning about protesters stopping to (I apologize in advance) sing the baby shark song. Part of this song actually the doo doo doo part, or it at least sounded similar to me. That really is an awful earworm…

oobie2b · October 24, 2019 at 11:14 pm

Wonder if Johnny Cash picked up on Maybelle's technique?

Gabe Mascarella · October 25, 2019 at 8:17 pm

"that may have played a big factor in her playing…" yeah she just ripped off a black Piedmont blues-man's alternate bass line finger-style. Maybelle should be credited for adapting this style, not being responsible for its creation. Ironic that NPR, in its efforts to recognize woman of influence in music, just helped propagate the white-washed narrative on this finger style technique. Black blues-men from the delta had been playing monotonic bass with picked melodies before Maybelle was born, and the diatonic/Piedmont style (what she is getting undue credit for) had been around for nearly just as long. what a crumby, sham of a story…

ziblot123 · October 26, 2019 at 9:54 am

You have yur fingerpicks on backwards. The curve should be awa from the strings. They way you wear t hem would cause you to get hung up in the strings. I have been playing since 1965, I have NEVER seen picks worn like that. Doc Watson was really the inventer of the modern style. MS Carter was important but she wasnt . that innovative IMO. Why do you feel it neccesary to downplay white contrubutions and add Riddle and Chicano music. I see no relation.I love the TexMex music etc but I dont see the connection with the BlueRidge music, which is strictly a Scots Irish INVENTION. That is Caucasians. Get over it. White people actually made some contributions. Turning the tables , u mean rewriting history. None for me thanks.

Gadg Scoastguitars · October 26, 2019 at 11:37 am

Niice. Thanks.

jerry Moses · October 27, 2019 at 2:17 pm

Listen to the original version of Wildwood Flower from the Speer recordings. Maybelle had her stuff DOWN before she met anyone. In 1927 she was an 18 year old girl who had never been off of Clinch Mountain. The original Carter Family songs were recorded and released before A.P. Carter met Leslie Riddle. He met Riddle when he was roaming around looking for more songs to record. What you state in the video is a myth.

Joe McGraw · October 27, 2019 at 10:05 pm

i will try this method ,I noticed how you have the finger pick like a extension of your nail ,im going to try to use the finger picks this way always reversed them ,nice instruction here thanks for your research and knowlege, im a lefty that plays right handed always have ,im so confused hee hee ,nice singing and playing just subscribed ,thanks for you time making a very cool video

alan sturgess · October 30, 2019 at 11:36 am

Beautiful woman. Beautiful playing. Superb explanations and demonstrations – what's not to like? Great to see such passion, expertise and musicianship. 10/10

fabio m · October 30, 2019 at 1:29 pm

ms bs for pseudo-humans

Slashley gibbins · November 7, 2019 at 10:13 pm

Micheal Jackson didn’t invent the moonwalk

TNTTruth1 · November 8, 2019 at 2:54 am

Great History lesson and demonstration as well! Thank You!

Marc Highliner · November 8, 2019 at 8:21 am

I would imagine that Maybelle's technique derived from her playing the autoharp – which incorporates the technique she used with the guitar.

Matthew Cannata · November 8, 2019 at 1:33 pm

Great video!
Though guitatists have played polyphonically for long before Maybelle – all respect to her .

Mark Robinson · November 9, 2019 at 9:26 pm

just nice …..and informative thank you

Return of the Native · November 12, 2019 at 12:00 pm

I did indeed enjoy it, thank you Courtney. 🇦🇺

Derek Budd · November 13, 2019 at 3:29 pm

Courtney that was wonderful, so inspiring. Thank you for demonstrating that unforgettable finger style. Can you suggest any other Tutorials or TAB exercises especially illustrating your finger pick technique. You also have a superb voice, what a great gift of life.

Edmund Davis-Quinn · November 17, 2019 at 4:13 pm

I like it better with the fingerpicks, although I bet those take getting used to.

brad h · November 17, 2019 at 7:44 pm

What does she mean when she says she's turning the tables?

Bascomblodge · November 18, 2019 at 2:17 pm

Great lesson and what songbird!

Paul South · November 28, 2019 at 9:02 am

I think I'm in love!

Fritz Biederstadt · November 28, 2019 at 12:08 pm

Excelling lesson…learn something new everyday. I'm a fingerstyle guitar player that is trying to get much more proficient with a picket that combines rhythm and melody. This has been very helpful…Thanks!

Running with Scissors · November 28, 2019 at 6:41 pm

You're an excellent teacher – thank you!

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