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What is Carter-Style Guitar Playing?

Carter-style playing is a guitar picking style named after the famous Carter family, whose members included June Carter, “Mother” Maybelle, and “Uncle” A.P. To play Carter style, you play the melody on the low strings with the thumb while the fingers provide an accompaniment in the form of brushes.

This style works well for songs with melody notes that fall mostly on beats 1 and 3. (The brushes occur on beats 2 and 4.) But if a melody note falls on beat 2 or 4, you can simply omit the brush on that beat.

You can play this style just as easily by using a pick as you can with the fingers, so try it both ways and see which is more comfortable for you.

The following figure shows a Carter-style passage in which the melody falls entirely on the lower strings. It uses a traditional melody, called “Wildwood Flower,” that the Carter family made famous. Woody Guthrie wrote his own lyrics and called it “The Sinking of the Ruben James.”

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