In this part of our site we look at songs and tunes and learn how to apply different styles of flatpicking to it. There are two ways to approach the material in this section:
Both of these are good learning objectives, but the second bullet is the main reason for putting this material together. We're going to look at what happens in the music when you arrange it to play different picking styles. Our goal is to help you to learn how to develop your own arrangements by seeing how it's done for the study tune.
The song we'll study on this page is "Wildwood Flower." Here is the approach we use to study this well-known song.
|The Basic Tune||In the Basic Tune section we learn the basic melody of "Wildwood Flower" as it is sung. That's our starting point, and our reference, for other playing styles.|
|Carter Style||The next step is to develop a couple of "Carter-style" arrangements for the song.|
|Crosspicking||Next, we explore how to play the tune by adding some crosspicking.|
|Where to Go from Here||Finally, we include a suggestions to help you look further into the information covered.|
You'll find a couple of file formats in the Study Tune section for audio and tablature files. In order to view and hear them correctly, it is necessary for your to have the the right equipment installed on your computer. Please refer to the table below for details.
|mp3||We use mp3 files for sound clips. This format is compatible with almost all computers.|
|View/Play||We use our Cloud Viewer to display our tab files in your web browser. This viewer lets you play the arrangements while you view it. (To print a tab you must download the PDF version)|
|You can also view and print our tabs using the Adobe Acrobat Reader plug-in for your browser. You can download the Acrobat Reader directly from Adobe if you need it.|
The Carter Family (l-r):
Maybelle, Sara and A.P.
"Wildwood Flower" is a traditional folk song that came into prominence when it was recorded by the Carter Family beginning in the late 1920's. It is considered by some to be the unofficial anthem of country and folk music.
The Carter Family have been called "Country Music's First Family." This trio consisted of A.P. Carter, his wife Sara and sister-in-law Maybelle Carter. Born in the Clinch Mountain area of southwest Virginia, the Carters were the first major vocal group to bring folk music to the masses via records and radio.
Start with the Basic Melody
The best place to start in learning "Wildwood Flower" is with the vocal, so we've prepared an audio clip of the first verse of the song as recorded by the Carter Family in 1935. The clip is in mp3 format.
|Basic Melody||Listen to Audio Clip
Once you have listened to the vocal clip let's see if we can transcribe it. If we figure out the note for each word in the verse, we've got what we need for a basic transcription. The first thing we have to do is figure out what key it's played in. (That can sometimes be a challenge with the old recordings because they don't always end up in "concert pitch.")
In our example, the Carters are singing in the key of E, but it sounds like Maybelle played it on the guitar using a capo. Most guitarists today play it using the chords in the key of C, so, for purposes of our analysis, we will arrange it that way. (If you want to sing along in the key of E, just capo your guitar on the fourth fret and play the C arrangement.)
A Basic Arrangement of "Wildwood Flower"
We have prepared an arrangement of the basic melody for guitar and published it here in both Scorch and PDF formats. The arrangement is in the key of C, and includes both standard notation and TAB. It also includes the lyrics to the first verse as sung in the audio clip above.
|Basic Arrangement||View/Play Tab|||||Download PDF|
Learning and understanding the basic melody in it's simplest form is the foundation on which more complicated arrangements and improvisational playing is based.
The Carter Family Memorial Music Center (The Carter Family Fold)
Carter-style picking is a technique named after Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family. She was the first recording artist to popularize this style, which became the driving rhythmic force behind the Carter Family's music - as well as an inspiration for generations of guitar players to come.
Carter-style is characterized by playing the melody notes on the bass strings and rhythmic fills on the treble strings. What makes this style significant is that it makes the guitar perform as both a lead instrument and rhythm instrument at the same time.
Here is an audio clip of Maybelle taking an instrumental break on "Wildwood Flower." Listen to how she carries both the melody and the rhythm. The clip is in mp3 format.
|Maybelle's Break||Listen to Audio Clip
It is interesting to note that while most modern players use a flatpick for Carter style picking, Maybelle herself used a thumbpick for the bass note and her index finger for the rhythmic strums. For Maybelle, this approach was a natural adaptation of the banjo picking style she had learned before she started playing the guitar.
Creating a Carter-Style Arrangement from the Basic Melody
We're going to show by example how this to arrange a tune for Carter style picking. Our starting point is the basic melody discussed in the previous section.
Click on the link shown to view a simplified Carter-Style arrangement that shows how it's done. The TAB file is available in both Scorch format and as a PDF document and contains both standard notation and tablature.
|Basic Carter Style Arrangement||View/Play Tab|||||Download PDF|
Let's look more closely at this TAB file and compare it to the one of the basic melody. The two arrangements are identical except that rhythmic fills have been added in the Carter-style. Remember that Maybelle had to make her guitar perform both as a lead and rhythm instrument, so she had to keep the beat going even when there are pauses in the melody. So, whenever there are notes longer than a quarter note (the basic beat in 4/4 time), you have to add something to keep the rhythm going.
In the graphic below, we've highlighted in longer notes the simple melody that need to have rhythm support. In the Carter-style version below, these notes are replaced with a quarter note of the same pitch PLUS some kind of rhythmic fill - either a strum or a combination of notes and a strum. This fills out the rhythmic structure and makes it more driving.
Other Carter-style Techniques
This Carter-style arrangement is very simple, and you may have noticed that it doesn't sound exactly like Maybelle's version in the recording. That's because she was doing some other things with it to make it more interesting. One technique is to convert the quarter note strums into eighth-note strums - basically going down and up on the strum instead of just down. Another technique is her use of hammer-ons and pull-offs.
We've created a more advanced arrangement of "Wildwood Flower" that uses both of these techniques and is closer to what you hear on the recording. Click on the link shown to see this arrangement in Scorch format.
|Advanced Carter Style Arrangement||View/Play|||||Download PDF|
Carter-Style Learning Resources - A listing of Carter-style books and videos here at BluegrassGuitar.com.
Our next step in studying "Wildwood Flower" is to do some crosspicking on it. This is an excellent tune for learning and exploring the crosspicking technique.
What is Crosspicking?
Crosspicking uses the flatpick to pick a group of strings in a pattern that repeats. Three strings are commonly involved in a crosspicking pattern, and the strings may or may not be adjacent to each other. When played on the guitar, crosspicking sounds very similar to the "rolls" you hear from a banjo player.
The direction you pick the strings when crosspicking is a personal preference. Some players use down-up-down-up (DUDU) pattern and some use down-down-up (DDU). The notes played are the same either way, although there is a subtle difference in the sound. Most players use the DUDU technique.
We've prepared an audio clip of Clarence White crosspicking "Wildwood Flower" to demonstrate how it sounds when done by one of the greats of Bluegrass Guitar. The clip is in mp3 format.
|Crosspicking Clip||Listen to Audio Clip
Listening to Clarence, you can hear that there is much more going on when you are crosspicking. At times it might be hard to hear the melody, too. It's there, but it's surrounded by a lot of other notes, and may not be in exactly the same place as in the basic melody you sing.
A Beginning Crosspicking Arrangement
Let's take a look at a simple crosspicking arrangement of "Wildwood Flower." This arrangement contains both standard notation and tablature.
|Crosspicking Arrangement||View/Play|||||Download PDF|
This arrangement illustrates a common crosspicking method: picking three adjacent strings in a repeating pattern. The left-hand fingering is built around simple chord positions, but the fingering changes to create different notes as the same pattern is repeated.
Comparison of Crosspicking Arrangement to Basic Melody
If you look at this TAB file and compare it to the TAB of the basic melody, you can see several things. First, there are a lot more notes in the crosspicking version. When you listen to the midi sound file for this arrangement it sounds like it's being played faster, but the truth is that it is exactly the same tempo as the other arrangements we've looked at. What makes it seem faster is that there are so many more notes being played per measure. Playing all these all these notes cleanly in is one of the things that makes crosspicking challenging to learn.
Another point to look at are where the melody notes occur. In the simple melody arrangement, the notes fall where the vocalist sings them. Now look at where these notes fall in the crosspicking arrangement. These notes are shown with blue background spots. They don't always fall in the same place, do they? There is some syncopation happening here as a result of the crosspicking pattern.
We hope the process outlined in this section gives you some insights into how to take a basic tune and apply different picking styles to it. If you liked this approach, we recommend you consider Rolly Brown's Solo Flatpicking Guitar video. It uses the same study tune concept, but goes into much more detail on technique.
Recommended Next Step
Solo Flatpicking Guitar
by Rolly Brown
Media: DVD / Digital Download
This video course focuses on how to create solos for instrumental tunes and interesting vocal accompaniments. Most of the video is a study of one song: "Hard Times" by Stephen Foster. It starts with learning the basic melody and the chord progression, then moves on to Carter Style, using different strums, adding bass runs, crosspicking and rolls, hammer-ons and pull-offs, and arpeggios. This is a terrific course and a great follow up to our Study Tune approach.
|Purchase This Item|
More on the Carter Family and Carter Style
Guitar Styles of The Carter
by Mike Seeger
Media: DVD+Tab / Digital Download
Mike Seeger toured with Maybelle Carter and visited with Sara on several occasions, learning their styles intimately. He teaches how to get the famous Carter Family guitar sound and incorporate it into some of their most significant songs. Mike is joined by Janette Carter, who offers reminiscences of the family, demonstrates her mother Sara's guitar playing, and sings on most of the songs.
|Purchase This Item|
This songbook features 32 full transcriptions (solos & backup): "Wildwood Flower", "Wabash Connonball", "Can the Circle be Unbroken", "Foggy Mt. Top", etc. Includes an analysis of Maybelle's picking style.
|Purchase This Item|
A must-read if you're interested in learning about the Carter Family. Published in 2002, this book is the first major biography about the Carter family.
|Purchase This Item|
Can the Circle Be Unbroken?: Country
Music's First Family
The Carter Family
This CD contains 20 tracks from the 1930's, so it is from the middle of the group's career. The quality of the recording is excellent as it is from a remastered original recording, and you can hear Maybelle's excellent playing very clearly.
|Purchase This Item|
33 Acoustic Guitar Instrumentals
A very unique CD! This collection of solo acoustic flatpicking guitar recordings was discovered in the personal tape library of Clarence White. Offers all flatpickers the opportunity to hear Clarence by himself on 33 great Bluegrass tunes.
|Purchase This Item|