Carter Family Style (Guitar Lesson)

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Jim Deeming

Carter Family Style

Jim Deeming introduces a playing style called "Carter Family Style." The technique is also referred to as "Frailing" or "Clawhammer" style.

Taught by Jim Deeming in Fingerstyle Guitar seriesLength: 13:07Difficulty: 3.0 of 5
Chapter 1: (00:25) Musical Introduction Welcome back to the Phase 2 Fingerstyle Guitar Series with Jim Deeming! In this introduction scene, Jim performs the song "Wildflower" by the Carter Family. This guitar arrangement provides a perfect example of a new technique called the "Clawhammer." In the following scenes, Jim will explain the mechanics and key musical features of this technique.
Chapter 2: (03:41) Frailing / Clawhammer Technique A Technique of Many Names

The technique discussed in this lesson is referred to by several names. The terms "frailing," "Carter Family Style" and "clawhammer" all refer to the same technique. The clawhammer guitar technique imitates a common banjo accompaniment.

Role Reversal

The clawhammer pattern features a role reversal from the accompaniment patterns Jim has explained in previous lessons. In most fingerstyle lessons, arrangements feature a melody line and some sort of accompaniment pattern played by the thumb. More often than not, an alternating bass line has been the preferred accompaniment pattern. The clawhammer technique features chords and accompaniment strummed by the index, middle, and ring fingers while the thumb performs the melody.

Using a Capo

In the introduction scene, Jim performed "Wildwood Flower" with a capo fixed in fifth position. As the capo travels further up the neck, the guitar begins to produce a sweeter, brighter tone. The tone begins to sound more similar to a banjo. As you might have noticed, the melody is played out of familiar chord shapes from first position. When a capo is employed, these chord shapes are simply shifted up the neck. Essentially, the capo has changed the location of the nut to give the guitar an overall higher register. In doing so, the key of the song is transposed from C major to F major.

Clawhammer Basics

The clawhammer allows you to play a melody line in a lower register while the accompaniment is played in a higher register. While the thumb picks melody notes, the index, middle, or ring finger(s) may be used to flick the treble strings with the back of the nail. The nails produce a bright strumming sound that contrasts nicely with the warm tone of the melody.

The vast majority of the melody is played with the thumb on the third and fourth strings. However, the melody climbs to the first and second strings during the chorus section. Unlike past fingerstyle lessons, the thumb continues to perform the melody line regardless of which strings it is played on.

Strumming Practice

First, strum an "open" C major chord with a thumbpick. Then, strum the same chord using the index finger method Jim demonstrates in the lesson video. Flick the index finger outwards from the palm in a relaxed motion. The clawhammer is meant to produce a laid back, lightly swaying accompaniment. Consequently, the index finger must not strum too aggressively. Watch at 03:06 as Jim demonstrates the clawhammer pattern with a I, IV, V progression in C major. Within this demonstration, bass notes are plucked with the thumb on beats 1 and 3. On beats 2 and 4, the index finger strums the chord.

Right Hand Fingering

Within the clawhammer pattern, chords can be strummed with one finger or multiple fingers. Each permutation produces a unique tone. For example, the nail of the index finger produces a slightly different tone from the nail of the middle finger. An altogether different tone is produced by strumming with these two fingers together, and so on. Multiple fingers produce a louder, more aggressive sound. This may be desirable in some situations. However, be careful not to drown out the melody line with loud strumming. Jim usually prefers the sound and control available with the index finger.
Chapter 3: (04:03) Melody and Right Hand Technique Practicing the Clawhammer

When first learning this technique, begin with a familiar chord such as C major. Pluck the root note on beats 1 and 3. Strum the chord with the index finger on beats 2 and 4. Strive for a solid tone that is appropriate in volume. Imitate the finger movement that Jim demonstrates in the lesson video. When you feel comfortable with this new strumming technique, apply an alternating bass pattern on beats 1 and 3.

Strumming Rhythm

To vary the accompaniment pattern, the index finger can perform upstrums on the "and" beats of 2 and 4. This technique incorporates eighth notes into the strumming pattern.

Which Strings Do I Hit?

When the clawhammer is employed, the melody line is typically played on the three bass strings. For this reason, only the three highest strings should be strummed by the index finger. To add some variety to the accompaniment pattern, the B and E strings can be strummed without the G string. If a melody note is played on the third string, do not strum the third string as part of the accompaniment pattern. This will disturb the fluidity of the melody.

During the chorus section, the melody travels to the first and second strings. In this section, there is no choice but to re-strum a string immediately following a melody note. However, as Jim demonstrates, if you play the melody with a clear, powerful tone, it will still stand out from the accompaniment. Consequently, a melody note can be played by the thumb on any of the sixth strings while the strumming rhythm remains constant on beats "2 +" as well as "4 +."
Chapter 4: (04:40) Demonstration In this scene, Jim has tuned his guitar as follows:

6th string: D
5th string: G
4th string: D
3rd string: G
2nd string: B
1st string: E

This tuning is quite similar to open G tuning with the exception of the first string. Notice how the first string is tuned to E. In open G, the first string is tuned to a D. This tuning is commonly used in folk, country, and rock music. The rock band Soundgarden employed this tuning in many songs on the album Superunknown.

Chord Voicings

In this tuning, an "open" G chord can be played simply by fretting the note G at the 3rd fret of the first string. The remaining strings can be strummed open since they are part of a G major chord (G, B, D).

U2 Medley

Doyle Dykes frequently performs a medley of U2 songs that utilizes this tuning. In the lesson video, Jim demonstrates a portion of "With Or Without You." In this song, a bass line is performed by the thumb. The melody is played primarily by the index, and middle fingers. The ring finger is occasionally also used to pluck melody notes. The index finger strums chords only when the melody is inactive. It fills the space during rests or breaths in the vocal line.

This variation on the clawhammer is different in several ways. Now, the melody is no longer played by the thumb since it is busy performing an alternating bass line. As a result, the index, middle, and ring fingers must be used to play the melody. Finally, the index finger does not maintain a constant strumming pattern. These alterations lead to an overall more complex sounding arrangement. Three separate parts are now used instead of two.

Palm Muting and the Clawhammer

When the clawhammer is used, the options for palm muting the bass line become more limited. Since this accompaniment style has such a loose, flowing feel, a palm muted bass line doesn't sound appropriate anyway. The clawhammer is much better suited for open, ringing bass notes.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

drhuberdrhuber replied

I agree with the below posts! Can you include the U2 tab as well? I would love to see Doyle Dyke's U2 as a Phase 3 lesson!

bigcountryfxbigcountryfx replied

absolutely fantastic lesson and it made me feel good, because I already kinda play that style, lol That's how my old dad used to play and I picked it up from gonna continue with mr. deerings lessons because how he plays is similar to me...only much much's my new teacher, lol

funsterfunster replied

I think of Carter style playing as the melody on the bass notes with the chords filling in. You can arrange lots of folk songs to this style. "City of New Orlean"s comes to mind. "Under the Double Eagle" is another one.

mattbrownmattbrown replied

Hi everyone! I'm currently working on updating the supplemental content section for several of the older lessons on the website. This one will have a transcription of Scene 1 and a complete breakdown of the techniques/ideas taught in the lesson with corresponding time markers like all of the current JamPlay lessons. Stay tuned...I'll post another quick comment once I get this finished.

mc2altamc2alta replied

just saw this after seeing that none of the supplemental links except for the intro song work, any updates?

Jim.DeemingJim.Deeming replied

I intended this to be a right hand technique lesson and the songs were only meant as demos, so I did not write tab for this. I can see now that was a mistake. Please bear with me and I will get some supplemental content to Jeff as soon as possible. Also, as Jeff alluded to, I have filmed a full fingerstyle arrangement of Wildwood Flower which will soon be posted (yes, with tab) in the Phase III Song Section. If there is enough interest, I can eventually tab and teach the other demo song I gave a brief cameo of - Doyle Dyke's arrangment of the U2 Medley, which blends "With Or Without You" and "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For".

sean.egansean.egan replied

Jim: I have a real interest in learning the Doyle Dykes version of With or Without You. So when you have time, would you please consider posting a lesson on how to play that? Thanks so much.

nessanessa replied

Yep! "Wildwood Flower" - I just finished that beast of a lesson yesterday. You'll likely see it up tomorrow!

Jim.DeemingJim.Deeming replied

Beast??? This one's a pup. Wait til you see the U2 Medley... :D

jessehjesseh replied

Wildwood flower very nice song easy

mattbrownmattbrown replied

I know that I would love to learn the U2 arrangement! Consider this an official Phase 3 request. Instructors are allowed to make requests, right?:)

Jim.DeemingJim.Deeming replied

I think that's fair... :D

network3dnetwork3d replied

Another request for the tab for the U2 song in the lesson. Thanks

smartinsmartin replied

Hey Jim, I am new to Jam Play and working my way through the lessons, I agree with the others, the U2 was amazing, brought a whole new feel, love to see the tab and lesson

shaznatshaznat replied

Man, that U2 medley was impressive. If you have time, I would love to get a tab of that. A whole phase 3 lesson on it would be nice too, but if not, a tab would probably work fine.

aerowizzardaerowizzard replied

Hello Jim, Is it possible to find a complete tablature of Wildwood Flower as you play it in the lesson 11. Thanks

nessanessa replied

Here is a full lesson on Wildwood Flower with full tab under the "Supplemental Content" section. I hope this helps!

wb_munchausenwb_munchausen replied

Concerning capo-ing up to the fifth fret for Wildwood Flower: On the 1971 album Will the Circle Be Unbroken, You can hear Mother Maybelle talking about playing Wildwood Flower in what she calls 'F standard' key, which is playing the C shape chords at the fifth on the guitar. She played the autoharp on the album, but she said she had usually recorded it with a guitar.

larry1larry1 replied

jim-- can you give us some more phase 3 bluegrass fingerpicking lessons of chet atkins /tommy emanuel type . maybe substitue for the christmas songs until next christmas thanks

janetajaneta replied

Hi Jim, You are the best. I'm very inspired and looking forward to seeing the tab for Wildwood Flower. I loved the Windy and Warm Lesson set, working on that right now. Thanks for your great lessons.

jessehjesseh replied

Awsome song needs music though

jessehjesseh replied

I have to agree

bany_rockbany_rock replied

give us some supplemental content please! at least some phrases, exercises of the style

jboothjbooth replied

He will have an entire song demonstrating the lesson up soon,these were just meant to be taken as samples so unfortunately there's no tablature done at this point - Jim would probably consider it though if you guys really want it!

mattbrownmattbrown replied

I think Jim will have it up soon. I'll check to make sure though.

mattbrownmattbrown replied

wow! That's a nice tone! butter!

bany_rockbany_rock replied

THAT U2 SONG! hear it that way you just played it its awesome! is it where the streets have no name?

SylviaSylvia replied

Lyris: Wildwood Flower........ Oh, I'll twine with my mingles and waving black hair With the roses so red and the lilies so fair And the myrtle so bright with the emerald hue The pale and the leader and eyes look like blue........... Oh I'll dance, I will sing and my laugh shall be gay I will charm every heart, in his crown I will sway When I woke from my dreaming, my idol was clay All portion of love had all flown away............ Oh he taught me to love him and promised to love And to cherish me over all others above How my heart is now wond'ring no mis'ry can tell He's left me no warning, no words of farewell............... Oh, he taught me to love him and called me his flower That was blooming to cheer him through life's dreary hour Oh, I long to see him and regret the dark hour He's gone and neglected this pale wildwood flower........

Fingerstyle Guitar

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Fingerstyle guitar allows you to play the bass, harmony, and melody of a song all within the context of a single guitar part.

Intro to FingerstyleLesson 1

Intro to Fingerstyle

This lesson serves as an introduction for Fingerstyle Guitar with Jim Deeming. Come on in and get started!

Length: 24:32 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Basic FingerstyleLesson 2

Basic Fingerstyle

Jim demonstrates a basic fingerstyle exercise that you can use with any of the chords you know.

Length: 16:05 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
More Picking PatternsLesson 3

More Picking Patterns

Jim expands on lesson 2 and teaches several different picking patterns. He also covers the basics of muting.

Length: 14:23 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Using SyncopationLesson 4

Using Syncopation

Jim Deeming explains how to integrate basic syncopation into your rhythm playing.

Length: 17:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Picking Melody NotesLesson 5

Picking Melody Notes

This lesson is all about picking melody notes. Fingerstyle guitar really gets interesting when you combine bass, harmony, and melody.

Length: 33:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Aura LeeLesson 6

Aura Lee

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle version of the classic Civil War era song "Aura Lee."

Length: 43:23 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Chet Atkins StyleLesson 7

Chet Atkins Style

Jim explains key components of Chet Atkins' guitar style.

Length: 18:12 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
3/4 Time and a SongLesson 8

3/4 Time and a Song

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle arrangement of "Bicycle Built for Two." He uses this piece as an example of 3/4 or waltz timing.

Length: 37:34 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Two Songs at OnceLesson 9

Two Songs at Once

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle arrangement of "Yankee Doodle" and "Dixie." Both songs are played simultaneously!

Length: 30:03 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Open G TuningLesson 10

Open G Tuning

Jim Deeming teaches the basics of open G tuning. He also teaches a song entitled "Spanish Fandango" to show how the tuning can be used.

Length: 39:58 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Carter Family StyleLesson 11

Carter Family Style

Jim Deeming introduces a playing style called "Carter Family Style." The technique is also referred to as "Frailing" or "Clawhammer" style.

Length: 13:07 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
DADGAD TuningLesson 12


Jim Deeming teaches the many wonders of DADGAD tuning.

Length: 32:25 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Thumb Independence Lesson 13

Thumb Independence

Jim Deeming tackles the topic of thumb independence.

Length: 31:51 Difficulty: 1.5 FREE
The JamPlay SongLesson 14

The JamPlay Song

Jim Deeming teaches a more advanced version of the aptly named "JamPlay Song."

Length: 7:24 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
The Wayfaring StrangerLesson 15

The Wayfaring Stranger

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle version of the classic song "The Wayfaring Stranger."

Length: 31:27 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
The Official Thumbpick GuideLesson 16

The Official Thumbpick Guide

Jim Deeming answers one of the most common fingerstyle questions, "which thumbpick should I use?"

Length: 13:03 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Fingernail GuideLesson 17

Fingernail Guide

Jim Deeming presents his thoughts on how to properly grow and groom your fingernails.

Length: 7:07 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
The EntertainerLesson 18

The Entertainer

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle arrangement of "The Entertainer," a classic piano song ported over to the guitar.

Length: 20:40 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Arranging Fingerstyle SongsLesson 19

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs

Jim Deeming teaches the skills necessary to transform any song into a solo fingerstyle masterpiece.

Length: 37:04 Difficulty: 4.0 Members Only
Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 2Lesson 20

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 2

Jim talks more about arranging fingerstyle songs. This time around he discusses harmonization and chord inversions.

Length: 13:35 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 3Lesson 21

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 3

Jim Deeming demonstrates alternate ways to play the CAGED chords that can be very useful when playing melody and accompaniment simultaneously.

Length: 30:38 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 4Lesson 22

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 4

In this lesson Jim Deeming talks about a simple way to add harmony notes to the melody section of fingerstyle songs. This technique is quite simple and can add a whole new dimension to your playing.

Length: 5:51 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Jim Deeming

About Jim Deeming View Full Biography Jim Deeming got his first guitar when he was only six years old. His Dad was taking fingerpicking lessons, and Jim wanted to be just like him. The Mel Bay books didn't last very long before he strapped on a thumb pick and added the Chet part to Red River Valley so it sounded better.

Most of Jim's early learning was by ear. With unlimited access to his Dad's collection of Chet Atkins albums, he spent countless hours decoding his favorite songs. They were never "right" until they sounded just like Chet. Around the age of 12, Jim heard Jerry Reed for the first time and just knew he had to be able to make that "Alabama Wild Man" sound. The styles of Chet & Jerry always have been a big influence on his playing.

More recently he has pursued arrangements by Tommy Emmanuel and Doyle Dykes, in addition to creating some of his own and writing originals.

Jim has performed in front of a variety of audiences, including concerts, competitions, weddings and the like, but playing at church has always been a mainstay. Whether playing in worship bands or guitar solos, gospel music is deep in his roots and is also the driving theme behind his debut CD release, titled "First Fruits".

Jim has been playing for about 38 years. He also has taught private lessons in the past but believes is an exciting and better venue with many advantages over the traditional method of weekly 30 minute sessions.

Jim lives in Berthoud, Colorado with his wife, Linda, and their four children. Although he still has a "day job", he is actively performing and is already back in the studio working on the next CD. If you wonder how he finds time, look no further than the back seat of his truck where he keeps a "travel guitar" to take advantage of any practice or song-writing opportunities he can get.

The opening song you hear in Jim's introductory JamPlay video is called, "A Pick In My Pocket". It's an original tune, written in memory of Jim's father who told him early on he should always keep a pick in his pocket in case he ever met Chet Atkins and got the chance to play for him. That song is slated to be the title track for his next CD, which will feature several more originals plus some of his favorite covers of Chet and Jerry arrangements.

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