Country Lessons Maybelle Carter Will the Circle

Published on February 10th, 2015 | by Sam


Maybelle Carter – Will the Circle Be Unbroken Solos

Mother Maybelle Carter is one of the unsung guitar heroes from the 1920s and 1930s.  Her style though has permeated the landscape of country guitar for almost 100 years though!  She’s best known playing a Gibson L5 – the actual guitar was sold recently for more than a half million dollars to the Country Music Hall of Fame!

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The Maybelle Carter guitar style is characterized by melodies being played on the lower strings with chords being brushed on the higher strings.  This is somewhat reminiscent of the claw hammer banjo style, but doesn’t quite have the rhythmic intensity of the banjo technique.  To perform these yourself, try playing with your thumb on the lower strings while brushing the higher chord strings with your first finger nail.  It takes some getting used to, but given some time and listening the feel will evolve.

The tune we’ll be looking at here is “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” by the Carter Family. This is taken from the landmark 1927 recording that has been called the “Bristol Sessions,” but is found on any Carter Family compilation worth getting.

The first solo is early in the tune – after the first time through the whole form.  The melody is being played on the bass strings with simple chords above.  One difficult part of this solo is getting the hammer ons, but they’re very important to get the whole vibe of the solo.

will the circle be unbroken first solo_0001

The second solo shows how truly economical some country players can be.  I literally cut and paste-d from above to get the transcription! But that shows just how much of the language is codified and distill-able.  She again uses many of the same licks, but plays them in a condensed form, creating an unbelievably moving solo for the the 4 bars or so that she’s playing this in.

Carter Will the Circle Be Unbroken solo 2

Maybelle Carter will definitely be studied further here, we’re just scratching the surface at this point!  Make sure to check back in the future – and let me know in the comments what some of your favorite Carter Family tunes are.

Make sure to check out all of my country guitar materials on Amazon and for sale here! Chicken Pickin’ Basics is available on Amazon, and Chicken Pickin’ Vocabulary is available here and on Amazon.

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2 Responses to Maybelle Carter – Will the Circle Be Unbroken Solos

  1. Paul Brooke says:

    This is really great, a guitar site that features jazz and Maybelle Carter. I’m a huge fan of it all. I revere the Carter family, not to mention Barney, Wes, Tiny Grimes, Roy Nichols,etc etc. This Circle transcription is just one of many interesting Maybelle tunes. I’m really fond of her beautiful “You Are My Flower” lick, which Chet Atkins has turned into his great instrumental “Maybelle”. It’s tricky to play and get it right. Thanks for the great site.

    • Sam says:

      That’s so great to hear! Thanks, and I’m glad other people have some similar tastes in music. I started doing this because I figured SOMEONE else has to like all of these different styles… Thanks again!

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