Thumb-Picking Guitar
M. Missouri Clem, AKA W. Clem Small

In this workshop, we’ll teach the basics of the thumb picking styles of Mother Maybelle Carter, Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, and Doc Watson. Only the simple basics. Mother Maybelle developed her unique style of thumb picking early in the history of country music. In the style usually associated with Maybelle, the melody is played on the bass strings while rhythm is played on the higher strings. Later, the thumb picking of both Chet Atkins and Doc Watson was inspired by the guitar playing of Merle Travis. Travis-Atkins-Watson thumb picking is the art of playing rhythm accompaniment with the thumb on the guitar's bass strings while using fingers to play the melody on the higher-pitched strings. Interestingly, Mother Maybelle did a bit of this style too, as we'll discuss in the workshop.

This workshop will approach these thumb picking styles both for playing instrumentally, and as accompaniment to singing. Mother Maybelle Carter’s style is somewhat easier to learn, and will be covered first. Then a simple thumb-finger roll will be covered which, when diligently practiced, can lead to learning how to keep the thumb going for the rhythm accompaniment while playing melody with the fingers as in the Travis-Atkins-Watson styles. Supplementary techniques such as rolling hammer-offs, and various kinds of harmonics will be covered only if time allows.

I’m W. Clem Small, A.K.A. "M. Missouri Clem", age 76 years. I started playing guitar at 16 years of age. In those days when you learned to play country guitar you had two important goals: to learn “Guitar Boogie” and Mother Maybelle Carter’s “Wildwood Flower” played in her style. But even more than those goals, I loved the thumb picking and singing of Merle Travis. I figured out the basics of Mother Maybelle’s style, and a bit of Travis’s, Chet Atkins’s, and Doc Watson’s styles on my own, and learned some more from teachers, friends, and videos. Other major influences on my guitar work include: swing music in general, the walking-bass lines of Eldon Shamblin who was Bob Wills’ legendary western-swing guitarist, Jimmie Rodgers the Blue Yodeler, and the various lead guitarists who played for Ernest Tubb. Always remember that M. Missouri Clem says that "music is just happiness in search of your ears."