Week 68:
Carolina Breakdown

Etta Baker
The Song
Carolina Breakdown is an instrumental masterpiece of Piedmont Blues. It was recorded at Etta’s house in 1956 and is played in standard tuning in the key of E. It uses familiar chord shapes of E, A and B7 in open position and parts of E played as a D shape on the 4th fret. It has a basic progression with variants added each repetition and a nice little breakdown to spice things up.
Left hand wise, the song is built around holding the chord shapes with slight movements to pick out melodies, but with Piedmont blues it is all about the right hand. This song is very fast with an alternating bass on the beat and melody notes on the off beats. You have to be fast, clean and have great timing – leaving melody notes ringing for a fraction of a second longer than then note value will really make it come alive.
Etta plays with a boom-chick thumb – usually hitting one string on the 1 and 3 beats, and strumming two strings on the 2 and 4 beats, all the while playing quick melodies in between. She plays with only 1 finger and the thumb and it can be hard to get the exact attack if you use more fingers. This tune will really make you organise your right hand.
It’s very fast, so practice at a slower speed and really pay attention to the timing of the notes, then gradually build up speed.
The Intro
Straight into it with a quick tempo and the E section used throughout the song.
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The Progression
An extended A to A7 section forms the main part of the progression, alternating with the intro E section, before a funky B7 section to lead into the turnaround.
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Verse 2 is exactly the same, but cut off the last two bars and go straight into the breakdown.
The Breakdown
Starts by sliding into a double stop based on a D shaped E chord at the 4th fret, before dropping back down chromatically. You have to fret this clean to let the open B string ring out.
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The Variations
Etta mixes it up with some slight variations on the progression throughout the song. She usually keeps each variation going for a full verse.
Verse 3 (note the double open high E in the turn around):
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Verse 4, Etta uses the major 6th to replace one of the hammer ons in the first E section – a variation she uses for the rest of the song:
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Then into the break down for the second time. Verse 5 is similar to previous variations, but she starts the melody with a delayed slide on beat 1:
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Verse 6 similar to V5, but a different rhythm on the B7 section. You’ve really got to make it bounce in that boom-chick style.
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Final verse – let that last high E note ring out for a bar.
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More about Etta Baker
Biography

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