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Here is an example.

He trills on the third string second fret to open a lot, but other stuff too.

What I can't work out is if he's either:

a) Hammering a specific number of times per beat. It's 4/3, so is he dividing every beat in to 9? Or just 6? Or some other specific number that's always in a super fine division of the beat?

b) Mashing as fast as humanly possible for as long as he has time to. Is it the same speed - namely maximum - independent of BPM?

It's all so fast I can't tell what's going on.

The same question goes for all those floatey fast runs, and strummy trills (obviously I'm a noob). Does that conform to some super fast tempo, or is it BPM independent? There's a strum-trill thing at 1:18 that's an example. And when he's soloing he does these runs that start and end in a very in time way, but within them they just sound like speedy floating stuff.

I'm finding this type of sound hard to get my hear around beyond liking it so much I want to do it. Is there a bunch of stuff I could look up? I don't know the names of the things I'm asking about.

  • Did you mean 3/4, not 4/3? I'm not aware of third notes. :-) – Todd Wilcox Sep 15 '15 at 18:57
  • I come from sequencers and making music on the PC. The way I think of it, there are 4 beats to the bar in a Blues, and each beat is divide in to three steps. I don't know appropriate terminology for this. – Duncan Marshall Sep 15 '15 at 19:36
  • Ah, that's 12/8 time, which is a form of compound time. It's four beats made up of three eighth notes each. You can also consider a lot of shuffle blues to be 4/4 time with triplets. – Todd Wilcox Sep 15 '15 at 19:38
  • I can discuss how trills are classically approached but I don't know if that is in the spirit of this question. Also asking how trills should be approach is actually a very broad question. There actually is a pretty big collection of ideas concerning the performance of ornaments. – Neil Meyer Sep 16 '15 at 11:43
  • Sure, but I'm asking purely about the rhythmic element of this particular trill. Not even necessarily about technique even. Just every time I try to follow along or play it those trills come along and throw off my internal metronome and I no-longer know where the beat should be enough to tell if it's me that's out of time, or the song. I'm trying to understand how it would look if it were a piece of midi on a screen. – Duncan Marshall Sep 16 '15 at 13:31
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When you are playing solo, like Hooker is here, you can take great advantage of tempo rubato. It literally means "stolen time", and it's when you move faster or slower than normal in certain areas without completely abandoning a rhythm.

It's very common for solo blues musician to play with this style, partly because they can, since they don't have to keep time with a band, but mostly because it is very expressive.

He's probably not literally playing any of those figures or trills as fast as he possibly can. He is deliberately playing them fast, and inserting them in between his vocals, which creates a feeling of impatience or frustration, like the guitar is trying to interrupt him. He's not picking a specific tempo, he's just feeling the tempo.

I'm not sure if there's a name for it, besides rubato. There's a lot of it in Delta Blues, so you might check out that genre to hear more examples. Most people consider Robert Johnson the king of the Delta Blues, so check him out if you haven't already.

In terms of undertanding it and hearing what is going on, that will come more easily the more you learn, practice, and listen.

  • It sounds like you're saying when he's playing the guitar interludes between vocal phrases, he's actually changing what I'd think of as BPM. The time between beats is changing. Is that right? So does he keep the "main" tempo going with his foot, or just in his body while in the less rhythmically strict parts so as to keep structure intact over the course of a bar? Or does he just abandon the main tempo, and play how he feels for a while, and then just pick it back up fresh whenever he happens to be done? I've tried putting a metronome against it, but it's neigh on impossible to beat match. – Duncan Marshall Sep 15 '15 at 19:51
  • 99% sure it's this: "Or does he just abandon the main tempo, and play how he feels for a while, and then just pick it back up fresh whenever he happens to be done?" You won't be able to beat match anything for more than a few measures that wasn't recorded with a click track or by someone with superhuman timing. Maybe Neal Peart. – Todd Wilcox Sep 15 '15 at 20:01
  • Heh, not sure if that makes it easier or harder then. So when he's playing his chugging more strict driving rhythm, sometimes he does like a single trill just for perhaps one beat in more of a riffy recurring-pattern type context. So does that one beat stretch, or when he's in that context, does he try to stop trilling in time to bring in the next beat on time? Thanks for the help. – Duncan Marshall Sep 15 '15 at 20:09
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    He doesn't have to hit the next beat on time, since there is no specific time when he has to hit it, except maybe when it sounds best. This is the essence of rubato. Nothing has to be "on time", it just comes along when it feels right. It's like driving down a road with no speed limit and no one behind you. You can go whatever speed you want, you can take the turns as fast or as slow as you want, you don't have to reach any intersections at a certain time. You might have an average speed but your speed at any time can vary a lot. – Todd Wilcox Sep 15 '15 at 20:19

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