Drum Playing (Techniques)

  1. What kind of techniques and equipment does Mike use when recording an album?
    Does Mike do overdubbing in the studio?
    faq id: 154
  2. What has been the most challenging song for Mike to play as far as the Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment albums go? faq id: 155
  3. How does Mike practice songs with lots of complex parts and time changes? When recording, does Mike use punch-ins and break the song down and does he use click programming? faq id: 156
  4. Is Mike ever afraid of running out of new drum ideas? / Has Mike ever felt like he was repeating himself in his drumming? faq id: 157
  5. Does Mike ever screw up when playing live? faq id: 158
  6. What does Mike recommend to reduce “snare buzz” when playing the toms? faq id: 159
  7. What advice does Mike give in regards to “making it” as a drummer? faq id: 160
  8. Why does Mike play with his left drum stick “up-side down”? faq id: 161
  9. What does Mike do physically to help contribute to his drum skills (working out, diet, meditation, etc.)? faq id: 162
  10. When playing some complex time changes, does Mike actually count each bar, or does he just “play with the music,” i.e rather than counting, remember a melody/riff of one of the other players and play along to that? faq id: 163
  11. Does Mike play with his heels up or down? faq id: 164
  12. When trying to enter into Berklee, what does Mike recommend that musicians do to get in? faq id: 165
  13. Can Mike recommend schools, or how to get better? / How does Mike practice or workout for drumming? faq id: 166
  14. What drummers had a significant influence on Mike? faq id: 167
  15. How does Mike feel about being accused of his drumming influences being too prominent in his playing? faq id: 482
  16. Does Mike normally record with a click track? faq id: 483
  17. Does Mike practice? How does Mike practice? faq id: 484
  18. Who had an influence on Mike's double-bass technique? faq id: 485
  19. What technique does Mike use for playing double bass? How does Mike have the pedals set up? faq id: 486
  20. Why does Mike seem to use a lot of different ride sources, such cowbells, mounted tambourines, crash cymbals, etc? faq id: 487
  21. Does Mike ever feel like some of his drum parts go too far and distract from the overall musical picture? faq id: 488
  22. Why does Mike like incorporating odd meters all the time? faq id: 489
  23. Does Mike map out his parts on paper? faq id: 490
  24. Did Mike ever have any formal training or is he self-taught? faq id: 491
  25. What drumming areas and techniques does Mike want or need to develop? faq id: 492

Questions and Answers

  1. What kind of techniques and equipment does Mike use when recording an album?
    Does Mike do overdubbing in the studio?
    faq id: 154

    MP: I do a lot of drum overdubbing. It's a cool opportunity that a lot of drummers don't take advantage of in the studio. I sometimes have different drum parts going at the same time, sometimes even played on two different kits. That's something I started on Falling into Infinity in 1997, and I've carried that over to every album since. If it was an over-the-top progressive epic, I used my big kit; but if it was more simplistic or laid-back, I used the smaller kit. Sometimes, I'll experiment with using the small kit for the verses and the big kit for the chorus. On a simpler song, I don't want to be taking a Neil Peart approach when the arrangement calls more for a Ringo or Nick Mason or John Bonham approach. I do percussion overdubs on every song on all of our albums - shaker and tambourine and stuff like that. Live, our singer does that stuff to compensate for it.

  2. What has been the most challenging song for Mike to play as far as the Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment albums go? faq id: 155
    MP: In the past, we spent much time in rehearsals & pre-production before starting an album, so I had plenty of time to polish my parts and perfect them. But both Liquid Tension Experiment albums and [Scenes From a Memory as well as the new one], were composed & recorded in the studio - so the challenge of creating and *perfecting* my parts was quite stressful. Specifically on Liquid Tension Experiment 1, I remember the 2nd half of Universal Mind (after the piano solo) being quite challenging to nail. On Liquid Tension Experiment 2, When The Water Breaks was a monster to get through (we wrote & recorded that one in 4 sections), and Biaxident was the first time playing some “pseudo-latin” type feels which was a bit of an adjustment for me. On [Scenes From a Memory], hands-down the most difficult piece was The Dance of Eternity. This has to be the most difficult drum performances I have ever created and surely the most complex piece of music in our catalog.

  3. How does Mike practice songs with lots of complex parts and time changes? When recording, does Mike use punch-ins and break the song down and does he use click programming? faq id: 156
    MP: We used to punch in the different clicks as we needed them, then we got a "Jordan" in the band! Now, we program the entire song on his computer system (odd times, meter changes, tempo changes, etc). It is an *incredibly* long and tedious process, but really helps with overdubs and synching up parts, etc.

  4. Is Mike ever afraid of running out of new drum ideas? / Has Mike ever felt like he was repeating himself in his drumming? faq id: 157
    MP: Well with the writing of the *music*, we never have such a problem. In fact - quite the opposite: sometimes I wonder how we are going to fit all of our ideas in! With my drumming, I've gotten to the point where I don't feel the need to constantly overplay....there's never any problem playing the right parts for the song...and when it's time to really push the playing a bit, I can usually find it in myself pretty easily. If not, they other guys can usually motivate me.

  5. Does Mike ever screw up when playing live? faq id: 158
    MP: Of course I do! We are human as well and Nobody's Perfekt!! All of us in Dream Theater have our moments of Clam Chowder. (some have actually lended themselves to some very funny moments on stage - as you'll be able to hear very soon.) Unfortunately, it doesn't happen less with age! (you just learn how to cover it up better!)

  6. What does Mike recommend to reduce “snare buzz” when playing the toms? faq id: 159
    MP: As far as the buzz, obviously start by making sure the drums are not laying on each other. Also try using duct tape on the heads if need be.

  7. What advice does Mike give in regards to “making it” as a drummer? faq id: 160
    MP: I think the key is to play with other people. Drummers can be the greatest players in the world playing in their bedrooms, but it's useless unless you are communicating and sharing these ideas with other musicians. It is by playing with as many other musicians as possible that you will grow as a player and become more and more comfortable creating music, not to mention that it is how you make connections for the music business. The more musicians you know, the more likely it will be that you will eventually connect to a “break.”

  8. Why does Mike play with his left drum stick “up-side down”? faq id: 161
    MP: I prefer it that way to get a little more power on the snare.

  9. What does Mike do physically to help contribute to his drum skills (working out, diet, meditation, etc.)? faq id: 162
    MP: I must admit I have really bad habits which I am slowly starting to break. I quit smoking 5 years ago and I quit drinking and partying of any sort this year. I still have pretty bad eating/dieting habits (TACO BELL!!!) and my sleeping schedule is still very out of whack...so I'm still not the walking example of fitness!! In fact, I always joke to the other band members that some drummers shoot for that “Bobby Rock” physique, while I am contempt [content? – ed.] with my “John Bonham” one!!

  10. When playing some complex time changes, does Mike actually count each bar, or does he just “play with the music,” i.e rather than counting, remember a melody/riff of one of the other players and play along to that? faq id: 163
    MP: Yes, I usually am counting if it is very complex....and usually when I work out my drum parts I make it a point to figure out the exact time signatures in order to fully grasp the musical content (rather than just “playing with the music”)

  11. Does Mike play with his heels up or down? faq id: 164
    Since Mike normally sits so high at the kit, it is usually heels up, but when he plays smaller kits occasionally it becomes heels down. There is no right or wrong way, try both and use whatever is most comfortable for you.

  12. When trying to enter into Berklee, what does Mike recommend that musicians do to get in? faq id: 165
    MP: Although I could be mistaken, it seemed to me when I applied to Berklee 15 years ago, my school grades were not AS important as my musical interests and abilities. I applied for several scholarships and received the “Steve Smith” scholarship from Berklee as well as a music scholarship from my high school. I sent in a tape to Berklee which tried to show some diversity in my playing (2 tracks from Rising Power - one of my Rock bands in high school, 1 track from my high school's Jazz stage band and 1 track from my high school's marching band). I think they are interested in people with open minds in musical styles and a willingness to learn because you will only get out of music school what you are willing to put in.

  13. Can Mike recommend schools, or how to get better? / How does Mike practice or workout for drumming? faq id: 166
    Answer: The closest thing Mike can offer you to personal lessons are the LIQUID DRUM THEATER and Progressive Drum Concepts videos. He covers many FAQ such as double bass technique, odd time signatures, composition and equipment. Mike has also stated that he did attend Berklee school of music for a short time, but he cannot recommend a specific school or teacher for you in your area. He does not have a specific workout routine, and he doesn't get to really practice much anymore since he is playing and performing so often anyway. For improving your double bass technique, Mike has recommended starting off with practicing the solid "Tommy Lee" basics and working your way up to "lots of Slayer!" Mike's current workout consists of changing lots of his kids' diapers!!! :) Mike also covers these and many other topics at the hundreds of drum clinics he has performed throughout the world.

  14. What drummers had a significant influence on Mike? faq id: 167
    There are many, but in the April 2001 issue of Modern Drummer, Mike was asked his opinion on a bunch who have influenced him and that he has respect for. The ones mentioned in the article are: Neil Peart, Carl Palmer, Bill Bruford, Terry Bozio, Billy Cobham, Alan White, Stewart Copeland, Phil Collins, Chester Thompson, Simon Phillips, Nick D’Virgilio, Andy Sturmer, Dave Lombardo and Jon Fishman. Although they weren’t listed in the article, other drummers that have also had a notable influence on Mike include Vinnie Colaiuta, Ringo Starr, Peter Criss, Tommy Lee, John Bonham, Keith Moon and Lars Ulrich, among many others.

  15. How does Mike feel about being accused of his drumming influences being too prominent in his playing? faq id: 482
    MP: I have no problem with that. I'm proud of who I've listened to and who has influenced me, and I'm the first person to give credit to those drummers. During interviews I usually spend more time talking about other drummers than I do about myself. I am a fan, first and foremost. I love listening to drummers.

  16. Does Mike normally record with a click track? faq id: 483
    MP: I prefer using a click track in the studio, although I would never use one on stage. In the studio, it's a real comfortable thing to have, because it allow me to concentrate on the performance and not think so much about the time. The problem with click tracks and our music is that we play a lot of odd time signatures and changing meters, so you have to be careful with what type of click you use. A quarter-note click played over several changing 8th-note based meters will make things more confusing. In general, I always use some type of 8th-note click, which will work for most of the odd meters we play.

  17. Does Mike practice? How does Mike practice? faq id: 484
    MP: I don't get to practice as much as I should, and not nearly as much as I used to on the drums. But for me, so much of drumming is actually a mental thing. A lot of drummers spend a lot of time developing the physical side of their drumming, but they disregard the mental side. I get just as much out of sitting at the dinner table or sitting on a toy box and tapping, playing along with my hands and feet as I do sitting behind the kit. Luckily, a drummer's instrument is always attached - two hands and two feet. We don't need a guitar or a piano in order to practice.

  18. Who had an influence on Mike's double-bass technique? faq id: 485
    MP: When I started, I was inspired by the progressive double bass drummers, like Simon Phillips, Rod Morgenstein and Terry Bozzio. But when the whole thrash scene came around in the mid-'80s, I really got excited about double bass. Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, King Diamond...all of their drummers - Lars Ulrich, Dave Lombardo, Charlie Benante, and Mikkey Dee - were doing very intense double bass stuff. Not only were those guys incorporating speed, which was the most obvious thing you'd notice, but they were also developing cool patterns. So that era really influenced my double bass playing. And like I've said, it makes so much sense to utilize your left foot on a drum rather than just on a high-hat, the same way you would utilize your left hand on a drum.

  19. What technique does Mike use for playing double bass? How does Mike have the pedals set up? faq id: 486
    MP: I always lead with my right, I only play single strokes and I like my pedals tensioned loose. I've found that if the pedals are too tight, they move too much and then I have trouble controlling them. When their loose, I do the work, but I also keep them under control. I play with my heels up and with my toes digging into the pedal board. My foot floats on the pedal board.

  20. Why does Mike seem to use a lot of different ride sources, such cowbells, mounted tambourines, crash cymbals, etc? faq id: 487
    MP: It's definitely a conscious decision on my part to have as many options available as possible to best serve the music. It all boils down to my overall attitude of more is more. When it comes to a ride pattern, I don't want to be confined to one thing. I'll be thinking "Okay, I played the left hi-hat closed on the first verse, so I don't want to go back to that sound. For the next verse, I'll go to the right hi-hat played open, then for the chorus I'll go to a crash, then a tambourine/ride combination in the solo section." It's a conscious decision to give each section a different flavor.

  21. Does Mike ever feel like some of his drum parts go too far and distract from the overall musical picture? faq id: 488
    MP: I don't ever want to play something for the sake of trying to show off. I always want to play what's best for the song. But I feel my most important function in this band is to try to play as creatively as possible. I think that's my strong point.

  22. Why does Mike like incorporating odd meters all the time? faq id: 489
    MP: I think I enjoy them because they have to do with numbers. Any meter can be broken down by the numbers and regrouped in different ways, and odd time signatures are an extension of that. I'm just as fascinated with that whole process and then potential of what's out there to be discovered.

  23. Does Mike map out his parts on paper? faq id: 490
    MP: Actually, I cover a lot of this in my Liquid Drum Theater video. But my charts are mainly for the overall arrangement of the song, because sometimes they get very untraditional! Within those charts, there will be a huge master band chart for all of us, and then each of us will have our own charts. Jordan does all his charts as proper notation, but mine and John Petrucci's are more like "Am section" or "Genesis part" or whatever. And then I'll have notes saying at that point that I want to be on a closed hi-hat and then I'm going to develop to an open hi-hat, then at the pre-chorus go to the crash cymbal. So I'll outline where I'm going with the parts, but most of the fills in and out, for the most part - even going back to Images and Words - they are generally improvised.

  24. Did Mike ever have any formal training or is he self-taught? faq id: 491
    MP: I would consider myself self-taught or rather I would say that I come from the school of Frank Zappa/Neil Peart. Basically, I learned a lot about drum technique from listening to records, primarily Zappa and Rush. I did have formal training at Berklee in '85/86 where I met John and John. That was formal training, but I think that was more useful for me in the musical sense, where I learnt about harmony, theory, arranging and ear training. I took all those type of classes at Berklee, so I think my formal training was more productive in my overall musical environment, as opposed to the actual drumming skills.

  25. What drumming areas and techniques does Mike want or need to develop? faq id: 492
    MP: Well, I've never properly studied rudiments so I'm probably more underdeveloped in that area than others. Also, I have never had much experience playing jazz music.