|Neil Peart: Anatomy Of A Drum Solo|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Monday, 12 December 2005|
As I was learning to play the drums, jamming along to simple four-on-the-floor rock and roll fare from bands like AC/DC, Aerosmith and the Scorpions, I was convinced that Neil Peart’s drum parts were just too complicated for me to ever learn. Fortunately for myself and many other drummers who hungered to really learn the secrets of what makes his drumming so amazing, Peart has not been stingy with the knowledge. A series of books called “Drum Techniques of Rush” with almost note-for-note accurate transcriptions was released back in the mid to late ‘80s. Peart did not write these books, but he gave them his blessing, as the front covers say, “Prepared under supervision by Neil Peart.” Drummers who could read music, or who were willing to learn, had a road map now to some of Rush’s biggest hits, including “Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight,” “The Spirit of Radio” and many others, but drummers like me who worship Peart wanted more.
Several years later, before recording Rush’s “Test for Echo” album, Peart completely overhauled his way of looking at the drum set, thanks to meeting a fellow drummer by the name of Freddie Gruber. Gruber re-taught Peart how to play drums with a traditional grip (right hand over, left hand under). Previously, Peart had used a matched grip for most of the hard, fast-rocking parts, then would switch to traditional grip when he needed to do more rudimentary drum patterns.
Peart worked to relearn every one of the Rush songs that the band plays live in this traditional grip and he was so excited to show the world what he had learned that he released a VHS (later released on DVD) called “Neil Peart: A Work in Progress, Featuring the Music of Test for Echo.” It takes a very humble person to be someone who is widely considered to be the best rock drummer ever to pick up a pair of drumsticks to flat-out admit on an instructional video that he thought he had drums pretty well figured out, but then had to completely relearn how to set up his kit, how to sit at the drums and how to play the drums.
That video was like crack cocaine for Peart fans around the world as he went through the entire album of Test for Echo, playing the album so the viewer could follow along with a booklet that has the parts written out. Sure, along with many others, I would have preferred he used a classic Rush album, such as Hemispheres or Moving Pictures, but nonetheless, it was a hell of a lot of Neil Peart on video teaching me how to play like him. I was in drum heaven.
Fast forward to 2006 and Rush are still at it, rocking huge concert venues around the world, releasing live albums and rumored to be in the studio at this point working on a new album even as I write this. The musical landscape has changed directions drastically from the days when Rush would take to the stages in their long flowing robes in the ‘70s or their skinny ties in the ‘80s or their bad mullets in the ‘90s. Today, musical chops aren’t as important to the success of a band as having a catchy ring tone riff for a cell phone. Guitar solos are pretty much dead in rock songs, save a few exceptions, and hardly anyone is still doing long-form drum solos in concert. Fortunately for drummers everywhere, Peart still does ‘em. And his latest from the Rush thirtieth anniversary tour DVD, called R30, is a real doozy. On their 2002 live DVD called Rush in Rio, Peart named his drum solo “O Baterrista,” which translates in Portuguese as “the Drummer.” For the sake of consistency and humor, on R30, which was recorded in Germany, Peart this time called the solo “Der Trommler,” which in German means… you guessed it – “The Drummer.”
Just a few short months after releasing the R30 tour DVD, Peart decided to take on a daunting task: teaching the world how to play this unbelievably complex drum solo. This brings us to the latest instructional release from Neil Peart. On Anatomy of a Drum Solo, a two DVD box set from Hudson Music, Peart takes the viewer, step-by-step, through the entire “Der Trommler” drum solo from the R-30 tour DVD.
I recently reviewed the R30 DVD and I have to say that it is an absolute must-have for Rush fans. It was filmed with 14 high-def cameras (do I smell a HD-DVD re-release?) and the performance by the band, combined with a great audio mix and stunning visuals, make it worthy of plunking down your platinum card to order. For those of you who are particularly fond of Neil Part and wish there were more coverage of his playing, Anatomy of a Drum solo will be right up your alley.
You can watch this DVD and enjoy it on many levels, but if you are going to glean any real technical knowledge out of it, you better already be pretty well-versed in drums. Beginners will be awed at the complexity of Peart’s drum patterns but will be well-served to watch the video to hear his philosophies on drumming at first, rather than to use this as the starting point to understand the big picture of his drumming, but you had better learn the basics before you try to tackle the technical stuff on this disc.
Being a double DVD set, there is a ton of bonus footage on the Anatomy of a Drum solo in addition to the instructional section. Two 30-minute “Explorations” are included. These are simply Peart free-form jamming at the drum set, going through the thousands of patterns that he has perfected in his head over his illustrious career and he flows around the drum set. I can remember so many times going into Guitar Center and hearing guys in the drum room tinkering around on the kits by themselves and I always thought to myself, “What would it be like if I walked into the drum store and Neil Peart was in the back, jamming out ?” I finally get my wish with these explorations. After studying his drumming for years and memorizing practically every single Rush song on drums, I have learned that there is a certain logic and formula to Peart’s drumming but it’s amazing to see the years of experience all coming out on these two 30-minute free-form jams. I’m not suggesting anyone sit down and try to figure these things out note for note, but it wouldn’t surprise me if sometime in the near future a Neil Peart disciple puts the full transcript to these workouts on the Internet.
Speaking of transcripts, included with this DVD is a PDF (printable document format) computer file that has the full note for note transcripts of “Der Trommler.” This is particularly helpful for those of you who read music, myself included. I can get my Rush R30 live CD, burn the drum solo into my iPod and I can follow along and play on my Roland digital drums. After I worked out most of the parts, I was then able to go back to the DVD with a fresh sense of purpose and watch in great detail, thanks to the excellent camera positioning and crystal-clear DVD picture quality, and see exactly how Peart performs the parts that I was struggling with.
This DVD really only has one flaw, which is the very awkward dialogue at the beginning as Peart tells the viewer about his reasons for wanting to make this DVD and gives some insight into his evolution as a drummer. The information is very enthralling and seeing the old photos of Peart as a youngster is highly entertaining, but the production value of this opening segment is quite awkward, as the editor cut together pieces of his narration from two separate locations with Peart wearing different clothes. It’s visually a little off-putting as we skip back and forth. Here is Peart in front of his house with one set of clothes on. Then here is Peart one second later on a bridge with darker clothes on. Then voila!, he’s back at the house, then poof, he’s back at the bridge. I watched this DVD for the first time with my best friend, who is also a drummer and who happens to be a professional video editor. It didn’t take having a video editor sitting in my living room to point out the awkward flow of this opening narration segment. Also, the flow of the words being cut together from these different locations was equally as awkward, but really, I didn’t care. I knew some amazing drumming was about to happen, so I bit my tongue and got through it so I could get to the gold.
Being a $49.95 DVD, you’d expect the disc to look and sound great, and it does. The fixed cameras in the studio provide a stellar picture and the audio mix of Peart’s drum kit in the large, empty studio room where this was filmed makes for big, live, crisp-sounding drums. There is not a lot going on as far as this being a “surround sound” mix, but it is in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, with mostly room ambience coming from the rear speakers and Peart’s voice in the center channel.
There is a lot of bonus footage on these two DVDs. During Peart’s performance of “Der Trommler,” the user can select between the R30 DVD edit and footage from two isolated cameras. Didn’t see what he was doing with his bass drum during a particularly tricky part? No problem. Just change camera angles. You can also turn Peart’s commentary on or off during the performance.
Later in the DVD, Peart talks about an African drum pattern that he made up, based on his many travels in Africa, and you get to hear an audio-only version of this track, as well as “Pieces of Eight” a jazz-influenced song he wrote.
In what are called “sidebars”, besides the “explorations” that I mentioned previously, there is another drum solo recorded in Hamburg, Germany, that Peart has jokingly titled “Ich Bin Ein Hamburger.”
The second disc has some very interesting interview footage with Rush co-producer Paul Northfield and Peart’s drum tech Lorne Wheaton. Peart’s set is complete with a massive acoustic set on one side and a electric set on the other side is one of the most impressive sights in rock music and Wheaton gives us a complete tour of the kit as he sets it up piece by piece on camera and tunes it up for the filming of the instructional segments of the Anatomy of a Drum solo. If you aren’t a hardcore Rush or Neil Peart fan, you might fall asleep on the couch watching it, but I personally could not get enough of this.
Rounding out the disc are drum camera-only video remixes of the R30 performances of “Subdivisions” and “Tom Sawyer.” If you asked an average Rush fan which two songs they would most want to learn on drums, these fan favorites would be at or near the top of the list, so here is a chance to see how Neil plays each part without distracting jump edits that show the crowd and the other two members of the band.
Finally, the second disc ends with the previously unreleased solo from the 1994 Counterparts tour. This was when Peart, much skinnier at the time thanks to thousands of miles of bike riding, was sporting his goatee and had just unveiled his African tribal hat. A French Canadian white guy normally can’t get away with the African hat look, but Peart has spent the time in Africa required to be allowed to wear the hat – not to forget the fact that he is a master of the oldest instrument, one that originated in Africa. This DVD is your chance to learn from the master and I recommend it highly.