January 14, 2010

The Neil Peart Influence, Part 2: The Drum Solo That Changed My Drumming Life

Embedded below is Rush drummer Neil Peart's drum solo, The Rhythm Method, which was recorded during the Hold Your Fire tour in 1988, and was featured in their A Show Of Hands video. I first saw this concert video when I was in high school. I was 14 or 15 back then. A Show Of Hands was the first Rush video I've ever seen, and I'll never forget it. I was becoming a huge Neil Peart fanatic back in the day, and this was my first chance of watching my biggest drum hero do his thing behind his signature wrap-around drumkit.

This drum solo changed my drumming life. I was totally floored after watching this drum solo for the first time. After watching this drum solo, and the whole concert, I really worked hard on my chops.

Neil Peart is well-known for his structured drum solos, which are major highlights in every Rush show throughout the years. Though Neil's solos are structured or based on a certain framework, he has the liberty to switch certain "composed" parts and improvise in every bit, which makes every drum solo unique show after show. I've read on one interview or article that Neil's drum solos are somehow autobiographical. There are certain elements in Neil's solos which reflect some of his likes, his personality, even some of his humor, and some of the hardships he's gone through during his woodshedding years. A specific example is the cross-sticking pattern between two drums, which he said he took a great amount of time and effort to work on.

The drum solo is preceded by Rush's classic instrumental masterpiece YYZ, which is in my experience, a technically challenging piece to play. Around the 3:20 mark, at the end of YYZ, Neil opens his drum solo with a swinging, Krupa-style tomtom/four-on-the-floor kick drum pattern, which will later be complemented with a melodic multi-cowbell part. It's an exciting opener for a drum solo, which is like Neil's way of saying to the audience, "Get ready now... Hold on to dear life... It's time for my drum solo!" Neil would improvise through this part, then end it with an incredible cross-sticking pattern between the snare drum and the floor tom at the 4:14 mark. I went nuts after seeing that for the first time. I went through numerous rewinds, then worked on it during practice for hours... Up to this day, I still find it as one of the most challenging things to play on the drumkit. Neil already took it notches higher in his current solos. Nowadays, he's doing the cross-sticking on three drums - his snare, the floor tom on his right, and another floor tom on the left side of his hi-hat.

After that arm-twister part, Neil highlights his snare drum technique and dynamics, beginning at the 4:20 mark. At the 5:25 mark, he begins to improvise around the drumkit, using his trademark sharp hi-hat hits and some double bass licks. At the 5:38 mark, he incorporates his "Pieces of Eight" composition, played on his MIDI trigger mallet pads, which sampled marimba sounds. After that, he improvised around his drumkit, then goes for the grand finale at the 6:28 mark with a big-band inspired theme. A staple in his drum solos, this is a reflection of Neil's respect and tribute to the great jazz and big band drummers, and his sense of drumming history and heritage.

The 1988 Rhythm Method may already be outdated by his current drum solos, which have become much longer and more elaborate, added with new features such as the waltz ostinato, the "Scars" pattern, and a few more compositions. But for me, The 1988 Rhythm Method has set the standard. In order to understand Neil's solo technique, I think it's good to go back in time and see how Neil did it in '88.

No doubt, Neil Peart is one of the greatest drum soloists ever. He has created a signature compositional drum solo which is his very own; a reflection of its composer. It may be imitated, but it can never be duplicated. And his drum solos have inspired millions of drummers all over the world. I may never play a drum solo like Neil, and it's still a challenge for me to play Neil's solo licks whenever I'm woodshedding. But I would always carry with me the things I learned from his solos. Neil Peart and his solos have made me a better drummer, and it continues to inspire me up to this day.