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DRUM! Readers Interview Neil Peart

How often do you practice and for how long? Is it simply just the “warm up” as we’ve seen on [the DVD] A Work In Progress, or do you warm up and then move on to something else?

Kalman J. Kopcsandy
Oreland, Pennsylvania
Rush fan since 1979

I have never been good at following a strict lesson plan: “Play Exercise One ten times, then proceed to Exercise Two.” For me, it is much more enjoyable to combine those exercises into some kind of flow, in whatever order and duration seems good to me at the time. And yes, for me, the “warm up” is the same as practicing.

As I have demonstrated on instructional DVDs, I like to have a long, loosely structured session that engages some of my current interests – like overlaying time signatures or developing certain stickings – and make that into a free-form exploration, wandering from one motif to another. Thus every practice session is different, sometimes dramatically so, but every one will include similar elements because those are the things I think I need to work on or enjoy working on.

Last year, when I was studying big band drumming with Peter Erskine, the approach to practicing was somewhat different – mainly because Peter restricted me to playing hi-hat only, and inspired me to attempt a completely different ride stroke.

But even playing nothing but hi-hat every day for a couple of months, the practicing never became tedious. While I played that hi-hat every day, to slow and fast metronome settings, I experimented, learned, and developed all the time, even when I wasn’t aware of it.

I once read an interview with an Indian tabla player who said that while he practiced every day, only once in every ten days or so did he feel he’d really “moved ahead.” I understand about that, and it’s important information: If some days it feels like you’re only going through the motions, don’t worry, because those motions will still add up to an ever-growing facility and understanding that will one day blossom into something new, as if by magic. You’ll think, “Now where did that come from?” But it isn’t magic. It’s hard work.

As diverse of a drummer as you have become, are there still techniques other drummers employ that continue to elude your abilities? Or can you master anything you’ve heard or seen within ten minutes of attempting it yourself?

David Gostin
New Woodstock, New York
Rush fan since 1984

I wish! One thing that makes us all human is that we each have different gifts, and different handicaps. There are plenty of things I will never be able to do – in ten minutes or ten years!

On the other hand, you’ve got to be careful about surrendering too easily to your assumed limitations. I have talked before about that determination in regard to playing in odd times, and a good example was the 3/4 exercise, like [Max Roach’s famous solo] “The Drum Also Waltzes.” When I first tried that, laying down the bass drum and hi-hat ostinato, I couldn’t seem to play anything over it. I thought to myself, “I can’t do this.” But I persevered, day after day, and pretty soon, I was surprising myself. And from then on, until today, it remains one of my favorite musical vehicles.

Similarly, at the time of making the Anatomy Of A Drum Solo DVD, I came right out and said that I considered myself more of a compositional soloist than an improvisational soloist. Right after saying that I decided, “Hey, wait a minute – I want to be more of an improvisational soloist! So before the next tour, Snakes And Arrows, I set out to force myself to approach my solo with that attitude: to combine composition and improvisation in a way that would give me both freshness and consistency. Every time I played “De Slagwerker” on Snakes And Arrows Live, I dared myself to make the solo less arranged and more improvised. Thus it continued to change and develop through more than a hundred shows, based on the same overall structure, but never even close to the same twice.

So I guess the lesson there is that you do have to learn to accept your limitations, but don’t accept them too easily.

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