RIGGED: DREAM THEATER’S MIKE MANGINI TAKES YOU THROUGH EVERY PIECE OF HIS MEGA-DRUMKIT [PART 2]
On September 15th we published Part 1 of an epic Rigged piece, in which new Dream Theater drummer Mike Mangini embarked on a quest to take MetalSucks readers through every single piece of his massive drumkit. It wasn’t our intention to have to split this Rigged feature up, it’s just that the dude’s got so. much. gear. that we simply didn’t have a choice but to split it up into three! So, without further ado, here’s Part 2:
So that brings me to the cymbal arrangements. The cymbal arrangement is setup where for the most part darker sounding cymbals are on the left side and brighter sounding cymbals are on the right — higher pitch right, lower pitch left. That determines whether or not I play righty or lefty. Let me give you an example: on a song like “Caught in a Web,” the musicians in the band change key signatures from whatever key signature that they’re in to one that’s up a couple of steps. When I go from a lower key signature to a higher key signature, I will often switch from my left side hi-hats (which are lower pitched) to the right side ones (which are higher pitched).
That is the one thing that is going to stick out as being distinctly different from me and everybody, and that includes Mike Portnoy. When it comes to playing Dream Theater songs, I’m not going to play on just one hi-hat. I’m going to be switching hi-hats when the guys change key signatures.
Since that is the root of where and when I choose to hit cymbals, that brings me to the rest of them: stacks, splashes, crashes, rides, and oriental/China types. I follow the same protocol there, such that when the key signature changes, on a song like “The Great Debate,” I know that Mike plays one part on a China type cymbal with his right hand the whole way through two progressions but since the band changes key signatures halfway between this, I switch to orientals. I think that’s going to be a very pleasant visual thing, not only the sound of it, but the look of it. People are going to be paying attention to everything I do, and I’m fully aware that people are going to be paying attention to everything I do.
I’m going to be able to present this to them such that I’m preserving Mike’s legacy with the parts, but I’m also taking care of my own self. I’m watching out for me and being grateful for my life, saying, “I want to do something, and I want to offer something to it.” This is my thing that I’m going to do that doesn’t compromise, corrupt, distort or hurt Mike’s original parts but brings it up that extra notch that the band noticed. This is a small tangent, but what does everybody think it is that they found in my audition footage when they reviewed my entire audition? What do you think they found? This is what it was. They knew that I knew every note. They knew that I learned their parts, and they darn well saw it in my drumming at that audition. When they went back and reviewed it, it must have hit them like a ton of bricks and that’s why it was a unanimous decision as far as the playing. Believe me, Dream Theater, the whole talk about me playing on James’ record, that I jumped onstage with Mike and that I’m friends with Mike and I went to the shows and got backstage and blah, blah, blah — let me tell you something: these guys do not mess around. If I didn’t show up and do what I did, they would have chosen someone else because they owe it to themselves and they owe it to the fans.
That tangent’s over, so now I’ll go back to the use of these cymbals so that when people watch me play, I’m not just hitting hunks of metal. They’re not hunks of metal, where gosh, I’m this limited righty drummer and my left hand is busy, so gosh, I’m going to have to hit a hunk of metal with my right hand. It’s not like that. I will switch halfway to hit the right cymbal with the right hand, and that’s what determines what side of the kit I’m using or what ride source I’m using.
I have two ride cymbals. On my far left is a tight earth ride (a real thick, heavy thing) and on my right side it’s a Zildjian 20″ A Custom cymbal which is a more open sound. It’s a very airy sound, not so much Alex Van Halen or John Bonham openness, but it definitely has more ring to it. I’ll choose one of those ride sources based on how much tightness or openness I want for the ride cymbal. That is kind of the way I choose an open hi-hat vs. a closed hi-hat.
Recapping this: the hi-hats chosen from low or high pitched depending on what the band is doing or depending whether it’s a verse or chorus. A closed hi-hat is more typical for a verse and an open hi-hat is more typical for a chorus. My ride cymbals are chosen on the tightness or the openness of it. My ride source, which is way up high, would be crashes or the China types that are chosen for the same reasons. They’re very specifically setup such that the main crash ride that I use is up to my front right. My far right is a bigger crash cymbal. Up to my front right (which is used for more of the crash ride parts) is a 17″ fast crash cymbal, and it really kind of explodes with a high pitch. The one that is far right has a little bit more of a lower pitch. It’s an 18″ A Custom Medium which you’ll see from the photos. What I do is I save that far, far, far right crash for big moments. I’ll do most of the crash riding on the 17″ fast crash, and then when it comes to the end of the song, I’ll go to that one to the right provided that that’s the part for crash cymbals. If I need a crash cymbal for the left side (which has a similar arrangement), my left hand front crash is also a 17″. It has a little bit more of an open sound to it. I’ll choose to use that on a song like “Sacrifice.” I’ll alternate main ride sections where I’ll hit one phrase of 16 bars with my right hand, and then I’ll move to the left hand 17″ crash to play another 16 bars because of the key signature changes. I’m adjusting for that.
On my very far left I have the biggest of all crash cymbals, which is a 19″ Rezo crash. That one is just a step up from my far right 18″ medium; when I say “a step up” what that means is that it’s slightly bigger, so it’s slightly deeper and that’s reserved for really special moments — not just the crash at the end of a tune but maybe for two parts in the entire 2-hour set. I’m only going to hit that thing for a crash just a couple of times in a 2-hour set, and I will also use it for the biggest impact crashes. For example, it’s all over the new album where on the very, very first crash I might use that one to have impact or I might lead in with a different crash and save that one for a lower tone like when the band modulates to a lower key. Again, and to reiterate this, all the metal on my kit is a frequency based thing to match the music.
Which leads me, finally, to the stacks. Mike typically had 3 stacks where he had 2 small ones to the front and a medium one with his right hand. I don’t know for how many years, it could be 2 decades, I’m not sure, I’ve used 3 stacks that start with the medium and go bigger. I added 2 smaller stacks to my setup once I started to learn the audition songs for Dream Theater. So I have 5 total stacks. The front 2 are used in typical Dream Theater fashion to emulate what Mike played, and the medium one, which is to my right hand (the same place Mike had it), that’s used in every place that he uses it as far as I know. [Laughs] If I’m learning the songs right. Then I have two lower ones: one to my left and one to my right. The reason I have those as stacks is because hitting an open Chinese type cymbal rings too much for me and has too much of a splash impact sound for my orchestral uses of it. For example, I’ll use the bigger stacks when I’m really looking for tone. In other words, if I hit them (and this is all over the new album) but if there’s a place where I need a stack and it’s within a section where those guys are changing notes all over the place, I change oriental stacks based on the notes being used. So if they’re playing three notes in a row that are going low, medium and high in a pattern of 7/8 that goes “boom, boom, Boom; boom, boom, Boom” I actually use those cymbals to match what those guys are playing. I don’t so much use those bigger stacks with the older catalogue, although I am using them a little bit here and there. That’s mainly Dream Theater’s future.
The final thing I want to say about the metal is the way that it’s arranged in pitch, because that will transition with the tom-toms. The way that the cymbals are arranged in pitch is neither from left to right or right to left. For example, the highest stack is with the right hand. The next one below it is with the left. The next one below that is with the right. The one below that is with the left, and the one below that (the last one) is with the right. So for 5 stacks, the physical arrangement is right, left, right, left, right from high, lower, lower, lower, lower and lowest.
The tom-toms are arranged like that in an apex shape from the middle out; they neither go from left to right or from right to left either. The center tom-tom is a 6″ diameter drum. To the left of that is the next one below it which is the 8″. So when I say the toms go 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 what I’m saying physically is: right, left, right, left, right, left, right and then the gong bass drum is with my right. That is the only part of this kit that breaks the protocol; that the 20″ drum isn’t all the way to the left just for the sake of me doing it for some reason just to do it. I’ll put the gong bass drum to the right because in the future of Dream Theater with me, I’ll use that gong bass drum as a connective orchestration tool between my toms and the kicks. Because it is a bass drum, I use it for some bass drum hits. It allows me to do that with my right hand which frees up my left hand for some other purposes. Here’s my point: the gong bass drum being next to the 18″ floor tom is the only part of the kit that breaks that protocol of right, left, right, left.
The way that I use the toms is extremely specific to the music. For example, there might be a riff in Fatal Tragedy where Mike does a regular kind of drum fill where a drummer starts on the snare drum and goes to the high drum and whips around the kit. Upon studying exactly what, for example, Jordan Rudess is playing, some of the transitions, Jordan is going up. He’s ascending in pitch, so I’ll use my drums to follow him. I’ll play the same rhythm that Mike played, but in this case specifically, I’ll change the notes that I’m hitting – the actual pitches of the drums so that it reflects a little bit more of what one of the band members is playing. I cannot do that if my drums are ascending or descending. I can only do that, and I think that any human is in the same boat as me, where you really can’t hit a drum set one note at a time from ascending to descending.
For example, if Jordan is ascending in a D major scale – he starts on a low D and ends up at a high D (he hits an entire octave), the way that I do that on my kit, I can start on the low drum and play it with the following physical picking going right, left, right, left, right, left right up the drums. But if I was on an ascending or descending pitch arranged tom-tom setup, I’d have to cross my hands over to do that. And I couldn’t. I just couldn’t keep up the speed like that. With the acoustic drums, the setup is very specific. I’m an orchestral trained musician that loves heavy metal. When I look at the band I’m in and check out the drum set, which makes me go back to that comment before, “who’s going to see this? Who can I work with that doesn’t tell me what to do all the time” or “that I have too many drums. Why don’t I groove and use a small bass drum and a small kit and just show up with 3 drums and a cymbal?” I have no problem doing that, and I enjoy it and love it but it’s not my potential. It’s not what reflects the thoughts in my mind and the feeling in my heart. I’m going to die one day.
I’m not going to be on my death bed saying “I can’t believe that I let others, who should have minded their own business, make me feel bad and change my drumming. Screw them.” I’m doing it now. I have done it for a long time. It’s just that when somebody hires you, you need to do what they need. As a hired guy I never opened my mouth. I just did what I was asked to do and found joy in it because I was composing many times. In this case, it turns out everybody in the band sees it. Everybody gets it. Everybody is secure. Everybody is so supportive of this growth of mine. I get inspired by them and hopefully my attention to detail and learning how to play this drum set can be inspiring to them and be positive all around. I don’t have to worry about those taps on the shoulder anymore. I’m in Dream Theater now. I can do this. When I sit back and say “man, that is a huge thank you for the entire organization” I think after this explanation it’s not hard for you to believe that I really mean it.
COMING UP IN PART 3: Electronics, octobans, more!
– Mike Mangini / Dream Theater