Watch: Mike Portnoy breaks down his drum part from Dream Theater’s Pull Me Under, then plays it in full

You might have heard - Mike Portnoy is back in Dream Theater, and the progressive-metal drumming legend is wasting no time in getting back out there. His first stop was a trip to the Drumeo studios, where he’s filmed a number of as-yet-unreleased videos. 

But thankfully, we don’t have to wait for the entire series to be made available, as Drumeo has uploaded a video of Mike Portnoy breaking down his drum part from one of Dream Theater’s most popular songs, Pull Me Under.

“Pull Me Under was the song that put Dream Theater on the map.” Portnoy tells Drumeo’s Brandon Toews. “I think it’s pretty safe to say that if we didn’t write that song, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. 

However, more surprising than the success of the song — given a second lease of life thanks to its inclusion on Guitar Hero World Tour in 2008 — is, as Portnoy reveals, that Dream Theater’s 1992 album, Images and Words was all but finished before Pull Me Under was written. 

“It’s weird, it wasn't even supposed to have been on the album, and at the last minute, our A&R guy at the time, Derek Oliver, asked us to write one more song-  maybe something a little more concise. Although, at eight-and-a-half-minutes-long, I don't know if we nailed the 'concise' part. But I think we definitely nailed something that was easily digestible."

He continues, “For me, for the drum parts, it was more about just being as creative as possible. But at the same time, it's all pretty much 4/4 and nothing that's really terribly difficult to play.”

Before we get to Mike’s full play-through, he highlights some of the song’s standout parts, including the pre-verse accents, where the band each take a pair of sixteenth-note accents, creating a “circular motion between the four instruments”. 

Next, he moves on to his signature linear fill between hands and feet where he plays groups of two, four and six thirty-second notes on his hands, broken up by a pair of thirty-second notes on the bass drum. 

“I mean, that’s something I’ve kind of made a whole career out of! But I think Pull me Under and that fill right there before the final chorus was probably the first time it really made a grand entrance in my arsenal."

"This song is definitely…probably the most played song during my time with Dream Theater." he tells us after the play-through, admitting that he frequently switched his approach to playing the song in order to keep his interest. 

"I guess when you play a song a few thousand times, you kind of maybe sometimes get bored with it and start messing with it. One of the things I used to always do to drive the band crazy - we never played with click tracks, you know, ‘The tempo is what I say it is!’ There's a lot of live versions where we called it the 'warp speed version' of Pull Me Under.

"I would speed it up, and then I would slow it down. It was always an unspoken thing, they just had to follow me…And those guys were always such sports and always followed me wherever I went, and after a while, I just had to get playful with the whole song, just because we played it so many times."

It's been a busy week for Drumeo, first with the online drum education platform's recorded interview with Sleep Token's II, followed by the announcement of its annual Drumeo Awards, which is now open for voting.

Click here to start a free 30-day trial with Drumeo, where you'll have access to hundreds of hours of premium drum lessons, thousands of song transcriptions, backing tracks and more.

Stuart Williams

I'm a freelance member of the MusicRadar team, specialising in drum news, interviews and reviews. I formerly edited Rhythm and Total Guitar here in the UK and have been playing drums for more than 25 years (my arms are very tired). When I'm not working on the site, I can be found on my electronic kit at home, or gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project.