Mike Mangini's guide to preparing for the road

Dream theater

Dream theater

Mike Mangini knows a thing or two about hitting optimum shape for a gruelling spell on the road. The drummer is currently in the midst of a huge run of Dream Theater dates, playing punishing two hour plus shows each night. During some rare time away from the kit Mike sat down with Rhythm to tell us all about how he prepares for such a mega tour.

Build your strength

"I wanted to collapse for three straight days when I got home [after the last tour]! What's happening now is we're all doing chores to prepare to play songs from the new album. We're all practicing. I'm taking advantage of upgrading my strength and my speed on one side of things and on the other side I'm digging into the song performances with more detail. It's two separate things, one has to do with taking advantage of being on tour and getting stronger and now I'm converting that into more speed and strength at home. Playing live is so different to being in a practise space. The other thing is I'm digging in to the songs and re-learning them because it's been a while since I played them."

Think of the fans

"We'd love to play the whole new record [on the next tour], we want to play the whole record but as far as the fans are concerned I think a lot of times when band's play an entire new record, the fans in a way want to hear some of the things they're most familiar with. Because if we played the whole thing we'd have to not play some older songs. We want everyone to have fun and be happy being able to hear a little bit of everything."

Be prepared

"We all rehearse separately. It's a very family-orientated band, not only did we become unbelievably close on the last tour as the Dream Theater family, and I know how welcomed I was and how wonderful that is, but we have the home families as well. We each went home separately doing that as well as practicing our own skills and the new songs. Then we get together and rehearse. It's great to be in a band like that where people are so prepared., You don't use rehearsal as an outlet to learn the song, but you show up ready to go. What a great thing."

Know the songs

"There's nothing that appears to be overly fast on this record, it's the velocity. As any drummer knows when you add an extraordinary amount of velocity or distance, where you have to travel one foot or three feet from drum to drum, that drops the speed way down. In that way I just have to be strong which I am from the tour so I'm ok there. But for the co-ordination it's just going in and drilling some of these very complex sections where I'm playing Ruddess' part with one limb and John Pretucci's part with another limb. It's not easy [laughs]. But still it's stuff I've already recorded so it's a matter of just playing it now having toured with the band. It's really cool."

Play like an animal

"Playing in front of people brings out the animal drummer in me. It's so appropriate that a Muppet drummer was named Animal! It brings out that violence, in a good way. I'm not going to play in a room in the same way I would in front of 13,000 people or even 35 people. So having toured now and warmed up with the guys, when we had time we had a ball and I know we each got better and better. James, the stuff I was hearing in my ears, this guy was pegging notes, it was as if somebody was pressing the keyboard to get a high E or something or an F sharp, it was so on. I was like, 'James, you were freakin' nailing it!' He said he'd never felt better or more comfortable. That brings us back to me as I've never felt so comfortable or so at home. I got better and better and stronger as the tour went on. I really was smacking the drums so much that when I jumped on my kit having rested for a couple of days at home, man, I was playing things I couldn't play before! My feet are smoother, I don't have to over hit and my hands are on a different wave length. I feel so in control, it's a wonderful feeling, I'm smiling from ear to ear right now!"

Don't spend too long at the beach

"These people I'm in a band with, we're all on the same page with that when we're off tour we're going to come back stronger for next time. I'm sure there's many situations out there where between tours people just go to the beach and relax, and you do have to relax, but there was no time for that [between Dream Theater tours], we are all hittin' it. What a great thing, to go off the road and I was just sweating. I was tried but the third day I got home I was on the drums and held the tempo with my feet for 90 straight minutes, I was dying! I was fighting and fighting and all I kept saying was, 'I'm in a different place now, this is the time I have to kick it in higher than I ever have in my life.' I was home and my income is such that I'm being paid to try to be the best I can be, so how could I possibly not practice? I couldn't go to sleep at night if I didn't."

Train your muscles

"I'm holding tempos with my hands and feet for 90 minutes with no break. It's training the muscles to be able to do that so when I go to play a song for, my gosh if my feet have to hold a tempo for 30 seconds, 30 seconds will be nothing. So I'll be able to lay a lot more in control and a lot stronger and a lot faster if I can get the blood in those muscles to respond. Plus a two hour show will be a lot easier and I'll be in better shape. That's what I'm physically doing and also with my drum solo, my European tour drum solo was done to a click at 230bpm, so I'm going to upgrade that to maybe 240bpm, or I'm going to try some slightly more physically difficult things a little slower. I'm certainly going to upgrade what I did. That's what I'm working on, technical stuff, speed and stamina. If you see what I played for my first solo in Rome as opposed to some of the later solo you'll see a huge evolution where I'm a bit more relaxed and therefore more melodious. I'm a bit more comfortable because I didn't really practice much before that first show in Rome, that was all on one rehearsal! We ended up only rehearsing the two hour set one time through [before the first show]. The guys had a lot of faith in me that I'd be able to go to the stage and play it all on one rehearsal"

Dream Theater return to the UK for three shows in February.

Rich Chamberlain

Rich is a teacher, one time Rhythm staff writer and experienced freelance journalist who has interviewed countless revered musicians, engineers, producers and stars for the our world-leading music making portfolio, including such titles as Rhythm, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, and MusicRadar. His victims include such luminaries as Ice T, Mark Guilani and Jamie Oliver (the drumming one).