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Neil Peart: 5 Reasons Why The Rush Drummer Was A Genius

Brandon Toews  /  UPDATED Jul 7, 2023

If anyone is a household name with drummers, it’s Rush drummer Neil Peart.

Known lovingly as ‘The Professor’, Peart was an innovator on the kit, a prolific writer and lyricist, and an absolute legend. But why is he considered one of the greatest drummers of all time?

Here’s some Peart education.

1. He was an inventor

During his 40 year career with Rush, Peart developed signature riffs that are recognizable even in the playing of the drummers he influenced.

One of the most obvious examples is the ride cymbal groove that can be heard in songs like “The Spirit of Radio”, “YYZ”, “La Villa Strangiato”, “Subdivisions”, and more. Peart described it as something he’d use at medium tempos to bring forward motion to the music. He actually created the pattern by accident when trying to learn something completely different!

We can’t mention Peart’s signature riffs without talking about his massive drum fills. Cascading down his entire kit in songs like “2112” and “Lakeside Park” – not just because he could, but because it totally worked in the context of the tune – set him apart from other drummers of the time.

2. He was a ‘designer”

There was always a purpose for every drum part, and that was to support the music. Peart was adept at building tension in one section and releasing it in the next. Listen to what he plays through Alex Lifeson’s guitar solo in “Tom Sawyer” or during the choruses in “Limelight” (that shift between a relaxed 3/4 groove and a driving 4/4 groove is a work of art!).

3. He was a virtuoso

In the ’70s, Peart was already pushing boundaries with technically proficient drumming, like his intricate parts on “La Villa Strangiato” and “2112”. His independence on “Bravado” was next level, and his double bass playing on tracks like “Anthem” and “One Little Victory” was incredible.

4. He was an explorer

Peart wasn’t just interested in the traditional drum kit. He loved experimenting with sounds as a whole, whether it was percussion or electronics. In Rush, he went beyond simply playing rock by incorporating other styles into the music (especially in songs like “Xanadu”, “Closer To The Heart” and “The Trees”).

He embraced modern technology as it entered into the music space, which meant using Simmons pads, a MalletKAT MIDI controller, Roland pads and more. In “Mystic Rhythms” he used a Simmons electronic tom and triggered sounds with a pedal. Most rock drummers don’t push sonic boundaries like Peart did.

5. He was a ‘mathematician’

If you aren’t convinced of Peart’s genius yet, imagine combining all of the above points with challenging time signatures. “By-Tor And The Snowdog”, “Cygnus X-1 Book I” and “Book II”, “Xanadu”, “La Villa Strangiato”, “YYZ“…the list goes on and on and could wrap around the globe twice.

Even though his nickname ‘The Professor’ came from a Gilligan’s Island character, Neil Peart has taught drummers so much over the years. He was also a constant student and his legacy will live on even longer in his work.

What have you learned from Neil Peart?

Brandon Toews is an author, educator, and performer based out of Vancouver, Canada. Brandon is the author of The Drummer's Toolbox, co-author of The Best Beginner Drum Book, and the Content Director at Musora, home to the award-winning online music education platforms Drumeo, Pianote, Guitareo and Singeo.

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