Peak performance

I’m not sure if this question has been asked. If I ever were to interview someone, I would want to ask this question. So, perhaps you can chime in on this.

I am an extremely tempo sensitive player because I have limited ability to play hyper fast.

For example, is John Petrucci, or whoever you admire ever near his limit of ‘crashing’ during any of his lines? In other words, have you ever wondered how much beyond the recorded song bpm’s these people can play? In general, I was always conscientious about the song tempos when seeing DT play live, from the 90’s to current and relieved to know that MP, and now MM play the songs at the same tempo as the recordings, for the most part.

When I record myself, or my songs, I am always pushing up against my upper limits. This is the way I am. I always want to document my highest level of playing for that moment. Also, perhaps because I don’t have that extra gear.

In closing, do you push your playing to your upper limits on a recording? Do you record parts that you can’t play flawlessly on each take? Or, are you always playing well within your abilities, no matter how complicated the line is?

Thanks in advance…

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That is a great question! And good to know that there are others that have the same thoughts.

I also have the “problem” of always wanting to do my best on recordings, figuring that the record deserves the best possible playing since people are going to listen to it over and over. Knowing that I did a “safe” job makes me feel like I’m cheating the listener.

But then when it comes to live playing, I can very seldom pull those solos off flawlessly. And on bad nights I’m not sure if I should even do live performances. But to not be able to give the concert audience a perfect performance is more acceptable to me than doing a safe job on a recording. The record still deserves great playing and if that takes 300 takes then so be it. There is still some satisfaction with being able to record something that is great musically even if I’m not able to do it live.

I’m also so old that I don’t aspire for that that guitar hero status I did when I was younger, wishing that people would look at me like a virtuoso. And since I’m no virtuoso, there is no point in trying to portrait myself of being one. It’s good to just let go of all expectations on yourself and just play for fun. I still love playing guitar and work on my technique and to be honest, CtC has made me develop things in my thirties that I could only dream of doing in my twenties.

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JP has said that he likes to push himself in the studio and not play it safe. This necessarily means that the live performances will be less consistent, and I think that’s something we as guitar players notice when we do see him live.

I’ve seen DT live multiple times and have also worked on a few of his solos, so I will notice every mistake. Most other audience members, though, are there only for a good time–often with a beer in each hand–and aren’t listening quite as critically. So perhaps he prioritized correctly by making the recording all it could be, while letting the live performance suffer slightly?

Hey Qwerty,

I can relate to everything you mentioned in your reply. Mindset is important and getting to reasonable level to where we feel like we can better express what we want to play. Letting go of the expectations and just doing our best to improve but also be willing to work with what we do have offer.


Hey Iars,

Thanks for your response. Not sure I share exactly the same observations of JP. I’ve heard a random note once or twice not sound clean but, this isn’t the type of example I am referring to. I agree with you, he not only pushes himself in the studio, he is fully capable of executing every single night, damn near perfect. Personally, I have never seen, or heard much of any performance suffering, from JP. I almost want to hear something ‘off’ so I can say, ‘humbled to see even JP hit, or slightly mis-played something’.

I brought JP up because I’ve been following the band closely since 90’ and have seen them play so many times. I watch his interviews, lessons, anything DT and JP. The reason I ask is because it seems to me that he just plays these complicated lines, all night long and it doesn’t appear that he is ‘on the edge’ so to speak. I would expect that from a person of his caliber.

In summary, and probably JP only can answer this, BUT, I wish I knew how close some of these players were to hitting their ‘upper limits’ speed wise while being able to consistently execute their most demanding lines.

Petrucci definitely was not playing at his technical maximum on any records until around 2007 (systematic chaos).

A great example of this is Train of Thought. The solos on that record (Stream of Consciousness, In the Name of God, As I Am, This Dying Soul) are brutally technical shredfests. Yet, Portnoy would actually speed them up live and Petrucci would still nail them with ease. Look up any performance from the Train of Thought tour for proof of this. I believe this was Petrucci’s technical peak.

Later on, this was not the case. A great example of this “decline” is the solo from Constant Motion off the Systematic Chaos record. I have never seen a video of Petrucci nailing the ending runs of that solo live.

And now, Petrucci’s technique is just a shadow of what it was during the early/mid-2000s. Just check out any solo from DT’s latest live DVD “Distant Memories.” It’s very clear that he struggles with faster passages. Now, whatever technical solos he records in the studio are probably at or in excess of his live technical capabilities.

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John was at the height of his powers in the 90s and those Live in Tokyo videos from that period are absolutely insane and some of my favorites of his. He seemed to switch from a wrist based style to something more elbow driven. I remember him saying Rusty Cooley or someone showed him how to do it.

I think he tends to write far beyond what can be reliably replicated in a live setting as others have said.

Or maybe we should just take him as he is.

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Here’s an illustration of just how ridiculous Petrucci’s playing was in the 2000s. Watch him obliterate the As I Am solo at a faster tempo (Portnoy notoriously rushes) without even looking at several parts:


Interesting, do you know if this discussion can be found on YT?

90’s JP looked like primary USX wrist, and indeed a lot of the runs he played worked perfectly with that (e.g. his famous chromatic run).

If he suddenly switched to elbow that would make all these runs very challenging to pull off, since elbow is always DSX unless you add some other joints

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Found it!

I can only go by what he’s saying, but here the elbow thing is as clear as daylight at 5:47, I think the timestamp will work below.

If we go by the UG article, he mentions it’s a combo of movements so that could be what you’re saying about making the elbow movement more flexible.


lmao i love how you can correlate his technical proficiency through his different hairstyles over the years – Petrucci with blonde frosted tips? Peak JP, you better believe he’s hitting 16NPS+

lol! it’s so true. The reason I respectfully disagree with @guitarenthusiast that JP was at the “height of his powers” in the mid-90s (the Live in Tokyo era) is that Jordan Rudess joined Liquid Tension Experiment in 1997 and that is when JP really grew technically because he was forced to learn Rudess’ highly technical keyboard passages on guitar. This continued into the 2000s as Rudess joined Dream Theater in 1999/2000.

I kinda agree with this, but at the same time it’s really hard to play piano phrasing on guitar, whether it be Kevin’s level or Jordan’s.

Can you cite anything Kevin Moore or Derek Sherinian wrote that Petrucci then played that is more difficult to play on guitar than the glass prison arpeggios?

This is very true and he has always said the technical aspects (as opposed to the memorising the crazy arrangements that DT do) is always the difficult part of the live shows - given he is an elite in terms of technique, it is kinda comforting to know that most of us are in the same boat!

And yet, during his technical peak in the early to mid-2000s, he played everything effortlessly and hardly ever made a mistake despite the fact that portnoy always sped up live and that he was playing solos mainly from train of thought (arguably, his shreddiest album).

My only point is that JP used to be capable of easily handling the solos he wrote with almost no chance of screwing up. Now, he clearly struggles and makes a lot of mistakes live.

Well for one, the arpeggios in glass prison aren’t that hard on piano. I haven’t played piano in years but those are pretty standard arpeggios. If you wanted to keep it on the same album, the unison section in Blind Faith is more impressive.

I can’t recall who wrote the part first, but something like the unison section in take the time is IMO harder than the glass prison arpeggios. What makes those particularly impressive is that he alternate picked them, which isn’t “really necessary” (I say this because half the time JP just swept them live, even when I saw them 15 years ago).

Obliviously Jordan is leaps better than them from a theory / technical level, which I’m not arguing. Like I said before, piano parts played on guitar are hard, doesn’t matter who the player is. I’m sure Kevin (or Derek since you brought him up) could have written / played something at their levels that JP couldn’t play (because, again, piano parts on guitar are hard).

Right, the point is they didn’t though and so JP was never forced to improve his chops to play the unison parts they wrote.

Again, the issue isn’t the difficulty of the keyboard parts for a keyboard player, but how difficult these parts are for a guitar player and there’s no question Ruddess’ parts were harder for JP. Blind faith is another great example.

I doubt any guitar player would argue the glass prison arpeggios are easier to play than the take the time unison. If somebody put a gun to your head and forced you to learn one of the two in thirty days, it’s obvious which one you would pick. Yes, you can sweep them but then you aren’t really playing the original part. Indeed, the fact that JP had to sweep those arpeggios live in many cases but never had to modify how he played the take the time unison is proof positive that the former is damn near impossible and the latter is very manageable.

Definitely feels like we’re derailing the convo, but to the OP’s original point, JP pushes his boundaries.

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I disagree. I think on the train of thought tour, JP wasn’t even close to pushing his boundaries. He played those solos with incredible ease it’s pretty mind blowing. I think now he records solos beyond his capabilities and then can’t perform them live and his past solos are often too difficult for him to mail live.