Complete Guide to Dream Theater 'Pull Me Under'

Everything you need to know about the story behind the song, amp and pedal settings as well as used guitar techniques.

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Complete Guide to Dream Theater 'Pull Me Under'

Ok, ok. We'll give you some Dream Theater and Mr. Petrucci. Enjoy!

Dream Theater "Pull Me Under"

Writers: James LaBrie, Kevin Moore, John Myung, John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy
Producer: David Prater
Album: Images and Words (UG Score 9.7)
Recorded: October 1991 – December 1991
Released: August 29, 1992
Label: Atco Records
Genre: Progressive metal
Length: 8:11

Additional Information:

U.S. Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks #10 peak position.
"Pull Me Under" is a playable master track in Guitar Hero World Tour as the ending credits song for all five careers.

Story behind the song

It's Dream Theater's biggest hit and most well-known song, often being the band's only song known by non-fans. Pull Me Under peaked at #10 on the Billboard Hot 200, skyrocketing the popularity of the album. It led to "Images and Words" going Gold in 1995, and the song has become the band's anthem, though they admit they are sick of playing it. The compilation album title "Greatest Hit (...and 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs)" refers to "Pull Me Under" as the band's only major hit.

"Pull Me Under" is an unusual song for Dream Theater. The tone at first is slow and atmospheric; however, there are plenty of heavy riffs in the song.

Originally titled "Oliver's Twist" in instrumental form, the song was added to the album late, replacing "Don't Look Past Me." The fact that the song became mainstream was unexpected for the band, as they had written "Another Day" in hopes of it being a hit single, due to its more melodic nature. According to Portnoy, Pull Me Under's success proofed that "the fans like balls and chunk."

According to the band, the song has Shakespearean themes, particularly in relation to Hamlet. It is not specifically about Hamlet but shares Hamlet's themes. The final line "Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt" is taken from Hamlet.

The song is notable for its abrupt end, which is supposed to symbolize death, which can happen suddenly. Many fans have thought the song was cut off accidentally due to the abrupt ending. When playing the song live, the band tends to give it a more definitive ending. The version of the song found on "Greatest Hit" is a remix, which also contains the extra beat at the end from live versions.

Music videos

The full-length version of the song.

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Official video

For an official video, a shortened version of the song was used.

The video was recorded using stock footage of the band performing in England along with conceptual footage. The conceptual footage has nothing in common with the song and was created without any input from the band. The man in the video is referred to as both a vampire and a werewolf by members of the band, who admit they don't understand what the video is about or how it's connected with "Pull Me Under."

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Live version

"Pull Me Under" is also the band's most popular live song, being played in one form or another on nearly every performance since its release. However, the band, particularly Portnoy, have said that they are extremely bored with it.

Performances of "Pull Me Under" can range from ordinary versions identical to the album version to wildly differing versions. The song is popular in medleys, and occasionally the first half of "Pull Me Under" is played with the second half of Metropolis, which fans refer to as "Pullmeopolis". The band will also use the song to launch into other songs such as "Master of Puppets."

Due to its sudden ending, the song is difficult to pull off live, so an extra beat is added to give it a more definitive ending.

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Live in Japan in 1992.

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Live performance at the Luna Park arena in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2013.

Gear and settings


John Petrucci

John Petrucci used custom Ibanez guitars made of basswood, which later became the basis of Ibanez JPM John Petrucci Signature models. These guitars have 2 custom DiMarzio humbuckers designed to John's specifications by Steve Blucher, 24 fret rosewood fretboard. Custom paint work is made by Dan Lawrence.

John used D'Addario strings. The string gauges go from .09 to .46.

John Myung

John Myung used a 4-string Spector for most of the recording of "Images and Words" in 1992.

Myung began using six-string basses for Dream Theater's subsequent tours of America, Europe, and Japan, using several high-end Tobias "Basic" models. These can be seen in Dream Theater's music videos from "Images and Words" and heard on the "Live at the Marquee" EP (1993). Myung continued to use Tobias basses throughout the "Images and Tour" and "Music in Progress Tour" from 1992 to late 1993. He has primarily used six-string basses ever since.

Amps and effects

Mesa Boogie Triaxis preamp

Marshall JMP1 preamp

Roland JC120 for cleans

TC Electronic 2290 Dynamic Digital Delay + Effects Control Processor

TC Electronic 1140 HS Parametric EQ/Preamplifier

Mesa Boogie Matrix Midi Switching and Mesa Boogie Abacus were used in live performances for channel switching.

Amp settings

Clean Channel

Preamp Mode: Rhythm 1 Yellow
Gain: 6
Treble: 6.5
Middle: 3.5
Bass: 3
Lead 1 Drive: 0
Lead 2 Drive: 0
Master: 5.5
Presence: 8
Dynamic Voice: 7

Main Distortion Channel

Preamp Mode: Lead 1 Red
Gain: 6
Treble: 6
Middle: 6
Bass: 4.5
Lead 1 Drive: 4.5
Lead 2 Drive: 0
Master: 4
Presence: 6.5
Dynamic Voice: 6.5

Lead Channel

Preamp Mode: Lead 2 Yellow
Gain: 7.5
Treble: 4.5
Middle: 4
Bass: 5.5
Lead 1 Drive: 0
Lead 2 Drive: 6.5 Master: 6
Presence: 0
Dynamic Voice: 3

Effects chain

Clean Sound - basic chorus sound.
Lead Sound - 602 and 460-millisecond delay with 3 repeats.


These are top tabs rated by the UG community:

Tab version: Pull Me Under Tab, Pull Me Under Bass Tab
Interactive versions: Guitar Pro, Tab Pro


Guitar: Standard tuning (E A D G B E)
Bass: Standard tuning (E A D G)

Song key

"Pull Me Under" by Dream Theater is in the key of Em.


Petrucci is respected for his variety of guitar styles and skills. One of the most notable of these is his high-speed alternate picking which, as he himself claims, requires a "strong sense of synchronization between the two hands."

Mastering that song can take a really long time even if you're a skilled and experienced player.

Song breakdown

Intro: 0:00 - 2:01

Clean part of the intro riff is rather simple but based on the active use of whammy bar.

Distorted part is played with power chords using palm muting.

Verse 1: 2:01 - 2:19

This verse is played with power chords, the main problem here is to get used to its strumming pattern.

Pre-chorus 1: 2:19 - 2:39

In pre-chorus you gonna play chords.

Interlude 1: 2:39 - 2:57

Guitar part here is pretty basic and presented by fast picking power chords, but keyboard part is interesting and can be played on guitar using alternate picking.

Verse 2: 2:57 - 3:16

A riff in the second verse is played very fast using alternate picking and palm muting, adding pull-offs.

Pre-chorus 2: 3:16 - 3:35

The second pre-chorus is complicated, because of its speed and use of hammer-ons and pull-offs and needs a good synchronization between two hands.

Interlude 2: 3:35 - 3:45

In reality, this part can be counted as a short solo section, because of the use of vibrato, and extremely fast alternate picking in that section.

Chorus 1: 3:45 - 4:03

Chorus part, which is played mostly with power chords, is a true relief after interlude part.

Interlude 3: 4:03 - 4:13

This interlude part is basic transitional part between chorus and a new verse and played with power chords.

Verse 3: 4:13 - 4:32

The riff in this verse is rather slow but interesting as it involves using slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs and trills, as well as vibrato.

Pre-chorus 3: 4:32 - 4:51

This pre-chorus part is close to the first one.

Interlude 4: 4:51 - 5:10

This interlude can be seen as a compilation of the first and second interlude, so involves the use of the same techniques.

Chorus 2: 5:10 - 5:30

The second chorus is played with power chords as the first one.

Keyboard solo: 5:30 - 6:07

Guitar part during keyboard solo is clean, and starting like an intro part and then goes to the power chords.

Guitar solo: 6:07 - 6:35

This solo is almost entirely in "E" Aeolian/Natural minor except for the final legato run which does a quick modulation to "E" Harmonic minor.

Also, pay attention to the use of bends and releases and whammy vibrato.

This legato run has a sliding entry and a slide at the end also. The most difficult bit is getting a confident clear slide with the pinky on the first string. After that the descend down the scale is a straight diatonic with obviously only 1 pick per string.

The little 2 string legato lick sounds simple, but with the wrong picking emphasis can fall to pieces.

The last legato run is awesome but a bit challenging due to the notes and shapes that occur in Harmonic Minor. You should keep in mind there are a few slides here and they need to be played in time with the same note length as the other notes.

Chorus 3 (2 times): 6:35 - 7:12

The third chorus is played like previous ones but repeated twice.

Outro: 7:12 - 8:11

There are distorted power chords played till the sudden end.

Recommended lessons

Full song lesson

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Guitar solo

Solo is described phrase-by-phrase.

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Leave the songs you would like to see in the next issue of our Complete Guide rubric in the comment section below. Remember, you decide what song is going to be next!

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26 comments sorted by best / new / date

    TL;DR version - Don't even try, it's a damn Dream Theater song. Mere mortals cannot replicate such musical mastery.
    True, but if there is any dream theater song you should try and learn it's this one. Easy(by their standards), fun to play, and kind of recognizable. 
    Glad to see people are putting the GP tab I uploaded all these years ago to a good use
    Blackbird by Alter Bridge would be a pretty cool one to do next
    Awesome! Divinations-Mastodon, The toan in that solo is glorious. 
    It's a Strat!
    Nice, thanks! I remember watching the CtS documentary, he uses a custom pedal, but I can't remember the brand. Might watch it again. 
    cool they did mine but... ill never play this song all the way through. even if i could , who would i jam it with? 
    Great article. I've always wondered exactly what Eric Johnson was using during cliffs of dover. 
    What's funny is that the Master of Puppets article explained more theory than this one. And THAT had microtiming deviations. Also, there is no sin so great as shortening a song for the sake of a music video.
    Perhaps no better example than Black No. 1. (Type O Negative) Album length - 11:14   Video length - 4:40 Then again, there's no way in hell that HBB was ever going to air a video that was much over 5 minutes, let alone 11+, so shortening it definitely served its purpose in that case.
    Yeah, but a song that's 11 min long should not have a commercial video. The band can release whatever clip they want without shortening it, but releasing a commercial vid with the requirement of shortening it is a bogus move. It's never the band's decision, it's up to the label. Opeth was forced to release a dumb video for The Grand Conjuring. It cut a lot of the song, and the video had nothing to do with the content. The vid for Sweet Child O Mine cuts the part of the intro where the drum and bass builds up to the full band. That's the most exciting part of the intro!
    Cherry Vulpine
    What about the rack unit that controls the rate of Earth's rotation? Or that controls the temperature of the sun? You also forgot to mention his cabinet loaded with custom made Vintage-40's, made for him by a man known as Ghandi, from India.
    Nice one, really good.   I think Highway Star could be a very good one for beginners and such.