You probably know what it’s like to drop a stick in the middle of a song. It’s tough enough to keep going with just one arm while you use your other one to pick up a new stick.
Now imagine not having that second arm.
Well, that’s Jack Thomas’ reality. As a one-armed drummer, he’s had to find ways to continue doing what he loves while getting creative with how he approaches writing and playing parts.
Whether you have one arm or two, this video will teach you how to do more with less.
Here are some key takeaways from this lesson about overcoming limitations and challenging your creativity:
Composition: How can someone with only one arm replicate something played with two arms? You might need to drop a hi-hat hit to strike the snare, and the drums tend to take priority over the cymbals. It can also be tough to move to a cymbal after a one-handed roll, so instead of adding more tom hits, add extra bass drum hits (the linear technique) to give your hand extra time to get back to the crash. Jack also does ‘sweep fills’, hitting multiple drums with one motion.
Ergonomics: Every drummer should be comfortable and not strain. Jack keeps all of his cymbals on the left side of his kit because he’s missing his right arm. Experiment with gear placement, and if you find that it’s easier to execute grooves and fills with a different setup, that’s the one that’s right for you. Balance is important: how do you sit in the best position to be stable and do things as fluently as possible? Strengthen your core, make sure your seat is high enough, and keep your shoulders and back straight.
Technique: Many drummers complain about their ‘weak hand’, but Jack can’t afford to have a weak hand! Practice and develop those skills by putting in the work. Jack uses the ‘hot stove technique’ – pulling back his stick quickly after each stroke – so that he has time to bring it back down quickly without straining (and means he can more easily accent notes with just one hand). If the song is really fast – especially if it’s punk or hardcore – he’ll hold the stick in the middle so one end hits the hi-hat and the other end hits the snare. And for cases where he doesn’t have to (or can’t) play a cymbal and snare simultaneously, he’ll add accents to cymbals to fill in the gaps and give the illusion of it. Also, don’t neglect your hi-hat pedal – it not only opens and closes the hats, but it’s there for you to keep time and add color to a groove.
Since losing his arm several years ago, Jack has had to change his approach so much that he’s created his own drumming identity, and suggests you do the same. “You are your own drummer. Many drummers struggle with wanting to be like their favorite drummer. You don’t need to be like that. Have your goals, but develop your own personality within drumming. Do what works for you. Figure out what you can do, don’t focus on what you can’t, and you’ll have a lot more fun.”
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