Dean Zimmer is a rock drummer who lives in California. He was born with arthrogryposis, which means that he has a limited range of movement in his limbs. I spoke with Dean last week to learn more about his story and adaptive technique.
Dean grew up in a small town in South Dakota. He attended a boarding school in Sioux Falls from fourth to twelfth grade, as the public school in his town was not accessible. Dean’s mother was a singer, and at one point she noticed that when the radio was on, Dean kept time accurately on his legs. Even though Dean’s school did not have a robust music program, Dean started playing snare drum and drum set. Ken Roll, whose mother worked at Dean’s school, worked with Dean weekly and was an influential drum teacher.
I was especially eager to learn about Dean’s drumming technique. Dean wraps his drum sticks with tape designed for tennis rackets. He needs more support in his right hand, so his right stick has more tape. To prevent the sticks from flying out of his hands, Dean drilled holes through the sticks and made loops with shoelaces that go around his wrist. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, take a look:
Dean credits the company Drum Workshop and John Good with making him a custom drum kit and connecting him with other talented drummers. In 2013, a video about Dean called “Drummer Wanted” was posted on YouTube. It attracted the attention of many viewers, including the creators of the trailer for the 2016 Rio Paralympics who called Dean to be in their film. Dean traveled to London to record the excerpt at Abbey Road studios, which he says was an experience he couldn’t have even dreamed of.
Although he doesn’t have a band currently, Dean performs often with various friends. I asked if he had any advice for other people with arthrogryposis who want to play music. He said, “Just go for it! Don’t get discouraged, no matter what!”