Stroke awareness for drummers

We're sure you've seen the recent F.A.S.T stroke awareness advertising campaign on the television and on billboards across the country, proof that strokes are worryingly very common - there are 150,000 stokes and 67,000 deaths from stroke a year. Strokes are also the biggest cause of disability with arthritis just behind it.

We were recently contacted by Mark White, a talented and active drummer for 33 years and in 2006, a stroke victim.

Mark White

Mark was diagnosed with a destructive form of arthritis in 1985 (when he was 18), which slowly began to encroach on his development at the drums. He persevered with advanced techniques and even developed some grip techniques in order to help arthritic drummers that experience pain with grip (check them out at his website).

Then, in 2006, at the age of 38 while looking up at the ceiling, he suffered a massive intracerebral bleed (caused by high blood pressure exploding a blood vessel deep inside his brain, crushing it). This left him in a coma for a month, in hospital for four months and left him paralysed completely on the left side, due to a brain hemorrage the size of a satsuma. "I'm very lucky to be alive," Mark tells us.

Mark´s ability to drum has sadly been depleted by the stroke, yet he is still working at the drums and mobilising his 'dead' side. Mark is keen to raise stroke awareness, as well as to promote good health and regular blood pressure checks. "If I can I want to help the drumming community," he says. "I may not be a famous drummer but stokes don't care who they target."

Terry Bozzio meets Mark

Drumming saved my life
"I can actually say that drumming saved my life. My specialist could not work out how I survived such a massive bleed and after they looked at the CT scans they individually asked me, 'are you intelligent Mr White?' I replied, 'well not in my opinion'. They responded by saying, 'we think you have survived because part of your brain that you have been using for a great deal of time has thickened and it acted as a shield from your bleed and protected your life support centers'. The brain matter was thicker than normal in the part of the brain that calculates things like drum patterns."

Mark´s determination is admirable and he has been developing exercises for the brain-injured drummer to utilise. Just check out his video below.

You can watch more of Mark's playing here.

“It's important to stress to drummers to listen to their bodies, not just their chops,” adds Mark. “Don't take anything for granted. Most of us, as we get older, are going to get arthritis and high blood pressure can be a killer.”

The video was played at a recent Mark Schulman clinic and was well received. Mark was then invited to join a Thomas Lang clinic (hosted by Paul and Goldie Francis at Orchard Percussion Studios. They heard of Mark´s plight, saw his videos and wanted to give him the opportunity to spread the word) to show how Stroke can affect the drummer.

During the clinic Mark performed a 15 minute solo where he debuted one of his own techniques which he calls the White Phoenix. Mark tells us he was also overjoyed to be able to teach Thomas Lang a new technique which he was unaware of!

Mark shows Thomas Lang his White Phoenix technique

Mark will be doing plenty more in the future to raise awareness of the dangers of strokes to us drummers. He already has a couple of events booked, called Drum Beat Stroke:

28 August, 7pm - Basildon Castlemayme Pub
26 September, 10.00-11.30am - Southend PMT Music Store

Finally, we leave you with Mark´s tips for a healthy lifestyle…
Get regular blood pressure checks
Maintain healthy weight
No smoking/ drinking
Avoid unnecessary stress
Take regular exercise
Maintain a healthy diet
Check your family medical history

Chris Barnes

I'm MusicRadar's eCommerce Editor. In addition to testing the latest music gear, with a particular focus on electronic drums, it's my job to manage the 300+ buyer's guides on MusicRadar and help musicians find the right gear for them at the best prices. I dabble with guitar, but my main instrument is the drums, which I have been playing for 24 years. I've been a part of the music gear industry for 20 years, including 7 years as Editor of the UK's best-selling drum magazine Rhythm, and 5 years as a freelance music writer, during which time I worked with the world's biggest instrument brands including Roland, Boss, Laney and Natal.