Tom Mears

The Drums Aided in My Recovery. Now I Help Others!

My game changing moment came at a very early age. I was six years old and banging away on pots and pans, and anything else I could get my hands on, when I learned that my dad had played drums. From that moment I knew I had the legacy of drumming in my blood and why I had the overwhelming drive to be a drummer.

Well, as fate would have it, it looked at first as if this six year old wouldn’t have the wonderful opportunity to play the drums. As I was walking home from school one day a boy snatched from my grasp the attaché case my grandfather had given me that meant a great deal to me. He took off across the street and I ran after him, except I didn’t make it across the street. I was struck by a car.

My left side was temporarily paralyzed and the prognosis was uncertain. Once out of the hospital, I had a leg brace on my left leg for quite some time. Little did I know what an impact this experience would have on my life in later years.

To help me regain and strengthen use of my left side, the doctors recommended that I take piano lessons. My parents purchased a piano and I started taking lessons, but my heart was not in it. The only thing I really wanted to do was to learn to play the drums.

In fifth grade, I joined the school band and was chosen to be one of the drummers. I began taking drum lessons from the band director and practiced diligently. I especially had to work hard on my left hand which was still quite weaker than my right due to the accident.

I received my first drum kit when I was in the sixth grade. I still remember how excited I was to get my blue sparkle Sears and Roebuck set of drums. I practiced loud and hard, and somehow my parents endured those early years. My parents supported me wholeheartedly in my ambition to drum and allowed me to play in several “garage bands” during my teenage years for which I am eternally grateful.

Throughout high school, I played drums and percussion in the school band, and all those dreaded piano lessons proved to be extremely beneficial in helping me become a mallet percussion player.

I was fortunate to attend Western Michigan University as a music major. I played in the symphony orchestra, concert band, marching band and percussion ensemble.

After years of playing in all types of bands and a variety of music, I moved to Las Vegas and taught drums and percussion for several years. During that time, I was approached by a father who asked if I could help his autistic son with learning to drum. I had heard of a non-profit international program, “Drums and Disabilities,” that helped those with autism, ADD, ADHD, and other disabilities through drum therapy. It immediately became my goal to become a drum therapist, and after completing the teaching program, I became a certified drum therapist. I had several children with disabilities as drum students, and I was grateful to have the teaching tools to work with them. The results were very rewarding, and I realized how beneficial drum therapy could be applied in other areas as well.

I now live in San Luis Obispo, California, and I am using my drum therapy skills at several assisted living and skilled nursing communities. Through this therapy, I engage the residents in keeping time with hand drumming and percussion instruments as a group. This has not only been fun for the residents, but I have enjoyed coming up with new ideas for my sessions and have added a bell choir at some of the communities.

My first game changing moment came at age 6, but during my lifetime I have had many other game changing moments, and I feel there are many more to come. I will never be able to thank my dad enough for putting the blood of a drummer in my veins which has made my life so fulfilling and helped me enrich the lives of others.

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In celebration of Vic Firth Company's 50th anniversary, we've spent an entire year celebrating Game-Changing Moments in drumming -- including yours! To everyone who shared a story with us this year, thank you! Drumming is a shared experience and we are all brothers and sisters! Your stories have inspired us to continue making the best sticks possible and to continue changing the game for drummers everywhere.


We received thousands of amazing stories this year. Although it was difficult to choose only one story, we're happy to announce that Joe Russomano is our grand prize winner in the Game-Changing Moments contest!

Read Joe's Story