Abby Caulk is 30 years old and has been playing drums for 17 years. In 2016, the Virginia native started a YouTube channel called “Abshow,” where she shared many aspects of her one-handed life, including drumming. When she was a kid she would often go with her dad to music stores. He went for the guitars but she each time found herself in the drum section, where she would sit behind a kit and dream about playing someday. When she was around 13 years old, she asked her parents if they would put her in drum lessons. Her dad told her, “If you can figure out a way to hold to two sticks and feel comfortable with them, we’ll put you in lessons.” She figured it out quickly by grabbing a roll of duct tape and simply taping the stick to her small arm (which she calls her “paw”). She started lessons shortly after and didn’t look back!
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What prompted you to start “AbShow”?
I had just started planning to write a book on that subject and my friend, who is an author, encouraged me to start first a YouTube channel or something similar in order to see how people would respond to what I had to share. Little did I know that making videos about things as simple as “how I button my shirt with one hand” would begin a journey of helping encourage and inspire people worldwide, physically different and otherwise.
What tools have most helped you to adapt to drumming one-handed?
I play pretty conventionally in terms of my actual drum setup and style of playing, but there are two essential tools for me as a one handed drummer.
1) My drumstick strap: a wrist sweatband sewn by my wonderful mother to a 3” x 25” elastic/fabric ankle support band. I sort of invented this “strap” when the duct tape getup wasn’t allowing enough dynamic movement as my playing improved. Plus, I was tired of losing arm hair every time I took it off!
2) The only pair of sticks I ever use: David Garibaldi’s signature sticks by Vic Firth. They have the length of a heavier stick without actually being heavier. That half inch or so of extra length on my small arm side is crucial for fills and playing on the ride. Whenever I get a new pair of sticks I attach three strips of Velcro tape to the end of one of them, which is the one that I use in my strap/sweatband getup. I wrap the band around the stick and it works perfectly!
What kind of gear do you use? What’s your setup?
My setup at home is a five-piece kit made by Rhythm Art (my very first set of drums, actually) with a 22” Zildjian Avedis Medium ride, 16” K Custom Fast crash, and 14” New Beat hi-hats.
What bands/groups do you perform with, if any?
Over the years I have played mostly rock/alternative indie style drumming in several different contexts and a couple of different bands. Most consistently I have played contemporary church music, playing drums with various church bands almost every Sunday since I was about 16. Currently I play several Sundays a month for my local church band. We play songs by artists like Amanda Cook and Israel Houghton. I have played on one studio album in a band called Eidolwylde (The Crimson Thread is available on Spotify and iTunes). The band is made up of me and my best friends. The second album is currently being written.
I used to lead my former church’s congregation and band through the song set each Sunday morning from the drums. The arm of the mic stand behind me reached above me (out of the way of my drumming) so that the mic would hang in front of my face. As funny as it sounds, I think my biggest accomplishment as a drummer was learning how to play drums, read lyrics off of a sheet, give vocal prompts, and sing at the same time. That was a huge challenge for several months until I started to get the hang of it!
Who is your favorite drummer and why?
My first drumming inspiration was Carter Beauford of The Dave Matthews Band. Also, YouTube wasn’t a thing yet so I watched every video of every drummer on DrummerWorld.com more than a dozen times each, I think.
More recently I’ve been so inspired Anika Nilles—her compositions, style (both personal and drumming), bold time signatures, etc. She’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of artist.
How do you practice? Do you have a routine?
My first drum teacher instilled in me the importance of never giving up on basic rudiments, so when I practice I often warm up with about 20 minutes of rudiments, then usually practice either a new groove or fill that I’ve seen on Instagram or YouTube (often from Adam Tuminaro or Drumeo’s pages), or songs from the upcoming set list for my church.
Are there any specific playing tips or techniques, or advice, exercises, or discoveries you’d like to share with Drum! readers?
Never quit practicing those rudiments and always practice with a metronome/keeping time on the hi-hat!
What’s something you believe about drumming or music that other people think is crazy?
I don’t think this is a crazy thought, but I always say drumming that doesn’t stick out too much is the best kind of drumming. I always hope that listeners notice the overall sound of the band before they notice my playing. To me, that’s tasteful drumming.
As artists, the goal post for “success” is always moving. There’s not one “I made it!” point. How do you think about and define success?
For me, not quitting, but continuing to improve and be challenged (especially in the context of playing with other musicians) are all pieces of the puzzle that build toward “success.” If I’m doing those things, even if I’m improving very slowly, I’m growing.
The only drummer I should compare myself to in order to measure my personal improvement is myself from the past. Am I a better player than I was last month, year, etc.? Am I reaching out to other musicians to play with and be challenged?
If my answers to those questions are yes, I’m being successful.
Do you have any quotes or sayings that you live by?
The heart of my “Abshow” content is, “This life can be filled with hope and joy in spite of whatever your circumstance may be.”
How important is failure in making music/performing?
Failure is as important as not quitting. Without failure and frustration (or even just plain boredom in practice) there’s no temptation to quit. Failure is inevitable, hitting walls is inevitable, embarrassing moments in performance are inevitable, but if you don’t quit, you get better. Plus, some of those moments make for hilarious stories later!
Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?
Yes, do it! Don’t even consider what may be the opinions of other people, or if your performance might be critiqued differently than male drummers. Don’t think about any of that. It’s irrelevant—just go for it!