Ask the Expert – How to play drums with brushes

Ask the Expert – How to play drums with brushes

Carole Harding emailed asking about drum technique:

“I wondered if you could recommend a book or DVD specifically about playing drums with brushes.  I recently started to play in a gospel choir band & there are times when being able to play with brushes would be very helpful, to either get the right feel or a more appropriate volume!!!”

Now the Musicademy Drum DVDs only briefly cover brush playing and we’re not really aware of another resource that really focuses on this technique so we asked a couple of drummer friends for their advice.

Firstly, Pat from SFL Group said:

“Playing with brushes is not really very dissimilar to playing with sticks, they just produce a different sound. There are a few brush specific techniques you can learn, for instance creating a kind of washy sound by rubbing the brush in a circular manner on a textured snare head is something often done in subtle jazz pieces. On the whole you will use the snare a lot more when playing time as it is harder to get a strong sound off the hi-hats (which you will typically use to beat time in a standard rock beat), something soft with the feet (including hi-hat stamp) will often work well to accompany this. I’m not aware of any specific resources for playing with brushes, but they are most commonly used in light jazz style performances, so anything that will improve your jazz playing will help to give you a good feel for the kind of things you can do with them. Listen to and where possible watch as many jazz drummers as you can, and when you see or hear something you like spend some time trying to emulate it to help establish that feel in your playing. Also, make sure you invest in a good set of brushes. Plastic brushes are appealing because they are cheaper and typically last longer as they are not as prone to bending as metal brushes, however metal brushes produce a crisper sound, particularly off the cymbals, and most drummers find them more responsive.”

Then we talked to professional percussionist and jazz specialist Bill Pamplin who also owns Thwaites (a specialist stringed instrument shop). He responds:

“I agree pretty much with Pat’s response, though I would say that technique-wise playing with brushes [in a jazz setting] is actually quite different to playing with sticks. Doubles, drags & bounces all have to be dug out as the brush does not rebound off the head.  If you try to play the same things with brushes as you would with sticks the results can be quite unsatisfactory. IMHO brush work sounds and works best when you are using the brushes in a different way to the sticks: swirls, sweeps & flicks of the snare rather than Hi Hat time. It might be, then, in a Gospel setting wire brushes won’t really work. I use both wire & plastic brushes. There is a heavy brush (Regal Tip Ultaflex) which are halfway between a brush and Blastix, which I use a lot to play running 8ths or 16ths on the snare as you might hear in some country music or Nashville CCM. These also work better on the rest of the kit so you can use them like a stick, and they swirl & sweep nicely as well. These might be a better option.
Just to say to the OP that “appropriate volume” can, of course, also be achieved with sticks. You just have to practise playing quietly!”

(Photocredit DavidKing, Creative Commons)

 If you have any more advice to offer Carole, or indeed any more question, please comment in the box below.

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