Drum brushes let you paint with sound. They are incredibly expressive and dynamic and can take you places in the music that drum sticks never go.
In this article, I’m going to share how drum brushes are used in music, why they are often challenging for drummers and how you can overcome this challenge.
The art of playing drum brushes
Legendary Jazz drummer and brush master “Papa” Jo Jones said it best, “The hardest thing for a musician to learn is how to play WITH people.” Playing brushes is 100% about performing with other musicians.
The drum brushes have a wide dynamic range. This allows them blend more easily than sticks and play WITH other acoustic instruments and vocals.
It’s always been interesting to me that we reserve “the art of playing” for brushes and not sticks. A great player, using sticks can certainly be mesmerizing. They can wow us with their speed, chops and musical sensitivity.
I think there is something more artistic though in playing with brushes. It really does feel like painting with a paint brush on the drums.
The sound and feeling of dragging my brush across the drum head is deeply satisfying. It really is painting with sound. Check out the video below. I’m painting sound with brushes along with two great Jazz musicians here in Japan.
Drum brushes technique and why they’re hard to play
I think another reason we say the “art” of playing brushes is because it takes loads of effort to learn and play brushes. For every hour you practice with sticks, you’ll need a separate hour for brushes. I figured this out over my 35 years of teaching and performing with drum brushes.
The reason for this is because of the fine motor (small muscle) skill required to move and manipulate brushes across the drum set. Brushes use very little gross motor (large muscle) skill.
Brushes use almost entirely fine motor motions. Fine motor motions take longer to learn than gross motor. I believe this is why many drummers shy away from playing brushes.
Drum brushes are played in many styles of music
Jazz music is probably the most well-known music associated with playing brushes. I use brushes often when performing Jazz Swing. Bossa Nova and Samba music styles also work well with brushes. Some other styles I play brushes in are, Light Pop, Country, New Orleans Second Line, Rhumba, Bolero, Brazilian Baião, Funk and Hip-Hop.
Jazz brushes and beyond
My practical approach to playing brushes allows me to play brushes in almost any musical situation in the recording studio, on stage and at rehearsals.
Sometimes I use one brush and one stick or one brush and one hand. I also often transition from brushes to sticks and back to brushes when I play.
The music always tells me if I should use brushes or sticks. In fact, I have another article about how to choose between using brushes and sticks. Check out Jazz Drumming With Brushes And Sticks.
I use brushes for a unique texture and feeling in contemporary music. Also, when the music needs a soft texture and quiet dynamic, brushes are my choice.
Here’s the affiliate link to the brushes I play. Buying through me is a convenient way to get your brushes and an easy way to support this blog. Thank you 🤙
How to play with drum brushes
I have some brushes instructional videos on my YouTube channel Von Baron Drum Lessons. My brushes instructional videos are my most popular.
Because of this popularity, I created a complete course for drumming with brushes. It’s a step-by-step system that’ll have you up and swinging in no time.
I call it the BRUSHES MASTERY COURSE and it goes deeper than simply teaching you a few patterns and fills. It also teaches you how to connect your brush playing to the music and use them in real musical situations.
“Papa” Jo Jones said, it’s hard to learn how to play WITH other musicians. In my course you’ll learn to do this through instruction and playing with skilled Jazz musicians.
Brushes patterns and fills
Jeff Hamilton, one of my first Jazz brushes teachers, taught me Swing patterns he uses. Those helped me develop my own patterns that I now use three decades later. We all have patterns that fit our hands and you’ll discover yours too.
Brushes drum fills are the same. I have a collection of rudiments and fills that I use in a variety of playing situations. To this day, I haven’t heard anyone else play brushes fills or patterns the way I do.
I think this is also the goal for playing drum brushes. Be your own personality with them. Let brushes be an extension of your unique voice.
Creating your own sound
“Papa” Jo Jones, Ed Thigpen, Jeff Hamilton, Vernel Fournier, Joe Morello and Peter Erskine are some of my favorite brush players.
I’ve studied and played along with their recordings for many years. Each of them has their own unique style and sound. Brushes more than sticks, give you an opportunity to develop and master your own unique sound on the drums.
Playing brushes can also be visual. You can add some flare to your playing and make the brushes look like drumming wizardry!
In the course, I’ll teach you everything I do with brushes and help you to develop your own unique sound and style. See the video below for all of the topics covered in this course.
Looking for some great drum brushes? Here’s a blog post about the brushes I use.
Below is one of the video practice songs in the Brushes Mastery Course that teaches you how to play your brushes with other musicians.
Even though, brush playing requires lots of fine motor skill, I know brushes can be one of the best parts of your drumming. They’re useful in many styles of music and will open up new performance opportunities for you.
Developing your own sound and style are important in the art of playing brushes. They give you the opportunity for your unique musical voice to be heard on the drums.
If you’re looking for a way to learn drumming with brushes, check out my Brushes Mastery Course. Keep swinging!
Have you used drum brushes in your playing?
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