Drummers have a heavy task at hand for their role in any band setup. Given their role as the heart of the rhythm section, they need to keep the song and ensemble going.
That’s not the extent to which they’re relied on by other musicians however.
Drummers also need to fit within and define the mood of a song. As the cornerstone of any piece of music, drummers often use various tools to evoke the feeling and emotion needed to fit the song on deck.
For certain situations, no tool gets the job done better than a drum brush.
Some beginning drummers worry that they’ll use a drum brush incorrectly. That fear leads them to avoid the tool altogether, but that’s a big mistake. A drum brush is such a versatile stick variant for any drummer, so it pays to know how to utilize it.
For some, the issue is even deeper.
There are plenty of beginner and intermediate drummers who don’t really even know what a drum brush is, or what it might be used to do. For any drummer, a drum brush opens up an array of sound options, so let’s get into the details behind drum brushes, and a few to consider purchasing!
What is a Drum Brush? - Specs and Details
Drum brushes are used by a number of musicians ranging from every genre imaginable. A drum brush, in lieu of a drumstick, has some sort of wiring attached to its handle. More often than not, the wiring is metal, allowing for a very distinct sound to come from the drum heads.
Many incorrectly assume that brushes are only utilized in situations for softer songs. In reality, the wiring actually makes for an incredible tone that fits a variety of situations. Anyone learning drums and proper technique will need to also get their hands on a brush set for practice.
Some might see brushes as an optional way to play, but it has a huge role in a lot of great styles of play. At the very least, it broadens your ability to ensure you’re ready to hop behind the kit, no matter the situation.
When making contact with the head of a drum, brushes offer a bright, snapped sound that dies quickly but makes a great tone. Many often use brushes to drag across the snare, allowing for a swishing sound that offers distinct tones and layers.
Each brand does things a little differently.
Some vary the angle of the wires themselves, and others tip their wires with little metal balls or beads for a stronger contact point. There are a handful of companies that also make plastic or nylon wire brushes. These are a little less popular, but can make for a softer, calmer sound. Wire makes a very metallic noise, as opposed to plastic and nylon which creates warmth.
The last note of detail worth mentioning in terms of drum brush design is the ability to retract the wires. If a drum brush allows you to adjust how far out the wires stick, you have much more control over their point of contact. For example, a sweeping brush needs long, extended wires. For pure contact, shorter brushes can increase the speed of your drumming.
When to Use a Drum Brush
The question now becomes when is it the right time to use a drum brush? There are a few schools of thought here, and we can use genres of music to help us come up with some situations.
For starters, the misconception that drum brushes are only used for quieter drumming is false, but it does fulfill the role of that situation. Sure, acoustic setups where amps might not be used may call for a drum brush. Dave Grohl from Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged comes to mind.
The expertise of knowing how to blend in with a band is hard to come by. With brushes, blending is much easier in a quieter setting than traditional wooden drum sticks. The issue with some who believe the brush to be only part of the solution of a quieter sound is that contact will also be made more reluctantly.
Avoid being careful with the brushes, and let the wires do the work. This way, you get the same quality contact with the stick and drum, but enjoy the tone of the wires.
Anyone who casually listens to jazz will note that the drummers playing this genre sound different from, let’s say, a rock drummer. That’s because in a lot of classical jazz, brushes are primarily used. That cool jazz tone made famous by drummers like Elvin Jones, Joe Morello, and Joseph Jones all come from drum brushes.
Check out a great example in this live performance from jazz great Charli Persip:
In a lot of ways, the drummers in jazz music utilize brushes on the snare to create a variety of sounds. Sliding the brush along the snare with one hand and striking with the other is a very popular form of jazz drumming. It’s a great way to keep rhythm while allowing a good base for instruments.
Jazz is all about the absence of sound, so when a saxophonist or trumpet player is taking time to articulate certain notes in a solo, it sounds complete with a solid drummer behind them using brushes.
Another popular use for brushes is in bands or ensembles where drums, and all instruments really, are meant more as textures.
In a lot of post-rock bands, for example, each musician is trying to create an emotion with their playing rather than just notes. This isn’t just a technique reserved for instrumental ensembles either. In a lot of genres of music, building tone and texture with an instrument is essential to contributing to a dynamic overall sound. To ensure this, drummers need to be the base of the emotions coming from the instruments.
Think about any song that really gets you energized or emotional. The drums guide the band’s sound towards a common goal. Whether that be hard snare hits for a solid rock sound, or quick hi-hat rhythms to drive energy for a big band performance of gospel or choir music. No matter what the situation calls for, the drummer sets the tone. For that reason, brush playing is essential for a versatile drummer.
Even in a setting where drums are necessarily essential for the music, an easy brush slide and light tapping can really add an extra dimension to the sound. For that reason, it’s important to know how to use drum brushes. Let’s talk technique and why it might help to learn this drum stick alternative well.
How to Use a Drum Brush
The above video is a great way to explore how to use a drum brush. Primarily, holding the handle is similar to a drum stick. The techniques in which you may be making contact with the drums is different. To get the most out of your drum brushes, mastering every form of contact (tapping, swiping, etc.) Check out the video, as well as some more incredible tutorials from the Lincoln Center’s Jazz Academy.
Overall, it’s all about matching the lightness of the drum brush. Make sure not to grip too harshly, as well as allow for a nice bounce to the point of contact. As mentioned above, a drum brush that allows for retractable wires is great for ensuring the perfect place of contact.
Best Drum Brushes
Here are some of our favorite time-tested drum brushes for every occasion:
1. Vic Firth Steve Gadd Wire Brush
This brush is a favorite on Amazon, as well as around the country with various music stores. The issue with some drum brushes is the deterioration of the wires. When meeting a coated drumhead, they can begin to wear and tear.
This brush is built with light gauge wires that slide and glide with ease. As with any brush, the angle with which the wires are placed can really end up affecting the way that a drummer plays. Thanks to the Steve Gadd edition of these Vic Firth brushes, the drumhead is never going to catch the wires and snag your playing style. Because the new design offers a more unique way of playing with brushes, a plethora of new sounds are available to the drummer.
In keeping with the quality of Vic Firth drum accessories, however, the standard for high performance and traditional drumming is not lost either. It’s the best of both worlds! Each brush comes separately, so if you’re looking for a pair, be sure to order two!
2. Promark Retractable Nylon Brush
A popular brand with a number of professionals, ProMark’s retractable nylon brushes are built to last. The lightweight nylon brush material allows for bend protection against any sort of wear and tear that might retire a pair of wire brushes. The blue nylon stands out too, offering a bit of personality to the accessory.
The impact resistant plastic handle also makes it easy to hold these brushes, and ensure stable, consistent playing. The bristles also retract into the handle, making it easy to match the situation being called for. This feature is great for transporting the brushes as well, ensuring nothing gets bent or damaged.
Need some fast brush work? Retract them for a shorter reach. Looking to groove and slide all over the drum heads? Elongate them for more reach.
ProMark is a huge retailer for any sort of sound you might need, and this nylon brush is a wonderful example. They also come as single brushes, so order two for a complete set!
3. Zildjian Professional Wire Brushes
Zildjian is a leading retailer in drums and drum accessories, and these wire brushes are their most popular model of the sort. The retractable nature of the brushes ensure a more traditional brush experience is available, as well as room for experimentation. Shorter brushes can also glide on drum heads for a unique swoosh sound, and these let you find the perfect way to play for you!
Articulate your drum sound to perfection with shorter retraction, and never fear losing grip thanks to the comfort minded rubber handles. When it comes to drums, Zildjian is a leader in innovation and tradition simultaneously. Owning a pair of their brushes is a great way to master the style.
Conclusion - Don’t Brush Off this Essential Technique!
Some might see brushes as an optional way to play, but it has a huge role in a lot of great styles of play. At the very least, it broadens your ability to ensure you’re ready to hop behind the kit, no matter the situation. Hopefully this guide helps, and in the future, turn to DrumRadar for more tips, tricks, and guides to mastering the drums!