Playing with Brushes

Lately I’ve been focusing on playing consistently with brushes. Playing with a soft touch and achieving a sense of delicacy is an art form and it is very challenging to effectively produce a steady brushing sound. Peter Erskine shot an excellent lesson on brushes for Drumeo, the net’s most popular drum education website titled “Playing Brushes with All Styles of Music.” In it he exhibits how to get started using the brushes and establishing a foundation. His examples show a masterful sense of smoothness and finesse. Another great source for learning about the brushes is “The Art of Playing with Brushes,” distributed by Hudson Music and written by Steve Smith and Adam Nussbaum. The book includes a play-along CD and features the expertise of the authors as well as Joe Morello, Eddie Locke, Charli Persip, Billy Hart and Ben Riley. The opening paragraph by Nussbaum outlines the importance of the lesson:

For many, the brushes in particular have been a mystery because of the different kinds of motion required to articulate the time. The brushes can be played in vertical motion like sticks. But their truly unique trait is in the way they can be played in a circular or horizontal manner that creates wonderful feeling. When the brushes are played in this way, you’re not only articulating the beat but also playing the space between the beats. This creates a legato flow that has made me aware of hearing that space. This has had a positive effect on my stick playing as well. I’m now more aware of the width of the beat.

My all-time favorite drummer is Papa Jo Jones. This brushwork video depicts his legendary skills whether striking the head or “stirring the soup” as some refer to it. The speed at which Jones is able to play while maintaining a sense of groove is remarkable. He plays with a sense of urgency that is perfectly restrained. One trick that Jones integrated into his brush playing was shaking salt over a calf skin head to amplify the texture. Some players utilize different rough surfaces such as suitcases. Steve Gadd shot a wonderful video of him playing brushes at the studio on an empty tape box. It has also been said that Buddy Holly’s hit song “Peggy Sue” was recorded with the drummer playing on a phone book.

Our friends at ProLogix® have developed a pad that caters specifically for brushes. In addition to a special head there are inserts available that outline the positions for different types of brush motions. The ProLogix® “Multi-Brush Practice Pad” is a must have for all drummers who want portable practice tool to study the brushes with using any of the ProLogix® Brush Map Sets or just want a great tool to study brushes on.

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