Simple Brush Patterns That Really Work

There are many varieties of brush patterns. There has also been a boom in educational books and videos over the last twenty years or so, making many brush techniques readily available. Prior to this, brush instruction was learned through apprenticeship, by listening to records, and by watching bands perform live.

Because of the relative paucity of written material about brush technique, there is no “carved in stone” approach to brush playing. There tend to be highly personalized techniques that players use and pass on to their pupils.

We can, however, make some general observations about ALL good brush players. All quality brush players:

  • Use a combination of side-to-side sweeps, circular patterns, and snare drum strokes.

  • Pulse each circular pattern in time with the music.

  • Use a coated (sandpapery) head on their snare drum in order to get a good tone.

  • Use various parts of the brush to create different sounds and textures. (The tips of the bristles are used for delicate, nimble playing; the full body of the bristles is used for broad sweeps and thicker colorations; the shaft is used in conjunction with the bristles to create loud accents; the butt end of the brush is used for cymbal scrapes.)

When you practice the brushes, make sure you follow these same guidelines.

Following are a few patterns designed to induct you into the beautiful world of brushes. They are all patterns to be played on the snare drum. Feather your bass drum on all four downbeats and chick your hi-hat foot on the downbeats of two and four when playing each of these patterns. The only exception to this is the waltz figure.

Ballad Playing

The trickiest aspect of brush work may be in learning to play ballads. Drummers typically refer to this kind of playing as “stirring soup,” because the motions you make look a lot like a person mixing potage.

In the three ballad variations following (FIGURES 17-1, 17-2, and 17-3), you will notice that both hands create circles and/or swirls on the drumhead's surface. Some of the circles move clockwise; others move counterclockwise. Be sure to follow the arrows indicated in the patterns carefully.

FIGURE 17-1 Brushes ballad pattern A

Learn each ballad pattern one hand at a time, then combine them together gradually. Your goal should be to create an even, silky tone on the snare drum. There should be no interruptions in the sound flow. If you find that your tone is coarse or bumpy, you're probably pressing down too hard on the head. Use the tips of the bristles to get a refined sound. Finally, be certain to use large circles; make use of the full diameter of the drum.

FIGURE 17-2 Brushes ballad pattern B


FIGURE 17-3 Brushes ballad pattern C

Medium Tempo

When playing in this tempo range, you will play two different motions with your hands. Your left hand will create either a circular pattern, as in pattern A shown in FIGURE 17-4, or a side-to-side swish pattern, as in pattern B shown in FIGURE 17-5. Your right hand will strike the drum, just as you would with a stick. The rhythm played with the right hand is the basic jazz ride pattern. Make sure your hands work in harmony with each other to create a smooth, lilting swing.

FIGURE 17-4 Midtempo brush pattern A


FIGURE 17-5 Midtempo brush pattern B


FIGURE 17-6 Up-tempo pattern

Up Tempo

You may use pattern B from FIGURE 17-2on up-tempo tunes. However, at blazing speeds, you probably won't be able to maintain it smoothly. The pattern in FIGURE 17-6can be used on even the fastest charts. It uses a back-and-forth swish movement in the left hand followed by two sixteenth notes in the right.

Waltz Time

In FIGURE 17-7you will see a very basic waltz pattern. This pattern is essentially the same as pattern A from FIGURE 17-1but with beat four missing. Feather your bass drum on beat one, and chick your hi-hat on beats two and three.

The “Train” Rhythm

The train rhythm is probably the easiest of the brush patterns found in this book, because you do not “stir soup” in any way. In fact, you strike the snare drum just as you would with sticks. This pattern is used mostly in country music. (See FIGURE 17-8.) It simulates the standup bass “slap” pattern that is commonly used in bluegrass and traditional country music.

The Rattlesnake

The Rattlesnake is a term I use to mean a trill. In this case, a trill is a fluttering sound made by playing rapid-fire sweeps with a brush; this can be done with either the right or left hand. The sound of the brush trill is similar to the sound of a prairie rattler, hence its name.

The trill can be very effective on all tempos but particularly on ballads. In FIGURE 17-9you will see the basic pattern, followed by a ballad pattern that uses the trill. Unlike many of the other patterns you've learned, the trill uses only a small area of the drumhead. Using the matched grip, the only way to get this sound is to use a quick back-and-forth movement with your wrist. You'll need to turn your hand in a thumbs-up position to allow the brush to move side to side.

FIGURE 17-7 Waltz pattern


FIGURE 17-8 Train pattern


FIGURE 17-9 Brush trill

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