Jazz Drummer’s Workshop

Focus On Brushes

From Basic Patterns to Advanced Techniques

by Steve Fidyk

Practicing brushes is excellent for building strength in your wrists and fingers. It can help develop muscles and reflexes and also improves your control with sticks. With the exception of the closed roll, any pattern that you play with sticks can also be executed with brushes. Of course, you don’t have the advantage of natural rebound the way you do with a stick. Nevertheless, you can develop a clear, crisp tone with brushes and play with surprising volume when using proper technique.

A brush can produce staccato and legato sounds. For a staccato sound, snap the brush down to the head, but draw the sound out of the drum by lifting the fan immediately after you strike. For a “slappy” staccato sound, press the fan into the drumhead. For a legato approach, sweep the fan across the head in a circular motion, producing a “swish” sound. The brush fan pivots across the head with a flowing motion controlled by the fingers, forearm, and wrist.

For left-hand traditional grip, the index and middle fingers are positioned on top of the brush handle, while the ring finger acts as a bumper underneath. The fingers stay in contact with the handle at all times. The right brush is controlled with a combination of wrist and fingers, with all four fingers remaining on the handle. To produce a sound, you must lift the fan off the head, since a brush will not rebound like a stick.

The open and closed positions shown in the photos refer to the movement of the fingers when performing legato sweeps on the drumhead. Try practicing the finger movement while playing legato quarter notes in 4/4 time with your left hand. Beats 1 and 3 utilize the open position. On beats 2 and 4, close your fingers into your palm.

The most common jazz beat with brushes is notated and diagrammed below. Notice that the right hand plays the jazz ride pattern on the opposite side of the drum from the swish. The left hand rotates around the drum in a clockwise motion, keeping a smooth and connected pulse with the movement.

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Spend time practicing this beat with recordings so that you gain confidence with the motions and develop a balanced sound from hand to hand. My brush concept is based on moves that Joe Morello showed me. I also listen to Jeff Hamilton, Ed Thigpen, Shelly Manne, and Philly Joe Jones and try to emulate their sound and feel. What follows are six patterns to practice in varying styles within the notated tempo ranges. Listen closely to the sound you’re producing as you perform each one.

This pattern uses the sweeping technique with both brushes to produce a connected swish sound. As you practice the beat, concentrate on keeping the sound of each sweep consistent.

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This brush beat combines two sounds: the staccato tap in the right hand and the left-hand swish. The pattern is played at tempos of 300 beats per minute or faster, so be sure to relax and breathe. Also focus on blending the staccato tap sound with the left swish so that the beat sounds complete from hand to hand.
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In this beat, the left hand creates a sweep accent on the “a” of beats 1 and 3 by closing the fingers into the palm. As you practice combining both hands, notice that the composite rhythm is a shuffle.
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This pattern was named by Joe Morello. You can hear the groove on many classic recordings that he made with the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the 1950s and ’60s. As you practice, focus on coordinating the left-hand sweep accent on the “a”
of 2 and 4 so that it’s in perfect unison with the right-hand swing beat.
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In this brush beat, the left hand creates a sweep accent on the “a” of beats 1 and 3 by closing the fingers into the palm.
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As you practice this beat, concentrate on the right hand as it sweeps, lifts, and taps. Subdivide each 8th note as you coordinate the hands.Jazz Drummer Workshop 9
Once you have control of the previous patterns, experiment and create some of your own beats by incorporating the sweep, slap, and snap sounds. You can also create sound effects using the following techniques.

Brush Up!

Here’s a list of recommended albums that feature some incredible brush playing.

Jo Jones The Essential Jo Jones (Jo Jones) /// Hampton Hawes Four! (Shelly Manne) /// Oscar Peterson Trio We Get Requests (Ed Thigpen) /// Dave Brubeck Quartet Gone With the Wind (Joe Morello) /// Tommy Flanagan Overseas (Elvin Jones) /// Jeff Hamilton Trio Hands On (Jeff Hamilton) /// Bill Charlap Trio Written in the Stars (Kenny Washington) /// Anita O’Day Anita Sings the Most (John Poole)

Steve Fidyk has performed with Terell Stafford, Tim Warfield, Dick Oatts, Doc Severinsen, Wayne Bergeron, Phil Wilson, and Maureen McGovern, and he’s a member of the jazz studies faculty at Temple University in Philadelphia. For more info, visit stevefidyk.com.