In the following exercises, matched grip players will hold the brush in their left hand with the palm facing down toward the drum. This grip is often called the German grip.
The right hand will use the German grip for all sweeping movements but will use the French grip (thumb facing up) for all tapping rhythms.
Fig. 4 German Grip (l), French Grip (r)
Whether you are playing with Norah Jones or Tony Bennett, the key to playing a ballad with brushes is to subdivide the beat. The following exercise will help you play the slowest of tempos with the greatest of ease.
Ex. 1 involves only your left hand. On this pattern, place the brush on the bottom left side of the drum (position A) and sweep to the opposite side (position B) with a half oval (or half football) shape. Miles Davis’ drummer, Philly Joe Jones, referred to the oval as “the eye.” Now, without lifting the brush, sweep back to point (A) using the half oval shape. Going from point A to point B is one direction. Then, point B back to A is another direction. You have now played two beats using a legato sweep. Place your metronome on 60 bpm. Using the legato oval pattern play Ex. 1. Each note equals one side of the oval or a direction change. Change direction with each beat of the metronome.
I developed some rudiments to help with various motions needed to play brushes. The “parasliddle,” based on the RLRR LRLL of the standard paradiddle rudiment, will help you with the straight back-and-forth motion of the staccato sweeps. What I named the sliddle (RR or LL) is the same as a diddle except you sweep instead of tap. For this particular rudiment, place the brush on the head of the drum then sweep across the head by turning your wrist and forearm as if you were turning a door knob. I call this the “Turn Key” technique. (Fig. 6 and 7) There are other techniques for this but let’s start with this one. (Ex. 2) See all 17 of my brush rudiments in my book Brushworks and watch them demonstrated on the included DVD.
*Note: Because of the unique challenges of notating brushes, from here on out, notes above the bar line (in the typical ride-cymbal position) indicate notes played with the right hand. Left-handed notes occupy the snare position.
Ex. 2 Sliddle
Ex. 3 Parasliddle