Brushing up on e-brushes

Acoustic drummers are able to vary their sound by swapping sticks for brushes or rods – and these options are actually available to e-drummers as well.

The sounds of brushes

Drummers have used brushes for decades to create softer, more nuanced sounds compared to traditional drumsticks. Brushes are typically associated with jazz and acoustic drumming, where their bristles delicately glide across drumheads and cymbals, producing a warm and understated tone.

Of course, one of the advantages of electronic drums is that the technology allows for the triggering of virtually any sound – including emulations of brushes.


It’s important to distinguish between brushes sounds and brushes technique. In essence, drum modules translate a hit into a sound. The impact and the sound are not directly related – you could use a stick, a mallet, a rod, a pencil or even a finger to produce exactly the same sound through a drum module – the only difference being the volume.

Roland was a pioneer, including brush-type sounds in its modules from their earliest incarnations.

The Japanese e-drum giant has another brushes achievement to its name – creating a dedicated Brushes trigger setting. Introduced with the TD-10 module, the setting increased sensitivity, allowing the module to detect the delicate sweeps and taps of the bristles.

In recent times, ironically, it was one of the hardest-hitting rock drummers who did the most to highlight the brushes capability of e-drums.

Germany’s Dirk Brand, at the time a Roland artist, penned an article for digitalDrummer in 2015 in which he noted:

“I have always been fascinated by the fact that the V-Drums can also be played with brushes, and certain brushing sounds and movements are accurately rendered. While you may not be able to achieve all the nuances of playing the brushes, you can certainly produce a range of sounds by combining varied brush strokes with Roland’s positional sensing capabilities,” going on to explain the ideal trigger settings for brushes.

Having tested almost every module on the market for brush compatibility, digitalDrummer has found the Roland TD-8 module produced the best results when paired with a PD-128 mesh head drum.

The current TD-50 and the corresponding PD-140DS digital snare do an excellent job of triggering brushes. The only limitation is the paucity of brush samples among the stock sounds, but drummers do have the option of importing their own samples and layering them with stock sounds.

Getting the best results

  • The right brushes

It is important to use plastic brushes to avoid damaging the mesh or snagging the brushes in the weave. That said, Brand recommends Vic Firth Live Wire Brushes which, although they are metal, have a kind of ball head and are too big to get stuck in the mesh.

  • The right module

Even though it has been a quarter of a century since Roland first released its dedicated brushes settings, few other manufacturers have followed suit.

Korg has excellent brushes triggering on its WaveDrum percussion instrument, but unfortunately, it did not carry that over to the trigger system it developed for the Pearl eMerge kit.

So, if you want to use brushes to trigger brushes sounds, you need to use a Roland module.

According to the manufacturer’s website, special brushes settings and samples are available in all kits in the TD-25/TD-27/TD-30/TD-50 ranges.

  • The right sounds

As mentioned, all Roland modules have brushes samples and kits in their sound banks. Apart from Roland, many other modules include brushes sounds – mostly tap or short sweep sounds.

A number of VST packs include brushes articulations of their popular kits:

Addictive Drums 2:  The Modern Jazz Brushes ADpak includes brushes samples from a Premier Gen-X kit paired with a Ludwig Acrolite snare. The producers claim their “RealSweep technology, (gives) you the ability to create realistic-sounding jazzy brush performances on the snare, with sweeps and circles. Accents can be seamlessly added without interrupting the sweep motion of the brushes, making for some seriously smooth sounding grooves.”

Toontrack: Besides brushes samples in the core Avatar kit, the Roots SDX add-on pack for Superior Drummer is a dedicated sample pack that include brushes, rods and felt mallets in addition to the stick samples.

Other sample packs which feature brushes samples include Americana EZX, Jazz EZX, Traditional Country EZX, Nashville EZX and Vintage Rock EZX.

In the SDX range, you’ll find brushes on the Custom Vintage and Music City USA packs.

BFD: Several BFD expansion packs feature brushes samples. These include Virtually Erskine, Horsepower (Americana Expansion for BFD3 Drums), BFD Imperial Drums, BFD Jazz & Funk Collection,  Modern Retro -city-usa-sdx/

Native Instruments: While there are no brushes in the flagship Studio Drummer pack, The Abbey Road 50s Drummer does include brushes articulations.

Goran Grooves: The Handy Drums – POP BRUSHES pack claims to be “the perfect solution for adding a discreet and nuanced background beat to your music”.

“The snare has been sampled at full dynamic range, including rimshots, delivering everything from gentle brush sweeps to powerful accents. Moreover, this brushes kit offers a warm and soft attack on the kick with a longer natural sustain, providing just the right ambiance to its tone,” according to the company.

  • The right technique

The unique acoustic brushes sound is a combination of multiple simultaneous ‘micro-hits’ by the individual stands of the brush and the sweeping sounds generated by the friction of the strands across the head.

In general, the tap sounds can be easily triggered, even using sticks. The sweep sound is harder to generate, and generally, modules can’t accurately detect the duration of the sweep; they simply start playing a sweep sample when the first impact is detected.

Nonetheless, some modules can provide a realistic playing experience.

As Brand discovered, when the pitch blend control is combined with brushes settings and samples, it is possible to emulate the jazz technique of altering the pitch by hitting harder or softer.

“You have to select a certain sound, for example, choose a jazz kit you want to work with. Then activate the Pedal Bend Function of one of the toms. Choose Tom 1, then press Control F3, then F2: Pedal Bend Range. Here you can choose your pitch value.
My favourite is +5 as this sounds the most natural. Now play the tom and by pressing the hi-hat pedal, you may change the pitch. It is even cooler if you imitate playing an acoustic tom by playing stick on stick. (And remember to practise the jazz drummers’ “pitch bend” facial expression!).” This advice relates directly to the Roland TD-30, but similar functionality can be found on other Roland brains.


Unlike most drumming and percussion instruments which can be very accurately emulated by electronics, there are no perfect e-drum brushes reproductions.

It’s possible to produce convincing brushes sounds with sticks, using many of the drum modules and VST packs out there.

Emulating the feel of brushes is much harder, and very few hardware solutions meet all the requirements of playing with brushes.

However, with practice and some insight into triggering technology, it is possible to produce convincing brushes playing using the appropriate beaters and techniques. Just check out examples like Dirk Brand’s video to see what can be done.