Can You Use Brushes on Electronic Drums?


There are many reasons why you might choose an electronic drum over a conventional one. They just bring plenty of conveniences to the table. 

When you live in an apartment or share a house with others, having volume control always within arm’s reach is a life saver! For any die-hard drummer out there, these are conveniences hard to ignore. 

But on a normal acoustic drum kit there are different techniques you can use to create different sounds. A common one of these techniques is using brushes. This leads many drummers to ask: “Can you use brushes on an electronic drum kit?” 

Surely, if the electronic drum kit has a “Brush Mode” that’s a good sign that you can use a brush on it, right? The short answer is yes, but usually, it’s not as great sounding as brushes used on a regular drum. If you really want to use brushes on an electric kit, use nylon brushes (the thicker the better) because the alternative, metal, might end up damaging your cymbals or puncturing the head pads. 

So now we know that you CAN use brushes on an electronic drum kite the next question we ask ourselves is SHOULD you? After all, most e-drum brands evidently don’t put too much thought into the proper integration of brushes into e-drum technology, as evidenced by the subpar sound you get. 

Even so, certain brands of drums do manage to provide an experience that is not entirely disappointing. We have outlined them here as well, so do continue reading if you want to learn what these are. 

Also, if you’re willing to try out a couple of workarounds that will improve the sound or get an effect you want (like the sweet sweeping effect any jazz lover can’t get enough of), we have also shared a couple of them here. 

Why do drum brushes not work as well on electronic drums?

Simply put, e-drum brands don’t seem to care too much about brushes and so don’t built in the functionality. You can perform plenty of tinkering with your e-drum modules to get the most precise sound you’re aiming for with a drumstick. 

But when it comes to drum brushes, electronic drums usually just have a measly ‘Brush Mode’ for users. You don’t have much freedom in modifying the sound. In most kits and modules, the most you can do is to make close to negligible adjustments in pitch and sustain. 

Also, the computational modeling (one of the features of e-drums that make them great) you can enjoy with sticks does not carry over to ‘Brush Mode’ in most modules. There’s no option to change the thickness of the brush – brush thickness is important for making richer responses; nor do you have options to change its material. Overall, these facts are obviously a real bummer for any drummer who likes to use brushes. 

What makes matters even worse is that this particular setting in most e-drums just does not provide the accurate swishes you can normally do with regular drums. Many experienced drummers can attest to this. Even so, do take note that we did say “in most e-drums” so brushes are not entirely a lost cause in all e-drum brands. 

Nonetheless, if you have been using brushes on drums regularly, you’ll soon hear for yourself that there’s just something off once you give an e-drum a try with any brush you have. 

Are There Brands of Electronic Drums that Do Well with Brushes?

There are certain brands that do push the limits of letting their drummers get an accurate brush sound. Although non are exceptional some do an ok job. 

They can be considered as exceptions to the rule – that is, the rule that brushes and e-drums don’t mix. They are not many, as this list proves:

  • Roland – What e-drum user isn’t aware of this brand? While many Roland e-drum owners might have raised their eyebrows now after seeing this brand included here, there’s actually plenty of evidence that TD25 module can replicate the sweeps and strokes of brushes on regular drums with the right pad. There’s anecdotal proof that paired with a PD128 pad, the TD25 can bring about fairly satisfactory results. 

Another noteworthy Roland module is the TD50 because it includes a digital snare. When complemented by the increased positional sensors it has, this module can provide fairly acceptable accuracy. 

  • Zorg – This particular brand is known for its Wavedrums. They also say outright that their models actually support brushes. And users do back up the claim that these e-drums can detect brushes and produces more pronounced and accurate responses to the expert ear. It primarily uses its built-in modeling to achieve this. 

These are the only viable brands and models I came across during my extensive research about brushes being used on electronic drums. That’s how scant information is about this topic simply because they just don’t jive well together. 

What Workarounds Are There?

Please note that these “workarounds” may not be as effective and take plenty of experimentation. Practically all of them also lean towards a more general approach and does not take into consideration the specific module you are using. Here they are as follows:

  • Pair one nylon brush with a stick. Preferably, use the brush on the snare. The use of the stick should offset some of the shortcomings of the e-drum on brushes.
  • You can also try increasing the sensitivity of the pads until the pads begin to detect the strikes and sweeps of the brushes. 
  • Use a microphone to amplify the sound of the brush as you use it on the snare. Obviously, this might be too much of hassle for some drummers or will be downright frowned upon by purists, but it certainly works. 

Is It Worth Using Brushes on Electronic Drums?

If you’re just casually playing your e-drum then why not give it a go and see what it sounds like? You might not get the sound you’re aiming for but it will probably still work. Also, if you’re willing to do the workaround we suggested, then using brushes on electronic drums might not be an entirely off-limits endeavor. 

It can also be argued that the “accuracy” of sound is subjective as well. You might find one particular module more faithful while others might think entirely otherwise. Modifications in the sensitivity might produce sounds that you might find satisfactory, but not by the majority. Why else are some drummers still staunchly sticking to using brushes on e-drums if not for these reasons? 

Conclusion

Using brushes on electronic drums is definitely possible. E-drums have the setting for it but prepare to have a shoddy experience at best in most models. This reason is precisely why most e-drum kit buying guides rarely include brush performance. This fact alone should be enough to convince you to pursue your brush playing in more responsive options (regular drums being the most recommended). 

However, if you are going to insist, there’s really nothing wrong with using brushes on electronic drums. If the module officially states that it supports brushes, then what is stopping you? As long as you’re having fun and enjoying the sound, there’s virtually no reason to not pick up that pair of nylon brushes and start sweeping and strumming!

Rob Wreglesworth

Rob has come to terms with the fact he will probably never be a famous rock star....but that hasn't stopped him from writing and recording music in his home studio. Rob has over 15 years experience of recording music at home.

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