Sticks vs Brushes? Heel-toe or heel up?


Junior Member
Hey again guys :)

So, my grandpa and I were talking about drumming the other day as usual, and every once and again he'll give me some "old-timer tips" on drumming (he used to drum for a few famous local bands), and he has always placed much emphasis on control.

So his most recent advice to me was to only use my sticks on my practice pad, and not on the kit itself.
Instead, he says to use brushes for my kit and aim to keep my volume very soft.

I didn't quite agree with it because of the genre of music I currently play (rock, ballads, oldies), and I know not to smash everything all the time..
I mean, I started off with jazz drumming and it taught me alot about control from the beginning which I feel i've successfully fused into my drumming.

The other thing he raised was to hit my bass with my whole foot on the pedal, and heel-toe it.
Now, I remember what my drum teacher taught me on my first lesson about the two techniques and he said it's just a matter of preference and he told me to test them both out with a simple rock beat.

So I did, and I found the heel up method to be just fine, it gives me great control, it's comfortable and I find that having my thigh go up and down as I hit the bass to be very groovy.
Like, I rock in my chair as I drum! And it's fun!

So it's been an internal debate for me between each decision.
I mean, my grandpa has some drum moves, and some of his past advice has been pretty good, but this one feels like it's individual to me as a drummer and what worked great for him as he started off doesn't necessarily apply to me.

I don't want to go against his drumming wisdom without some proper 3rd person perspective, so thanks for chipping in, fellas :)



Platinum Member
Personal preference, I guess.

I use brushes probably about 80% of my time on the kit. I like them better, it keeps the noise down, protects your hearing, and at this point, I just enjoy using brushes more than sticks. Some techniques are more difficult with brushes, but if you can do them with brushes, doing the same thing with sticks will be easier.

My right foot never leaves the pedal. All ankle/calf action for me - never from the hip.

Then again, I'm somewhat of an old-timer too. I wouldn't have used brushes much when I was younger. Gotta bash and bang those skins and pies and make a lot of noise - ha ha.


Senior Member
wildbill just wrote my post for me! :)

There was a time in early 60s when you'd be hard pressed to find anything but brushes on pop records (Sam Cooke, for example). A lot of late 50s stuff too (Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps has a hell of a lot of brush playing on it...funny considering how 'rocky' it was considered).

So, possibly to with your Grandfather's age...but acquiring skill with brushes is no bad thing: if we don't come up with alternative energy sources, then the future is acoustic (only half-joking).
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Junior Member
Thanks guys, I may actually pick up the brushes soon in that case :)

But then what about the heel-toe vs heel-up?
I find heel-up much easier, yet I feel like I have less control that way cuz my foot becomes askew to the pedal sometimes.
Yet I have so much power and speed that way!



I'm basically an old timer to, I guess. I was taught by my dad who was taught by his grandfather, I don't know if the heritage goes back any further than that. I was instructed with both sticks and brushes, and heel down on the bass drum and hi hat pedals, it's just that way it was done when my dad gigged back in the 40s, 50s and 60s. I know that he had to "modernize" a bit from what he was taught by his grandfather and so have I. I still play with both sticks and brushes letting the style of music decide for me on what's best to use. I also got away from totally playing heel down years ago and to this day alternate, again depending on the genre of music. The biggest change I've made from the early says of drum instruction is that from time to time I might use the match grip style of holding the sticks, but for a majority, I still use the traditional grip.

What this all comes down to in my opinion is, sometimes change up is good and sometimes we just have to stay a little more current than how things were done 40 or 50 years ago.



Silver Member
In my mid 60's I'd say try every technique that you are aware of to execute sound on the drums and find what suits you the best. For example, I play sambas heel down bass drum
pedal but would be hard pressed to suggest anyone else should play that way. I do it that way because it works best for me but another technique might well work better for other players.


Platinum Member
Anyone who isn't using brushes, sticks, hands, bundle sticks(like promarks HotRods) are missing out! Different sounds/feels/ much fun.

My bass drum work is mostly heel up and coming from the ball of the foot via my ankle...some times from the toes then ankle/ball of my foot in a push-slide kinda method(bass drum ghosting with my toes alone...or louder from my ankle through my toes).

I see it like how I hold sticks...I dont always keep the stick pressed against my palm.

Both my hands and feet are dynamic...and I wouldn't want it any other way.

I've got large-ish calf I maintain stability pretty well with my heels up.


Senior Member
I think playing with brushes helps you to get a better sound with the sticks, beacuse you get a better control of the drums sound.


Junior Member
I think the response to Heel Toe or Heel Up is... both.

I'd check out Steve Smith's DVD Drumset Technique. Steve's video shows, if I recall, four different ways to go at your foot technique. Don't know if it's on youtube or not. It's worth looking into though. It was a real eye-opener for me.


Silver Member
I respect the wisdom of an older player but I must also respectfully disagree with your grandpa (Although I would LOVE to sit and talk about the days when he was playing)

I absolutely love brushes and like using them in all kinds of situations.

However, I never want to get into a place where I'm thinking of them only as volume modification tools. The fact that they only can produce so much volume leads many to use the latter as a rule. While they do function in that way, there's so much more to playing them. Also there are sounds with sticks that you just can't get with brushes (and vice versa). Therefore learning how to play with sticks effectively and musically at all volume levels is paramount. The issue of control is an important one. I would however, think of it as kind of a crutch to say, "Anytime I play quietly, I'll use brushes instead of sticks". That means you may never be motivated to develop control, feel and time with sticks at a low volume.

There's a deep level of expression and creativity with brushes and these days a large palette of brush types to choose from and use. There's also many educational resources available as well.The whole concept of getting sound playing a textured surface horizontally is very different from the strict up down method used by sticks, rods and mallets.

I'd recommend checking out The Art of Brush Playing by Steve Smith and Adam Nussbaum. However there is a somewhat new DVD called "The Brush Secret" by Florian Alexandru-Zorn that looks especially cool. His premise is that we only look at brushes in context of older jazz music - but shouldn't. He is showing some more modern applications. I'm planning on getting the DVD soon but in the meantime there are some great YouTube videos of him demonstrating a few examples from his DVD.

He also happens to be on this message board as 'FAZ' (I think)

Back to topic: I feel brushes should be a part of every drummer's technique.Hwoever I don't think that as a rule you shouldn't use sticks on drums. Sticks are part of our expression and some things cannot be done with brushes alone.




Platinum Member
Recently was watching the Tony Williams clinic vids and the part where he plays brushes only on the snare drum with the snares off. Brush playing is another ball game and piece in the toolkit. With my blues band I do 4-5 songs a night with brushes. Some slow, some fast. It gives a change up and keeps the band from sounding monotonous.

Quieter situations are heel down. Louder times are heel up. I also tend to practice heel down. Some years ago when I was trying to learn double strokes a good drummer advised me to keep my heel down. I can do them within a lick that way, but for something that continuously has double strokes (like some end of song wash out) I need to raise up and do the heel toe (actually more like a forefoot/toe) bit. Someday I hope to be able to do any of it either way. Moar practice...