Music 265b Week 03 Instruments & Microphone Placement
PDF Version is available HERE
In Basic Audio Recording Techniques, Chapter 7, we discussed how different types of microphones work. Here, we have a brief review of microphones, direct boxes, and the other studio equipment that serves as the first link in our signal chain.
What Are They?
Dynamic microphones use a diaphragm and a metal coil suspended in a magnetic field. When the coil moves (dynamically) within the magnetic field, the microphone converts acoustic sound into an electronic signal. This configuration is similar to the way a loudspeaker converts an electronic signal into acoustic sound: both devices are essentially made out of the same components, but their sizes are different, and they are wired in reverse.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Due to their unique construction, dynamic microphones are usually very durable, rugged, and relatively inexpensive to manufacture. These microphones can handle relatively high sound pressure levels (SPL’s), but their heavy coil design does not handle high frequencies very well. Dynamic microphones are used extensively in live sound reinforcement, as well as in the studio on drums (kick, snare, and toms), guitar amps, and vocals.
Shure SM57, SM58, Shure SM7B, Shure Beta 52A, Sennheiser e609, Sennheiser MD 421 II, AKG D112 MKII
What are they?
Condenser microphones use a pair of insulated plates, one fixed and one moving plate, to convert acoustic sound into an electronic signal. In order to function, the condenser microphone needs an electric charge that we call Phantom Power (+48v). Phantom Power is a constant 48-volt current, which comes from either the mixing console or the microphone’s external power supply.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Condenser microphones typically have a very large and fast frequency response. They are great on cymbals, strings, piano, woodwinds, and vocals. Humidity and temperature may interfere with condensers, and their sound may change as the microphone “warms up” over time.
AKG C414, AKG C451 Neumann U87, Shure SM81
What Are They?
While dynamic microphones use a heavy metal coil suspended in a magnetic field, ribbon microphones use a thin and delicate strip (ribbon) of metal suspended between two magnets. Due to the internal wiring of some old ribbon microphones, Phantom Power can and most likely will damage the microphone. Standard ribbon microphones do not use Phantom Power in order to function, so be sure to disable it before plugging in the microphone.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Ribbon microphones handle higher frequencies better than dynamic microphones, giving them a flatter frequency response. However, they are extremely fragile microphones. They are poorly suited for the rigors of live sound, and certain instruments can blow out the microphone’s delicate ribbons. Strong gusts of air from vocals and kick drums can damage the ribbon inside the microphone, so take care to use a pop filter with these microphones whenever moving air can be a concern. Despite their delicate nature, ribbon microphones sound good on piano cymbals, guitars, and brass instruments.
RCA 77, Royer 121
Direct Inject (DI) Boxes
What Are They?
Direct Inject (DI) Boxes are not microphones, but they serve a similar purpose. DI Boxes split the output signal from a guitar pickup or synthesizer. Typically, one of the split signals goes to the mixing console (at -10 db microphone level), while the other signal goes back into the guitar or keyboard’s effects chain (at +4 db line level). This gives the engineer a clean, isolated signal without any added coloration or from effects, or bleed from other instruments. DI boxes come in two varieties depending on their internal construction. In a Passive DI’s, a transformer simply splits the signal. With Active DI’s, a powered circuit preforms that function. Active DI’s require a power source, like Phantom Power, but they typically have additional features like pads, filters, and ground lifts. We will cover these features in a moment.
Strengths & Weaknesses
The main benefit to using a Direct Box is isolation, since a microphone on a guitar amp will still pick up ambient noise in the room as well as bleed from other instruments. By capturing and recording this clean, unfiltered signal, the engineer can layer different effects over the clean guitar track, in case there was a problem with the guitarist’s pedal rig or amplifier settings. However, a direct guitar signal will typically sound strange, since the guitar’s effects & amplifier are characteristic parts of the electric guitar’s sound. More often than not, a direct signal will need some additional effects processing to sound like a “real” instrument.
There are a number of specialty microphones, most of which are variations on dynamic, ribbon, and condenser microphones. Many of these are used in other recording applications outside of a music studio, but it is important to know what they are and when to use them.
Boundary and PZM (Pressure Zone Microphone) microphones are mics mounted on a plate surface. Their design helps these microphones ignore reflected sound in a room. They can be mounted on floors, ceilings, walls, and tables to record dialog and room sounds.
Lavalier microphones are small condenser mics designed to clip onto clothes. They are used almost exclusively in television for dialogue recording, but they can be clipped onto the bells of brass and woodwind instruments as well.
Shotgun Microphones are highly directional condenser microphones, typically used in film & television to capture location sound and dialogue. They are usually mounted on the side of a camera or at the end of a boom pole when used in the field, but they are often used in the studio when recording dialogue. Due to their construction, shotgun mics are capable of picking up sound sources from a longer distance away than most other microphones.
A basic Sub Microphone is a speaker cone wired in reverse. Essentially, it is an extremely large-diaphragm dynamic microphone, which are ideal for capturing the extreme lows of kick drums, toms, and basses. They suffer from the same drawbacks as dynamic microphones. Since their ability to handle high frequencies is very poor, sub mics should be mixed alongside a microphone better suited for higher frequencies in order to reproduce the full frequency range of kick drums and other low-pitched instruments.
Polar patterns describe how well a microphone hears or rejects sounds coming from different angles around the diaphragm. Depending on the shape and direction of these polar patterns, we can place microphones in a way that lets the microphone hear a specific sound source, while ignoring others around it. These polar patterns come in three categories: Omnidirectional, Unidirectional, and Bidirectional. An Omnidirectional polar pattern looks like a sphere around the mic’s diaphragm, meaning the microphone picks up sound coming from all directions with relatively equal sensitivity. Unidirectional polar patterns pick up sound sources in one direction in front of the diaphragm, while rejecting sound sources behind the diaphragm. A Bidirectional polar pattern picks up sound sources in two directions with equal sensitivity: in front of and behind the diaphragm.
A Cardioid polar pattern is a heart-shaped pattern: the microphone is sensitive to sounds in a wide area in front and next to the diaphragm, but it rejects sound sources behind the diaphragm.
A Hypercardioid pattern looks like a mushroom: it picks up sound in a tighter field in front of the diaphragm, but it also picks up some sound sources directly behind the diaphragm as well. Compared to a Cardioid pattern, Hypercardioid rejects more sound from the side of the diaphragm. There are some intermediate polar patterns as well.
Subcardioid is halfway between an Omnidirectional and Cardioid pattern: it picks up sound sources in a wider area than Cardioid, while also picking up some sources behind the microphone.
Supercardioid is halfway between Cardioid and Hypercardioid: it has a tighter frontal pattern than Cardioid, and a tighter rear pattern than Hypercardioid.
Bidirectional, or Figure-8 polar patterns pick up sound sources in front of and behind the diaphragm with equal sensitivity, while rejecting sound sources from the sides.
A Shotgun polar pattern picks up sound in front of, behind, and next to the diaphragm, but due to a shotgun microphone’s construction, it is extremely sensitive to sound sources in front of the diaphragm.
Front Address & Side Address
The placement of the diaphragm inside the microphone’s body determines where the mic needs to be pointed in order to pick up soundwaves. In a Front Address microphone (like a Shure SM57 or a Sennheiser 421), the diaphragm is installed perpendicular to the microphone’s body: in this case, the end of the microphone needs to be pointed at the sound source. In a Side Address microphone like an AKG C414, the diaphragm is installed parallel to the microphone’s body: in order to point the diaphragm at the sound source, the microphone needs to be placed parallel to the sound source – the front of the microphone should have some identifying feature.
Microphone, DI, and Console Features
Microphones, DI’s, and mixing consoles have a number buttons, switches, and other features in common with each other.
Phantom Power, sometimes shown as +48v, sends 48 volts of current down a microphone cable’s negative pin in order to power condenser microphones and direct boxes. When dealing with faulty wiring, phantom power may damage older ribbon microphones. Typically, modern microphones can be plugged in or unplugged while phantom power is active, but it is generally safer to keep phantom power off unless it is needed.
Roll-Off, low-cut, or a high-pass filter (HPF) gradually filters the low frequencies out of a signal. Some microphones have adjustable switches, but most devices will have the roll-off’s set starting frequency written near the button. When micing a higher pitched instrument, activate the roll-off switch on the microphone or console in order to filter out some of the unwanted low-end leakage from a nearby lower pitched instrument.
A Pad reduces a signal by a set level. Again, the set level is usually written next to the button or switch. For example, a -10dB pad cuts the outgoing signal by 10 decibels. Use a pad on sound sources with high SPL’s.
A Phase button will invert the phase on a signal by 180 degrees. This is usually written as “180” or a circle with a slash through it next to the button or switch. When dealing with phase cancellation, try adjusting the microphone position first, and then flip the phase if the problem continues. More often than not, adjusting the position of the microphone by an inch or two will correct any phasing issues.
A Ground Lift, or earth lift, interrupts the ground wire in a signal chain in order to eliminate ground noise. Use this feature if you hear a constant low frequency hum coming from a guitar or keyboard.
Input/Output Level comes in several varieties. Mic Level is the very weak electrical signal that comes out of a microphone. It can vary around -30dB (decibels). Mic level requires a preamplifier (pre or preamp for short), to raise it up to line level. Line Level comes in two varieties: Consumer line level is roughly -10dB, while Professional line level is +4dB. Instrument level varies between mic and line level, depending on the guitar. Lastly, Speaker/Amp level is a heavily amplified signal, strong enough to power a loudspeaker or guitar cabinet. When connecting one device to another, make sure the input is rated to handle the right signal level. Connecting an amplified signal to a lower-rated input can and will damage equipment.
Stereo Microphone Techniques
One of the fastest ways to record any size ensemble, instrumental section, or solo instrument is to capture a simple stereo recording. With all of these initial configurations, two condenser microphones are used to mimic the way our ears hear things within a stereo image. In most cases, the microphones capturing the left & right sides of the room are panned hard left & right in the mix. Occasionally, additional microphones are used to capture the rest of the stereo image. Some of these techniques have specific guidelines, but these can be adjusted in order to get the best possible recording. Feel free to experiment with these.
The XY Pattern takes two cardioid microphones, angled at 90 degrees relative to one another, with their diaphragms as close together as possible. The sound source is at the center of the field, 45 degrees relative to each microphone. One microphone captures the left field, while the other captures the right. When the signals are panned left and right on the mixing console, this reproduces a fairly accurate stereo image while rejecting sound behind the center of the stereo microphone field. However, sound sources at the center of the stereo image may be slightly boosted.
The Blumlein technique, named after Alan Blumlein, is almost identical to the XY pattern, except Bidirectional (Figure-8) patterns are used in place of Cardioid microphones. This technique produces an accurate stereo image that is usually compatible with mono mixes as well. This pattern will pick up more ambient noise than the XY pattern, since the Figure-8 polarity pattern does not reject sound sources behind the microphones.
ORTF & NOS
ORTF & NOS configurations, named after French and Dutch broadcasting companies, try to mimic a pair of human ears. An ORTF configuration uses two Cardioid patterns, angled facing away from one another at approximately 110 degrees with the sound source in the middle of the field. The diaphragms should be spaced roughly 6 inches apart (the distance between a pair of ears). A NOS configuration follows the same principles, but the cardioid mics are spaced roughly 12 inches apart at a 90-degree angle.
The Jecklin Disk technique, like ORTF & NOS, attempts to mimic the way our head & ears capture sound. With this technique, two Cardioid microphones are placed roughly 6 inches apart, facing away from one another at a 90-degree angle. On top of this, a padded disk (the Jecklin Disk) is placed between the microphones. This padded disk acts like a human head, since it blocks sounds coming from the side from directly reaching the microphone (or ear) on the opposite side. Typically, this method only sounds accurate through headphones, since the stereo image created by this technique may sound strange and unnatural when played over loudspeakers.
The Spaced Pair, sometimes called the A-B method uses two microphones, typically omnidirectional or cardioid, spaced at a 3:1 ratio in order to avoid phasing issues. For example, if the sound source is 1 foot away from the center of the field, the microphones are placed 3 feet away from one another. If the source is 2 feet away from the center, the microphones are places 6 feet away from one another, and so on.
The Mid-Side technique uses 2 microphones and 3 channels on the mixing console: one microphone with a cardioid pattern pointed at the center of the sound source (our Mid channel), and one Bidirectional/Figure-8 pattern placed 90 degrees relative to the other microphone in order to capture the left & right Sides. In order to work properly, this technique requires a few tricks on the mixing console.
- Place the Mid mic on one channel, panned in the center.
- Place the Side mic on the second and third channel: the signal will have to be duplicated.
- Pan the two Side channels hard left & right.
- Invert the polarity on one of the side channels.
The Decca Tree, named after its inventors at Decca Records, is an old method that uses three omnidirectional microphones arranged in a T shape. From a central point, the left & right microphones are spaced roughly 1 foot away from the center (2 feet away from the opposite mic), while the center microphone is placed 1 foot in front of the array (toward the sound source). This 2:1 ratio may be adjusted, depending on the size of the room.
Which one do I use?
Whether we’re working with a friend’s garage band or a symphony orchestra, once we plan on doing anything more advanced than a stereo ensemble recording, we need to understand how various musical instruments make noise, and how to properly record them in the studio.
Drums & Percussion
Drums and percussion are the most complex instruments we will have to tackle in the studio since there are so many different parts and variables to manage. From the size of the drum to the number of drums in the player’s kit, every drummer’s setup will be different. As engineers, we will spend a long time working with drummers in order to get the best possible tone and performance out of the drums.
First, we need to understand what a drums and percussion are. A percussive instrument is an instrument that primarily makes its sound by being struck. A typical drum consists of one or two heads that are stretched and tuned over a shell. When struck, the heads & shell resonate together, producing a sound. The batter head, which is the head that is struck, typically provides the quick attack sound of the drum, while the opposite resonant head provides much of the drum’s sustaining sound.
The Drum Set
The drum set (a.k.a. drum kit, trap drums, the drums, etc.) consists of multiple drums & cymbals of various sizes and designs. A typical drum set consists of a kick drum, snare drum, two or more toms, a hi-hat, ride, and crash cymbal. Drums and cymbals do not typically play a defined musical pitch, but they can still occupy a wide range of frequencies.
The Kick Drum
The Kick drum, or bass drum, is the largest and lowest-tuned drum on the kit. It sits sideways on the floor and is played with a foot-operated pedal. There are typically three characteristic kick drum sounds, depending on what kind of resonant head the drummer uses, if he uses one at all. The most recognizable kick drum sound makes use of a small hole; called a port, cut off-center into the side of the resonant head. This port allows more air to escape out of the drum, giving the drum a slightly lower pitch and shorter sustain, while also allowing engineers to easily place a microphone inside the kick drum. The second kind of kick drum makes use of an intact resonant head, giving the kick drum a slightly higher pitch and longer sustain. This is more common with traditional jazz drummers, as it makes the kick drum sound more like a large tom – we will discuss toms in a moment. The last kind of kick drum does not use a resonant head at all, leaving us with the high-pitched attack sound of the pedal’s beater against the batter head.
Microphone Choice & Placement
If we have access to the inside of the kick drum, placing the microphone in the center of the drum will provide a weak sound. Instead, place the microphone off-center, somewhere between the beater and the side of the shell. Sliding the microphone closer to the batter head will provide more attack, while moving the microphone closer to the resonant head will provide more low-end resonance. If we don’t have access to the inside of the drum (if there is no port on the resonant head), place an extra dynamic mic outside of the bass drum on the batter-side of the head, pointing at the beater: this mic will pick up a lot of bleed from the other drums.
If there is only room for one microphone, avoid placing the microphone directly in the middle of the port hole: there will be lots of air moving out of the port, so the sudden gust may cause the mic to distort. Either put the microphone several inches outside of the port, or several inches inside of the drum.
For a two-microphone configuration, place a large diaphragm dynamic microphone inside the drum, closer to the batter head for more attack. To capture the low end, use either a large diaphragm condenser or preferably a sub mic on the resonant head of the kick drum.
Tips & Tricks
To give the kick drum a controlled and muffled sound, stick a pillow or folded blanket inside the kick drum. In order to isolate the kick drum from the rest of the kit, drape a packing blanket over the outside of the kick drum & microphones.
Kick Drum Frequencies
Fundamental Pitch: ~ 40-100 Hz, depending on the drum’s size & tuning.
Muddy low-end: 150-250 Hz
“Cardboard box” mid-range: 250-800 Hz
Attack: ~ 2-5 kHz
Beater: ~ 6 kHz
The Snare Drum
The Snare drum gets its name from the wires (snares) stretched across the resonant head: these provide the drum’s characteristic buzzing and snapping sounds. It is almost always the highest-pitched drum on the kit. Snare drums come in many different sizes and shell materials, from thin metal piccolo snares, to deep wooden marching snares. The snare is focal point of the drum set.
Microphone Choice & Placement
The snare drum sits in the center of the drum kit, so it is surrounded by all of the other drums. In order to reduce the unwanted bleed from all of the other drums, point the snare’s mics toward the snare, but away from the other drums. This usually means placing the microphone halfway between the nearby hi-hat and rack tom: more on those in a moment.
Dynamic microphones are well suited for handling the snare drum’s high SPL’s. In a one-microphone setup, place a dynamic mic on the batter-side of the snare, near the rim of the drum, but take care to position the mic out of the drummer’s way: most drummers will occasionally play by the edge of the head for special effects. We can change the angle & position of the mic to alter the tone of the drum in our recording. We can use the proximity effect to enhance the low-end of the drum by moving the mic closer to the head. Angling the mic closer toward the center of the drum will enhance the drum’s attack, while angling the mic closer toward the rim will enhance the overtones. To avoid some of the drum’s unwanted ringing sound, position the mic toward the drum shell, away from the head. In a lighter jazz or classical setting, a condenser microphone with a pad can be used in place of a dynamic microphone on the batter-side of the drum.
We can use a second microphone placed beneath the drum to capture more of the snare’s cracking sound. Place either a second dynamic microphone, or a condenser with a pad several inches beneath the snare, angled at the snare wires. When using a microphone above and below the drum, the two signals may be completely out of phase with one another. If this occurs, either invert the polarity on the bottom mic or adjust the position as needed.
Tips & Tricks
To dampen the drum and reduce unwanted ring, specialty products like Mylar plastic rings, sticky gel, or tape can be placed around the edge of the drumhead. To eliminate unwanted bleed from the kick drum on the snare microphone, use a high-pass filter: the fundamental pitch of most snare drums is still higher than most high-pass filters.
Snare Drum Frequencies
Fundamental Pitch: 100-400 Hz, depending on the drum’s size & tuning.
Ring: 900 Hz – 2 kHz
Attack: 2-5.5 kHz
Brushes & Wires: 6-10 kHz
Overtones: 10+ kHz
The Tom-toms, or simply Toms, are the assortment of drums that vary in size, depth, and pitch between the snare & kick drums. Rack Toms are the smaller drums, typically mounted above the kick & snare drums. Floor Toms are the larger toms, standing on or suspended above the floor. Like the kick and snare drum, toms have a batter & resonant head, but single-headed Concert Toms do appear in orchestral percussion.
Microphone Choice & Placement
Toms are spread around the kit, but they are still in close proximity to other drums and cymbals. Once again, point the microphone at the tom, away from the other parts of the kit (and out of the drummer’s way) in order to reduce unwanted bleed.
We can place microphones around the toms in the same way that we mic the snare drum, although we may typically use a larger-diaphragm dynamic mic for the larger toms. Place the mic closer to the drum to enhance the fundamental pitches of the drums, or further way for a more open sound. Angle the microphone toward the center of the head for more attack, or angle it down toward the rim for more overtones. We can also place a microphone on the resonant side of the drum, or even use an additional sub-mic for the lowest floor toms.
Tips & Tricks
Like the snare, toms can be dampened with tape, gel, and Mylar rings around the edge of the head. Toms are typically the least-used part of the kit: noise gates can be used in the signal chain to reduce unwanted bleed.
Fundamental Pitch: 70-200 Hz (floor toms), 200-400 Hz (rack toms)
Attack: 3-5 kHz (floor toms), 5-7 kHz (rack toms)
Stick sound: 6-8 kHz
Overtones: 5-13 kHz
From the tiny splash cymbal to the large gong, cymbals make up the other half of the drum kit. A Cymbal is a large metal disk that vibrates when struck: the large bump in the center is called the bell, the curved middle section is called the bow, and the outer area is called the edge. Like drums, cymbals come in a massive range of sizes, designs, and materials, each with a unique sound. Some even have holes and sizzling rivets drilled into the cymbals for different textures.
In a standard drum kit, the cymbal selection usually includes a pair of Hi-Hats, which we will discuss separately in a moment, a large Ride cymbal, several Crash cymbals, and a number of effects cymbals like the tiny Splash cymbal, or the gong-like China cymbal.
Cymbal Microphone Placement
Certain cymbals have their own unique characteristics that we will deal with separately, but most cymbals have the same overall qualities. When struck, cymbals will rock back & forth on the stand, so microphones will have to be placed several inches away from the cymbal. In order to avoid hitting the mic with a drumstick, start by placing a small-diaphragm condenser microphone on the side of the cymbal farthest away from the drummer. Aiming the microphone toward the bell will capture more of the cymbal’s attack, while aiming the mic toward the edge will pick up more overtones. Placing the microphone near the cymbal’s bow will get a balance. Avoid positioning the microphone too close to the cymbal, since the proximity effect will produce lots of unwanted low end.
Microphones can be placed underneath the cymbals for isolation, but they may be out of phase with the overheads: adjust and invert the polarity as needed.
Make sure all of the microphones hear the cymbals from above or below: not from the side of the cymbal. If the edge of the cymbal vibrates back & forth across the mic’s diaphragm, it will create unwanted phasing problems.
Tips & Tricks
A high-pass filter can be used to remove some unwanted kick & tom bleed from most cymbals.
Low-end gong sound: 100-300 Hz
Attack: ~ 3 kHz
High-end: 6-12 kHz
The Hi-Hats consist of two small cymbals mounted on a stand & pedal: when the drummer presses down on the pedal, the hi-hat cymbals clap together. They are typically the most-used pair of cymbals on the kit.
Microphone Choice & Placement
Place a small-diaphragm condenser microphone several inches away from the hi-hat on the side farthest away from the drummer. The microphone can be placed above or below the hi-hat, but do not place the diaphragm between the two cymbals: when the hi-hat cymbals clap together, they release a strong gust of air that can overload the microphone.
Tips & Tricks
Use a high-pass filter to cut down on bleed from the kick drum. Place a piece of foam between the hi-hat mic and the snare to cut down on bleed from the rest of the kit.
Overheads, Room Mics & The Full Drum Set
Most drum recording configurations are based around a pair of Overheads: two microphones suspended above the drum kit and centered over the snare drum in a stereo configuration. With the overheads capturing the overall drum kit, individual mics on the kick, snare, and other parts of the kit provide enhanced attack and definition to the drum recording. Additionally, a stereo configuration can be used to capture the ambient sound of the drum room. In this case, Room Mics are usually placed several feet away from the front of the drum set.
Any of the stereo configurations discussed earlier in this chapter can be used (XY, Spaced Pair, ORTF, etc.) but there is one configuration unique to drum recording: The Glyn Johns technique.
The Glyn Johns Technique
The Glyn Johns Technique is based around one central overhead microphone, with an additional overhead, and individual mics on the kick and snare for support. First, place a large-diaphragm condenser microphone roughly 3-4 feet above the snare drum. While the drummer plays on the kit, listen to what the microphone is picking up: adjust the microphone’s position until it hears an even balance between the snare, toms, and cymbals. Next, place a second large-diaphragm condenser microphone to the side of the kit, above the floor toms & cymbals. Point the microphone at the snare drum, and make sure both overhead microphones are the same distance away from the snare. With the overheads in position, place some additional microphones on the kick and snare drum. In the mix, the overhead mics provide the majority of the drum’s sound, while the additional kick and snare mics enhance the attack of these drums.
Lots of factors can determine how good or bad a drum recording can be: a lousy drummer playing on worn-out drumheads in a poorly treated room will sound terrible. An average drummer playing on a new, tuned heads in a decent recording space can sound amazing. We don’t always have access to the best players with the best equipment, but
Let’s look at a few drum micing examples for a standard drum set: 1 kick, 1 snare, 2 toms, 1 hi-hat, 1 ride, and 2 crash cymbals.
4-Mic Drum kit
The simplest and smallest microphone configuration we will want to consider using is a basic 4-microphone technique, like the Glyn Johns method: 1 large-diaphragm dynamic microphone on the kick, 1 dynamic microphone on the snare, and 2 large-diaphragm condensers in a stereo configuration for the overheads. This simple configuration gives us room to expand while freeing up additional channels on the mixer in order to record the rest of the band. If we’re recording a simple demo, or if we have to record the whole band at once, this method may be the most practical. However, this setup is extremely dependent on having a good drummer playing a tuned kit in a pleasant-sounding recording space. If the recorded drums sound awful, there isn’t much that can be done to salvage this kind of recording.
This method is a fairly standard close-mic drum technique. We expand on our basic 4-mic setup with 2 large-diaphragm dynamic mics on the toms, and 2 small-diaphragm condensers on the hi-hat and ride cymbals. While we still want a solid drummer on great equipment, this configuration gives us greater control over the sound of the recording. Because there is a microphone dedicated to capturing every individual drum and cymbal, we can shape or even replace the sound of the drums to an extent during the editing and mixing phases.
When we have more channels available for recording, we can accommodate a larger drum set and get more control over our drum sounds. More often than not, a setup like this is complete overkill, but this provides total coverage of the kit. As the rest if the band gets recorded and mixed, producers often find that the sound of the drums from the original recording session isn’t always the proper drum sound that they need for the finished song. With a configuration like this, we have complete control over the sound of the drums. We can always mute some of these tracks if we don’t need them in the end.
1 Large-diaphragm dynamic inside the kick drum
1 Sub-mic on the kick’s resonant head
1 Dynamic microphone on top of the snare
1 Small-diaphragm condenser with a pad on the bottom of the snare
1 Dynamic mic on the rack tom’s batter head
1 Dynamic mic on the rack tom’s resonant head
1 Large-diaphragm dynamic mic on the floor tom’s batter head
1 Sub mic on the floor tom’s resonant head
1 Small-diaphragm condenser mic on the hi-hat
1 Small-diaphragm condenser mic on the ride
1 Small-diaphragm condenser mic on the 1st crash cymbal
1 Small-diaphragm condenser mic on the 2nd crash cymbal
2 Large-diaphragm condenser mics in a stereo configuration for overheads
2 Large-diaphragm condenser mics in a stereo configuration used as room mics
The drum set may be the most prolific percussive instrument in modern music, but it’s not the only one. Hand drums, mallet percussion, and an assortment of shakers, bells, blocks, and anything else that can be hit with a stick are the driving rhythmic force in Latin, African, Middle Eastern, and classical music.
The Timpani (aka tympani or kettle-drums) are a pitched set of large metal drums used primarily in classical music. Unlike the toms on a drum set, timpani have a single batter head and a bowl-shaped shell. Timpani are tuned to a specific note: a foot-operated pedal is used to tighten or loosen the head in order to change pitch.
Microphone Choice & Placement
The timpani have a massive dynamic range, from whisper-quiet to thunderously loud. Rather than micing each drum individually like a set of toms, it is safer to capture the entire set with a stereo pair of overhead condensers, with the pad engaged. Close-miced timpani will sound unnatural, but a high pair of overheads will catch the drum’s overtones.
Timpani Range & Frequencies (Standard Sizes)
32” Timpani: C2-A2
29” Timpani: F2-C3
26” Timpani: B2-F3
23” Timpani: D3-A3
Fundamental Pitch: (C2) 65 Hz
Attack: 3-5 kHz
The Congas are a set of large Afro-Cuban hand drums, consisting of a single batter-head and a long, oval-shaped shell made of wood or fiberglass. The three types of drums in this set are the quinto (high-pitched drum), the conga (middle drum), and the tumba (low-pitched drum). The drums are usually placed directly on the floor, or cradled in stands several inches off of the ground in order to let the drums resonate.
Microphone Choice and Placement
Like toms, congas can be miced with dynamic microphones placed near the heads. For a fuller sound, mic the congas from several feet above with a stereo pair of condensers, and place another condenser microphone near the bottom of the shell to catch more of the drum’s resonance.
The bongos are a small pair of hand drums, held and played between the drummer’s knees. The pair consists of two single-headed drums, smaller than the congas, with much shorter shells. Due to their small size, a single dynamic microphone placed between the heads can be used to capture both drums.
The Cajon is a six-sided hollow wooden box from Peru. The player sits on the cajon and plays on the tapa, which is the side of the instrument between the player’s legs. Like the kick drum, cajons have a small hole cut into the rear side of the instrument, opposite from the tapa. Some models have snares and rattles attached to the inside of the instrument for different timbres. Large-diaphragm condenser or dynamic microphones can be placed on both sides, several feet away from the box: one on the tapa, and one pointing at rear port, similar to our kick drum mic technique.
The Surdo is a large Brazilian drum, similar to a large floor tom or a small bass drum. The player carries the drum on a shoulder strap and beats the top head with a mallet. The surdo can be miced like a floor tom, with a large-diaphragm condenser or dynamic microphone.
Percussionists usually have a large assortment of percussion “toys” spread around their kits: bells, rattles, shakers, and other hand-held devices. Bells, like the Cowbell or Brazilian Agogo are often found mounted on a drum kit, or held in one hand. They can be miced with a single dynamic microphone placed several inches away. Most of the other toys can be captured with a single or stereo pair of condenser microphones, along with the rest of the overall kit.
There are a number of rattles & shakers in the percussion world. The Tambourine is a collection of metal discs riveted to a wooden hoop: some models have a playable head stretched across the hoop. The Maracas are a pair of seed-filled shells mounted on the ends of sticks. When shaken, the seeds rattle around in the shell. The Cabasa or Afuche (the same instrument in Spanish & Brazilian Portuguese), is made of several strings of beads wrapped around a metal cylinder: when turned, the beads make a soft “shh” sound, similar to the maracas. The Ganza is another Brazilian shaker: it is a metal cylinder filled with pellets, beads, and other small objects for different textures. The Shekere is an African rattle: it is a hollow gourd covered in a net of shells that rattle together when shaken.
Claves are a pair of thick sticks that produce a high-pitched and loud resonant sound when struck together. Castanets are a pair of hand-held shells which are clapped together to produce a loud clicking sound. The Guiro is a ridged & notched piece of wood or hollow gourd: the drummer scrapes a stick across the ridges to produce a sort of zipping sound. The Cuica is a small Brazilian hand drum with a stick poking through the batter head: when the percussionist rubs the stick with a wet cloth, the drum makes a sound similar to a laughing monkey.
Timbales often replace the drum kit in a lot of Latin music. A typical timbale player’s kit consists of several cymbals, cowbells, other percussion toys, and two Timbale drums: single-headed drums with metal shallow shells. The drummer plays on the drumhead, as well as the side of the metal shell.
Microphone Choice and Placement
Timbales can be extremely loud, so any microphones placed near the kit must be able to handle high SPL’s. Start by micing the kit with a stereo pair of overheads several feet above the kit. Place a dynamic microphone beneath each timbale drum, angled out toward the shell (away from the other mic & drum, in a V-shape). If needed, aim an additional padded condenser microphone at the percussion toys.
African & Middle-Eastern Hand Drums
From Africa to the Middle East and beyond, many musical cultures use a variety of single-headed hand drums known as “goblet drums” due to their hourglass or goblet-like shape. The African Djembe is a rope-tuned wooden drum, which comes in a range of sizes. The Djembe is typically held in between the drummer’s legs, and played with both hands. Most other goblet drums, like the Egyptian Doumbek or the Turkish Darbuka are smaller, made of metal or ceramic materials, and held underneath one of the drummer’s arms when playing. In any case, each of these drums can be miced with either dynamic or condenser microphones. One microphone angled toward the front head will capture the attack & overtones of the drum, while another mic pointed toward the opening in the bottom will capture the drum’s low-end.
Orchestral and jazz music uses a lot of pitched percussive instruments, which are tuned to and laid out like the notes on a piano keyboard. Since the percussionist plays these instruments with various kinds of mallets, they are referred to as Mallet Percussion. With a few exceptions, most of these instruments have a similar construction. The keyboard section is made up of several octaves worth of individual wooden or metal keys, each tuned to a different specific note. Beneath each key is a metal tube, called a resonator. Longer keys & resonators correspond to lower pitches, while shorter keys & resonators correspond to higher pitches.
The Marimba is one of the largest and lowest-pitched instruments in this family. It has long, flat wooden keys and long resonators that reach down to the floor. Depending on the size of the instrument, a marimba’s range can span 4 to 6 octaves. Compared to other mallet percussion, the marimba has a mellow, woody timbre. The Vibraphone has a similar design. It is slightly smaller & higher-pitched than the marimba, but its flat keys are made of metal. The vibraphone has a sustain pedal, but the instrument gets its name from its characteristic vibrato: an electronic motor spins metal discs inside the instrument’s resonators at various speeds. The Xylophone is higher-pitched, brighter, and often louder than the marimba and vibraphone. It has shorter and thicker wooden keys, with shorter resonators as well. The Glockenspiel (or Bells) is typically the highest-pitched instrument in this family. It has short, flat metal keys, and no resonators. Crotales are small tuned cymbals laid out like a keyboard. Chimes (or Tubular Bells) are long metal pipes laid out like a keyboard: they are used to imitate the sound of church bells.
Microphone Choice & Placement
Every instrument in the mallet percussion family can be miced in roughly the same way. A stereo pair of condensers placed overhead will capture the instrument as the player hears it, while a stereo pair of dynamic microphones placed below on the resonators will catch the resonance. Due to the size of some of these instruments, the overheads may need to be placed several feet away to capture the entire keyboard: take care to keep them out of the percussionist’s way.
Keyboards: Piano, Organs, and Synthesizers
Now, we start to venture away from drums & percussion. While the acoustic piano is still technically a percussive instrument, organs, synthesizers, and the rest of the keyboard family belong in a group of their own.
The Piano combines elements of percussion & string instruments. It produces a sound when a key is struck: the key moves a hammer action, which strikes a group of strings to produce a note. The strings, in turn are stretched and tuned across a metal frame, which is attached to a wooden soundboard. A series of pedals can affect the timbre of the instrument: the Sustain Pedal lifts a felt damper off of the strings, allowing them to ring freely until the pedal is released. A Soft Pedal shifts the piano’s action to the side, so the hammers don’t strike all of the strings. A standard piano keyboard has 88 keys, ranging from the note A0 to C8. With a fundamental pitch of 27.5 Hz, the piano covers almost the entire audible frequency spectrum. A piano’s design falls into one of two major categories: the Upright Piano and the Grand Piano. In an upright piano, the strings, soundboard, & action are placed vertically, giving the piano a shallower and taller construction. A small lid on the top of the piano can be opened or closed to isolate or project the sound of the piano. In a grand piano, the parts extend horizontally behind the keyboard, and a much larger lid covers everything.
Microphone Choice and Placement
For an upright or a grand piano, open the lid and use a stereo pair of condenser microphones: one pointing at the center of the low strings, with the other pointing at the center of the high strings. Placing the array several feet above the strings will catch the developing overtones, but it will also pick up leakage: only use this technique on a solo piano. For improved isolation, lower the microphones closer toward the strings, inside the piano itself: lower the lid as much as possible, and use a stick to prop it open as needed. Start by aiming the microphones toward the middle of the long strings for an overall balanced sound. Moving the microphones closer toward the hammers will pick up more attack, while moving the microphones to the extreme end of the strings will produce a brittle timbre. For a more isolated but dull sound, place the microphone inside the sound holes on the inside of the soundboard, or underneath/behind the piano’s frame. If the microphones are inside the lid, a packing blanket can be draped over the piano to improve isolation.
Organs, Electric Pianos & Synthesizers
Organs, analog synthesizers, vintage keyboards, and modern digital workstations produce sound in different ways, but they are all electronic instruments: they don’t produce their characteristic sound acoustically the way a “real” piano does. Vintage electric pianos like the Fender Rhodes has the same kind of hammer action & sustain pedal as a piano, but the hammers strike small metal Tines, which vibrate in conjunction with a metal Soundbar. An electronic Pickup converts this vibration into a signal, which is amplified and run through a Speaker Cabinet.
Analog synthesizers, like the Moog modular synthesizers, use a Voltage-Controlled Oscilator to generate a sound, like a sine wave or a square wave, at any given pitch. The signal is then run through a series of Filters that alter the timbre of the signal. Analog synthesizers can be anything from small, self-contained keyboards like the Prophet-5 and Minimoog, to wall-sized masses of effects units. Analog synthesizers come in one of two varieties: Monophonic, meaning the synth can only produce one note at a time (sometimes referred to as a Lead synthesizer), or Polyphonic, meaning the keyboard can produce more than one note at a time – it can play chords.
Organs, like the Hammond B3, use spinning Tone Wheels to generate a signal. Sliding Drawbars alter the timbre & harmonics of the signal. A Preamplifier boosts the signal, which is then sent to a speaker cabinet. Hammond organs are usually paired with a rotating speaker cabinet called a Leslie Speaker: the speaker spins around at various speeds to mimic the sound of a pipe organ. The Leslie speaker’s horn spins around in the top of the cabinet, while the speaker’s cone projects into a rotating drum in the bottom of the cabinet.
Modern digital keyboard workstations often make use of Sampling & Sequencing: rather than generate a signal the way an analog organ or synthesizer does, the keyboard combines and plays back several clips of prerecorded audio (samples) to create a sound, like the sound of a kick drum or middle-C on a grand piano. These modern synthesizers can even be condensed down to a rack-mounted sound module, without a keyboard. In that case, a MIDI Controller (a piano keyboard that generates MIDI data instead of sound), can be used to control these modules.
Microphone Choice & Placement
Because all of these keyboards and sound modules are electronic in nature, we usually use Direct Boxes (DI’s) instead. In this case, plug the output of the keyboard into the DI, and plug the output of the DI into the keyboard’s speaker cabinet if one is being used. Pacing the DI between the keyboard and the speaker gives us a clean, isolated signal. However, some speakers, like the Leslie, provide part of the keyboard’s characteristic sound. When dealing with stationary speakers, place a dynamic microphone several inches from the speaker cone. Condenser and ribbon microphones can be used as well. For Leslie speaker cabinets, use a stereo pair of condenser microphones to properly capture the spinning vibrato effect.
When dealing with MIDI-enabled keyboards, plug the keyboard’s MIDI inputs & outputs into a MIDI interface. Capturing the MIDI data will allow us to edit or rerecord the player’s performance. We will cover MIDI in greater detail later.
Stringed instruments consist of a metal, nylon, or gut string stretched and tensioned along the instrument’s frame. The strings attach to the frame at the Bridge and Saddle near the base of the instrument’s Body, and onto the Nut & Tuning Pegs (or Machine Heads) on the Head, near the top. A Neck separates the head from the body. A hollow bodied string instrument will have one or several Sound Holes. The instrument makes a sound when the strings are plucked or bowed: the strings & body vibrate together. In order to change pitch, the player shortens the vibrating length of the string by holding the strings against the Fretboard/Fingerboard, which is attached to the length of the neck. Some acoustic string instruments, and all electric strings have a Pickup, which converts the metal string’s vibrations into an electronic signal.
The Double Bass, also known as the Upright Bass or String Bass, is one of the lowest-pitched members of the string section. Physically, the double bass resembles a large violin, roughly as tall as a human. It has four strings, and a fretless fingerboard. There are two stylized f-shaped sound holes, one on either side of the bridge. The double bass is usually played with a Bow (in a technique called Arco) in orchestral settings, but the upright bass finds its way into jazz and popular music as well: it is usually plucked with fingers in jazz & blues (Pizzicato) or slapped in rockabilly music. Modern double basses usually come with a Pickup attached near the bridge.
Double Bass Range & Frequencies
Standard Tuning: E1, A1, D2, G2
Range: E1 – F4
Fundamental Pitch: 41 Hz
Bottom End: 40-100 Hz
Mids: 100-500 Hz
Attack/String Sound: 700 Hz – 1.5 kHz
Harmonics: 2-5 kHz
The Cello, or Violoncello is the 2nd largest member of the string section: smaller than a double bass, larger than a violin, with a similar design. The cello is used extensively in classical music, but it has been crossing over into modern styles as well. They are played with the same techniques as the double bass. Some celli (plural) have pickups, but they are less common than the upright bass. The cello does come in an electric (non-acoustic) version as well.
Cello Range & Frequencies
Standard Tuning: C2, G2, D3, A3
Range: C2 – C5
Fundamental Pitch: 65 Hz
Lows: 65-250 Hz
Mids: 250-700 Hz
Attack/String Sound: 700 – 1.5 kHz
Harmonics: up to 8 kHz
Low Strings Microphone Choice & Placement
When played, the low strings stand upright in front of the player. There are several ways to record low strings. If a pickup is available, connect a Direct Box between the instrument & the amp (if present) in the signal chain. Small lavalier microphones can be clipped onto the underside of the bridge, behind the strings for isolation. Place a large-diaphragm condenser near the bottom of the f-shaped sound hole on the player’s left side (the right side will interfere with the player’s bow). A pencil condenser can be aimed at the fretboard for additional string & finger sounds. The player may rock the instrument around, so make sure the microphones are far enough away to avoid crashing into the instrument’s body. Louder slap-styles may be too loud for close-positioned microphones. In that case, place a condenser microphone several feet away from the instrument: this will also pick up the strings’ overtones.
The Viola is smaller than the cello, and slightly larger and tuned lower than the violin. Unlike the low strings, the viola is held parallel to the ground between the player’s left shoulder & chin. Violas are used almost exclusively in classical music: they usually do not contain a pickup.
Viola Range & Frequencies
Standard Tuning: C3, G3, D4, A4
Range: C3 – C6
Fundamental Pitch: 130 Hz
Lows: 130-200 Hz
Mids: 220-240 Hz
Overtones: Up to 7 kHz
Scratchy Sound: 7-10 kHz
The Violin is the smallest and highest-pitched member of the orchestral string section. Like the viola, the player holds it between the shoulder & chin. However, the violin is used extensively outside of classical music. It has found its way into country, folk, and rock music. Violins may be equipped with a pickup, though electric violins are used as well.
Violin Range & Frequencies
Standard Tuning: G3, D4, A4, E5
Range: G3 – E6
Fundamental Pitch: 195 Hz
Lows: 195-230 Hz
Mids: 240 Hz
Scratchy Sound: 7-10 kHz
Overtones: Up to 16 kHz
High Strings Microphone Choice & Placement
The violin & viola can be recorded using the same techniques. If the instrument has a pickup, connect a Direct Box between the instrument and the amp. When isolation is required, clip a lavalier microphone onto the instrument, placed and aimed behind the bridge, out of the player’s way. Otherwise, place a large diaphragm condenser or ribbon microphone one or two feet above (out of the player’s way), to the left, or to the right of the violin in order to capture a more aggressive, contemporary sound. In order to capture all of the instrument’s overtones, place the microphone several feet high above the strings. While this will catch the overtones, it will also pick up more leakage from the rest of the room.
The String Section
Outside of solo performances, strings used heavily in orchestral music, with a dozen or more string players playing the same part within a section. While it may be impractical to place a microphone on each individual instrument, we can capture the section’s blend with a stereo pair of microphones.
Two violins, a viola, and a cello often play together in a String Quartet. The four players arrange themselves like the four corners of the box: two violins on one side, with the cello and viola on the other. Once again, we can place instruments on each individual instrument, along with the ensemble’s blend. In this case, place a stereo pair high above or far in front of the quartet. Alternatively, one large-diaphragm condenser with an omnidirectional pattern can be placed in the center of the quartet.
While violins and celli are capable of playing more than one note at a time, their curved bridges make it difficult to play full chords. Guitars are stringed instruments relatively flat bridges & fingerboards, which allow them to play chords with every string simultaneously. Unlike the other stringed instruments, guitars are primarily plucked, strummed, and tapped with the fingers or a guitar Pick. Guitars commonly come in 4-string bass guitars, and 6-string guitars, though models with additional strings and extended scale lengths are not uncommon.
Classical, Acoustic, and Electric Guitars
The Classical Guitar is a Spanish hollow-bodied 6-string acoustic guitar with nylon strings, used in classical and flamenco music. It has a large sound-hole above the bridge, directly behind the strings. They are played almost exclusively with the fingers. Unlike the bare fingerboard on a violin, the classical guitar has metal Frets (on a Fretboard) running down the length of the neck. These protruding metal strips allow the guitarist to change pitch by pressing the strings down on predefined notes. Compared to other types of guitars, the classical guitar has a fairly quiet, mellow tone.
The modern Acoustic Guitar has a similar design, with a few alterations. Acoustic guitars use steel strings: a metal truss-rod runs down the length of the guitar’s neck in order to counteract the steel strings’ extra tension. They are almost exclusively played with a guitar pick. Acoustic guitars have a louder, more abrasive tone than classical guitars. They may include pickups.
The modern Electric Guitar is a typically a solid-bodied 6-string guitar with several magnetic Pickups arranged behind the strings, between the neck & bridge. While the bodies of most electric guitars are made out of a solid block of wood, semi-hollow and hollow-bodied electric guitars are common. Many guitarists experiment with alternate tunings and additional bass strings to extend the functional range of the instrument: 7 and 8-string electric guitars essentially add the higher strings of the bass guitar to the bottom of an electric guitar’s range. Using different combinations of strings and pickups can alter the natural timbre of the guitar. Unlike acoustic string instruments, electric guitars make their characteristic sound by processing the output of the guitar’s pickups through external Effects & Amplification (discussed momentarily).
Acoustic/Electric Guitar Range & Frequencies (6-String Standard Tuning)
Standard Tuning: E2, A3, D3, G3, B3, E4
Fundamental Pitch: 82 Hz
Lows: 82-250 Hz
Mids: 250-500 Hz
Highs: 500 Hz – 2 kHz
Overtones: 2-5 kHz
Like the standard guitar, Acoustic and Electric Bass guitars are commonplace in modern music. The Acoustic Bass combines the range and 4-string configuration of the double bass with the construction and design of the steel-string acoustic guitar, while the Electric Bass is modeled after the electric guitar. Like the electric guitar, it is fairly common to see alternate tuning methods and additional lower strings on a bass guitar. Once again, the bass guitars make their characteristic by processing the pickup’s output through external Effects & Amplification.
Bass Guitar Range & Frequencies
Standard Tuning: E1, A1, D2, G2
Range: E1 – F4
Fundamental Pitch: 41 Hz
Bottom End: 40-100 Hz
Mids: 100-500 Hz
Attack/String Sound: 700 Hz – 1.5 kHz
Harmonics: 2-5 kHz
Amplification and Effects
Most acoustic and electric guitars and basses incorporate some form of amplification and effects to shape the tone of the instrument. A guitarist may carry a rack-mounted rig, or pedal board full of Effects, such as reverb, distortion, compression, delay, and others. In this type of setup, the guitarist plugs the output of the guitar into a pedal, and then daisy chains the rest of the pedals together in a sequence. The last pedal/effects unit is connected to the guitar Amplifier (or amp for short), which consists of two main components. The first part is the amp Head, which is an electronic device that significantly raises the level of the guitar’s signal, and may provide additional processing, like equalization. In fact, the head may boost the signal so much that it creates a natural, overdriven distortion that is aesthetically pleasing. Regardless, the head’s output signal strength (measured in watts) is powerful enough to power the last component: one or more speaker cabinets. The Cabinet (or cab) contains one or more speaker cones. These speakers typically have a narrower frequency range than a pair of audio monitors or PA speakers, but they can get very loud: some can go up to 11.
Guitar Microphone Choice & Placement
Once again, use a Direct Box if the guitar has a pickup. If the guitar player has an effects rig of some sort, use two direct boxes: one between the guitar and the effects, and one between the effects and the amp. Some amps are equipped with an additional mic-level output that can be recorded directly. Capturing all three isolated signals can provide coverage in case something is wrong with some of the guitarist’s equipment. For the speaker cabinet, place a dynamic microphone close to the speaker, slightly off-center from the cone. A condenser or ribbon microphone can be placed further away.
Classical and acoustic guitars & basses produce sounds with the entire instrument: the strings vibrate, and the entire body resonates in all directions. Start with a large diaphragm condenser or ribbon mic, positioned out of the guitarist’s way. Aiming the microphone at the point where the guitar’s neck meets the body will provide a balanced sound. Positioning the mic closer to the sound hole will capture more low-end and body, while aiming the mic further up the neck will capture more highs. If the sound hole is too loud and overpowering, use two microphones. Place one in front of the guitar, pointing at the neck. Place another microphone behind or to the side of the guitarist, pointing toward the guitar’s body. Alternatively, try adding a stereo configuration and room mics when recording a soloist.
Wind Instruments encompass the variety of horns, reeds, flutes, tubes, and other devices that produce a sound when the player breathes into the instrument. Winds are divided into two major categories: Brass, and Woodwinds.
Brass Instruments aren’t necessarily made out of brass. They are a family of instruments that produce a sound when the player buzzes their lips inside of the instrument’s Mouthpiece. Brass instruments change pitch through a combination of slides, valves, and the player’s Embouchure: the way the player’s lips, facial muscles and breath pressure interact with the mouthpiece. Every brass instrument commonly found in an orchestra is a series of winding metal tubes, ending in a large flared opening called a Bell. Most brass instruments use a series of Valves to change the instrument’s pitch. Brass players use a series of devices called Mutes, which are placed inside the opening in the bell in order to dampen and alter the timbre of the instrument. Most brass instruments produce extremely high sound pressure levels (SPL).
The Tuba family is the lowest-pitched group instruments in the brass family. Depending on the type of tuba, these instruments are essentially 10 to 20 foot-long tubes. The tubes of Concert Tuba and its smaller variations, like the Euphonium, are wrapped in a way that allows the player to hold the entire instrument in their lap. A marching band a tuba variation called the Sousaphone wraps around the player’s body.
Tuba Range & Frequencies
Range: Tuba/Sousaphone D1-F4, Euphonium A1-A4
Fundamental Pitch: Tuba: 36 Hz, Euphonium 55 Hz
Lows: 36-200 Hz
Warm Mids: 200-400 Hz
Highs: 400 Hz – 1 kHz
Overtones: 1–2 kHz
The Tenor Trombone, commonly known as a regular Trombone or Bone, is another winding tube with a mouthpiece & bell on either end. However, while the tuba & other brass instruments rely on a series of valves to change pitch, the trombone uses a telescoping Slide mechanism to extend & shorten the overall length (and pitch) of the instrument. A common variation is the Bass Trombone, which plays in a lower register than the standard Tenor trombone.
Trombone Range & Frequencies
Range: Bass Trombone Bb1-Bb4, Tenor E2-F5
Fundamental Pitch: Bass 58 Hz, Tenor 82 Hz
Lows: 58-200 Hz
Warm Mids: 200-400 Hz
Highs: 400-520 Hz
Overtones: 520 Hz – 5 kHz
Breath: 5-10 kHz
Low Brass Microphone Choice & Placement
Larger brass instruments can create a lot of mechanical noise when playing. They can also get extremely loud, reaching deafeningly high sound pressure levels. In both cases, close proximity to the instrument can overwhelm and distort the microphone: microphones may need to be padded, or placed farther away from the player. Start by placing a large-diaphragm condenser or ribbon microphone in front of the bell, angled slightly off-axis. Since tubas project their sound upward, raise the microphone high into the air, or experiment by putting the microphone behind the player: their body may block the unwanted mechanical noise. In order to catch all of the brass instrument’s overtones, try combining one close microphone near the bell, and a room microphone several feet away.
The French Horn, or Horn, is another low brass instrument comprised of a winding tube and a set of valves. Unlike the other brass instruments, the bell opens up behind the player in a standard playing position. The player places their right hand inside the bell to dampen & alter the sound. Because the instrument projects its sound behind the player, it is intended to reflect off of a wall and bounce back toward the audience.
French Horn Range & Frequencies
Fundamental Pitch: 61 Hz
Lows: 61-200 Hz
Warm Mids: 200-400 Hz
Highs: 400-783 Hz
Overtones: 783 Hz – 5 kHz
French Horn Microphone Choice & Placement
Remember, the French Horn projects its sound behind the player. While we can place a microphone behind the player, pointing at the bell, the preferred method is different. The player hears the instrument after the sound has reflected off of a wall behind the player’s sitting position. In order to capture this, position the player’s chair several feet away from a wall, or use a small French Horn Baffle: a short, reflective surface that can be positioned behind the player. Position a condenser or ribbon microphone several feet in front of and several feet above the player. Incidentally, this is how the audience would hear the instrument. If you must place a microphone behind the instrument, position it out of the player’s way: their hand and mutes need to fit inside the bell.
The instruments in the high brass family have a similar construction, in a much smaller size. The Trumpet, the highest-pitched brass instruments in the family, is another long, bending tube with a series of valves and a bell. The most common trumpet in the group is the Bb Trumpet, but the smaller Piccolo Trumpet and larger, mellower Cornet & Flugelhorn are usually found in the trumpet player’s collection. These instruments are the leading voices in the brass family.
Trumpet Range & Frequencies
Fundamental Pitch: 164 Hz
Lows: 164-200 Hz
Warm Mids: 200-400 Hz
Highs: 400-1175 Hz
Nasal Sound: 1-3 kHz
Overtones: 1175 Hz – 9 kHz
Piercing Overtones: 5 kHz
Trumpet Microphone Choice & Placement
Once again, brass instruments can be deafeningly loud at close proximity. They produce extremely high sound pressure levels, so be sure to use a pad, and/or move the microphone further away. A padded condenser or ribbon microphone placed slightly off axis in front of the bell is a good start. To catch the overtones, place a room microphone several feet way.
The Woodwind instruments aren’t necessarily made out of wood, but they produce sound in one of two ways. Flutes produce a sound when the player blows air across a circular opening in the end of a mouthpiece, like blowing into a glass bottle. Most other woodwind instruments produce a sound when a thin wooden Reed vibrates in the instrument’s mouthpiece. The sound of a woodwind resonates from the entire instrument, not just the bell.
Flutes are among the oldest instruments known to mankind. Most of them are fairly straight tubes made of metal or wood, with a series of holes running down the length of the instrument. The most common of these is the Western Concert Flute, simply known as the Flute. The player blows into the mouthpiece on the side of one end of the instrument. There are various holes and keys that are covered and uncovered to change the instrument’s pitch. The highest pitched member of the orchestral flute family is the Piccolo. Larger and lower members of the flute family, like the Alto, Contrabass, and Hyperbass Flute are rare, but they are occasionally used in orchestral music.
Flute Range & Frequencies
Range: Flute B3-C7, Piccolo E5-B7
Fundamental Pitch: Flute 246 Hz, Piccolo 659 Hz
Overtones: 3-18 kHz
Flute Microphone Choice & Placement
Place a large-diaphragm condenser or ribbon microphone, roughly arm’s length away from the flute, aiming toward the middle of the flute’s tube. Aiming toward the mouthpiece will pick up more breath. Placing the microphone further away will capture more overtones, and less mechanical noise. Larger members of the flute family may require several microphones arranged in various places along the flute, but they are more prone to mechanical noise.
Clarinets & Oboes
The Clarinet uses a single wooden reed inside its mouthpiece to produce a sound. It has a straight wooden tube for a body, lined with holes & keys to control the instrument’s pitch. It has a small flared wooden bell at the end. The Oboe has an almost identical construction, but it uses a Double-Reed instead of a mouthpiece. Clarinets produce a mellow, woody tone, while oboes have a much more nasal sound.
Clarinet & Oboe Range & Frequencies
Range: Clarinet Db3-G6, Oboe Bb3-G6
Fundamental Pitch: Clarinet 138 Hz, Oboe 233 Hz
Overtones: 2-12 kHz
Microphone Choice and Placement
The sound of the instrument resonates out of the entire instrument, not just the bell. Some of the higher overtones do reflect out of the bell and bounce off of the floor. In order to capture the full range of the instrument, place a condenser microphone several feet above the instrument, angled down and pointing at the center of the instrument.
Bassoon & Bass Clarinet
The Bassoon and Bass Clarinet are the lower counterparts to the clarinet and oboe. The bass clarinet has a bending design, similar to a saxophone. The straight tubular body is larger and longer than a clarinet, with a metal bell that bends and opens upward. The bassoon wraps against itself to form a long wooden tube, with a thin metal attachment for the mouthpiece, and a bell that opens out of the top of the instrument.
Bassoon & Bass Clarinet Range & Frequencies
Range: Bassoon Bb1-Eb5, Bass Clarinet D2-Bb5
Fundamental Pitch: Bassoon 58 Hz, Bass Clarinet 73 Hz
Overtones: 600 Hz – 9 kHz
Microphone Choice and Placement
The bass clarinet can be recorded like a regular clarinet: since the bell opens upward, the overtones do not need to bounce off of the floor. The Bassoon, on the other hand, has a bell that opens above the player’s head. Place a large-diaphragm condenser microphone higher above the instrument, pointing down toward the center of the bassoon.
While technically a woodwind, the Saxophone was designed as a hybrid between woodwind & brass instruments. It uses a single-reed woodwind mouthpiece to produce a sound. It has a curved metallic body & bell similar to a brass instrument, but it is lined with holes & keys like a woodwind. Saxophones come in many sizes, from smallest & highest-pitched to largest & lowest: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone (Bari) Saxophones are the most common, but rare bass and contrabass saxophones do exist.
Saxophone Range & Frequencies
Range: Bari C2-Ab4, Tenor B2-F5, Alto C#3-G5, Soprano Ab3-F6
Fundamental Pitch: Bari 65 Hz, Tenor 123 Hz, Alto 138 Hz, Soprano 207 Hz
Overtones: 800 Hz – 8 kHz
Breath: 8-13 kHz
Saxophone Microphone Choice & Placement
Use a large-diaphragm condenser microphone aimed downward toward the center of the saxophone. Some soprano saxophones have bells that open down to the floor like a clarinet. In that case, be sure to catch the reflection off of the floor.
From the lower male Bass, Baritone, and Tenor, to the higher female Alto and Soprano singers, as well as spoken dialogue or guttural screams, the human Voice is one of the most diverse instruments we record in the studio. When someone speaks or sings, their chest, throat, vocal chords, mouth, and sinus structures resonate together. Each part of the human anatomy contributes a unique set of timbres that create the sound of the human voice. Since the voice incorporates spoken and sung words, the mouth produces sharp, piercing, or hissing consonant sounds called Sibilance.
Low-End Fullness: Male ~120 Hz, Female ~240 Hz
Boominess: ~250 Hz
Overtones: 1-8 kHz
Presence: 2-4 kHz
Sibilance: 4-9 kHz
Breath: 10-16 kHz
Vocal Microphone Choice and Placement
Almost every type of microphone can be used to record vocals. In a live sound reinforcement or radio broadcast situation, regular and large-diaphragm dynamic microphones are often used. In a post-production voiceover situation, a shotgun microphone, placed roughly arm’s length away from the speaker’s face, is typically used, since it is the same type of microphone used during the filming process. In most other situations, a large-diaphragm condenser microphone is the preferred choice. In order to prevent the singer’s breath from blowing out and distorting the microphone, a Pop Filter is usually placed between the microphone and the singer’s mouth. Extending the pop filter farther away from the microphone also ensures that the singer will keep a respectable distance away from the microphone. However, moving the microphone closer to the singer will enhance the voice’s low-end due to the Proximity Effect. When recording a Choir (a group of singers), use a stereo array to capture the ensemble’s blend.