How to record Percussion instruments

How to record Percussion instruments

Afoxé, Cabasa, Conga, and Bongos… if you think I am just making up words, for the most part, you’re not alone. These are just some of the instruments typically found in the percussionist’s arsenal. These unsung heroes can be found on many of your favorite tracks. 

Percussion can provide that certain, what the French call “I don’t know what” (Je ne sais quoi) to fill out and even drive your song. It provides spice and momentum and even though it is such a tasty part of your arrangement, not much is really out there in terms of the “best practices” when recording percussion is concerned.

Please keep in mind that the very act of recording is an art form in and of itself so there really is no hard and fast rules when it comes to recording in general but hopefully this will aid as a guideline of sorts to help you get the most out of your percussive performance in the studio.  

Trust me, you won’t have to look too far into many of the greatest songs ever written to find percussion hard at work, case in point “Africa” by Toto to see what I’m going on about. So to that end, here are four basic tips for recording hand percussion to ensure it finds its “rightful place” in your mix, regardless of the effect you’re looking for.

1. Head-On

Placing the mic directly in front of the percussion instrument will emphasize the accents and capture a full and defined sound. The closer the percussion instrument is to the mic, the louder the accents will be relative to the rest of the sound.

2. Off-Axis

Recording a percussion instrument across the element of the microphone will cause the accents to flatten out and create an undefined sound with less body. This is ideal for a percussion instrument that sits back in the mix.

3. The Blumlein array

A pair of active ribbon microphones in a Blumlein array adds extra dimension and realism to a dynamic instrument, like a tambourine. Gently panning these microphones to either side of the desired position in the stereo field can provide a sense of space that a mono mic can’t provide.

4. Room Ambience

For a more vintage sound, back the percussionist off the mic and capture some of the room ambience. Try a cardioid tube condenser mic about a meter away from the instrument to capture a balance of space and direct sound.

It’s that easy, with these four methods, you’ll be recording hand percussion like a Pro in no time. Again, please keep in mind that this is an art form both in the way you play the instrument as well as the captured end product so experiment, experiment, experiment. Everything from the distance to the microphone to the position when playing will all impact the result of your recording in the stereo image of your mix.

So now that you are a little more versed in the basics of miking up hand percussion I thought, as a treat I would share with you a list of the 10 most commonly used hand percussion instruments in circulation today:


If you have any further questions regarding Hand Percussion whether it be recording techniques, suggestions for your next purchase to add to your setup or anything relating to Musical instruments and Entertainment Technology, feel free to contact a MiTech Support Specialist these guys are always more than happy to help and just in case you were wondering, the answer is NO!, there can never be enough Cow Bell.   

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