TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information
Part 16 Recording Woodwind
This week and next we will discuss recording Woodwind. Like the String family and the Brass or Horn group of instruments, the Woodwind family is extensive and varied. So, if we miss out one that you’re particularly interested in, we’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with us by going to the TCM Music Group, Contact Page - leave us a message or call us.
The Woodwind Group Includes – Bassoon, Clarinet, Saxophone, English Horn, Oboe and Flute.
Not all Woodwind instruments are made of wood. Some are made from metal or plastic. This diverse group includes the single-reed instruments – namely Clarinet and Saxophone; the double-reed Oboe, the Cor Anglais (or English Horn) and Bassoon; the Bagpipe which can be single or double reed; and the reedless Flutes which include the Classical Flute and Recorder. You can also include the free reed aerophone instruments like Harmonica and Accordion.
Hohner Harmonica, Accordion and Bagpipes.
When it comes to the recording of some Woodwind instruments – for example the Saxophone and Clarinet – they produce sound over a much wider pattern than most Brass, because sound emanates from the bell end and the holes along the length of the instrument’s body. So you will need to think carefully where to place a mic or mics to capture a full sound. Flutes on the other hand produce most of their sound from the area around the mouth piece hole.
The Saxophone was discussed in an earlier blog, along with the Horns because it is popularly used in many modern Horn sections.
Detail Of A Clarinet…Showing Some Of The Keys.
At some point you will have the opportunity or the need to record Woodwind in your Home Music Studio. This group of instruments produce rich harmonic content and possess a large dynamic range but are not quite as loud as the Brass family. They generally sound best in a room that is lively rather than dead. If your room needs livening up a bit, use some reflective panels around the instrument.
Also the keys on these instruments, can be quite noisy sometimes. You may or may not like this added quality to the recorded sound, so play around with mic positions to take advantage or minimise this effect.
If you position a mic to capture just the bell end of Woodwind instruments you will capture a bright sound, but will miss out on a lot of the overall spectrum of sound produced. However, try it and compare the results with other miking positions. You may prefer it for the particular track you’re working on.
Sennheiser MD441 - Dynamic Super-Cardioid Mic.
Both the Clarinet and the Oboe benefit from using a mic with a good warm bottom end. If you’re recording them solo, place the mic 2-3 feet away, level with the head of the player aimed towards the middle of the instrument between the left and right hands. For the Clarinet try a nice bass sensitive cardioid condenser or a ribbon if you have one (eg. Beyer M130/160). The dynamic Sennheiser MD441 (see picture above) seems to work well on the Oboe.
An alternative would be to add another mic to pick up the bell end sound or place it underneath the instrument to pick up any reflected sounds from the reflective floor. At the risk of repeating myself, always check for phase problems when using multiple mics.
Miking Is Similar For The Oboe And The Cor Anglais.
The English Horn or Cor Anglais having a similar shape to the Clarinet and Oboe can be recorded using similar techniques and mics. Try miking 3-6 feet away if the room will take it. But be prepared to experiment.
The size of the Bassoon and the angle that it’s played at, make it a little more difficult to record. Plus the bell end is at the top of the instrument. Good results should be possible by using a quality large diaphragm condenser about 5 feet distant and about 5 feet off the ground. Or try the Audix i5 dynamic directed towards the middle of the instrument.
The Bassoon – Large Woodwind With The Bell End At The Top.
If that doesn’t work for you, try using two mics. One to catch the upper part of the instrument and the other lower down. Listen to each mic separately and together, so that you can judge the best positions to place them. Record each to a separate track and check for phase issues.
There are some reasonably priced mics eg. AKG C3000, Rode NT-1, AT 4033 which should produce good results. But always use the best mic you have for the situation.
Of course if you’re recording these instruments along with other instruments in the same take, then you’ll have to employ closer mic techniques and maybe some separation panels.
EQ Plug In For Pro tools.
With any mic, you are likely to want to use some EQ. Don’t overdo it though. Remember, you can always use EQ in the mix. Your aim when recording should be to get as true a sound as possible of the instrument. Always actively listen with your ears to the instrument first, before you place any mic and apply any signal processing.
If you have the time and the mic selection available, it’s always worth experimenting with unusual choices. Just be sure to make notes on the results and how you rate a mic and instrument combination, so that you can use the information in the future.
Mic Positioned Level With Player’s Head Pointing Towards The MouthPiece.
Most of the sound out of a Flute comes from the mouthpiece end of the instrument. That sound is produced by the player blowing across the top of the mouthpiece hole. You therefore have to be careful positioning your mic so that you get the right amount of breath sound in your recording.
Place your mic about a foot or so in front and above the player or at a level with the player’s head, pointing down to the mouthpiece area.
A Couple Of Mics On Flute.
If you place the mic directly in front of the mouthpiece, you will most likely experience problems with the players breath hitting the mic’s capsule causing an unpleasant noise or even popping.
Depending on what type of music you’re Flute is playing will determine which type of microphone to use. Of course there are no hard and fast rules but the characteristics of some mics can favour certain genres.
A condenser is well suited to Jazz. It will capture a lot of the harmonics and overtones resulting in a bright recording. Dynamic mics work well in a rock or R & B setting – they’re not as bright and if you use a cardioid, can give good separation from other instruments. And for a classical recording, ribbons are ideal, giving a fuller bottom end and slightly less top end…..a warmer sound.
Next week I’ll cover recording the Harmonica, Accordion and Bagpipes…..could you get three more diverse instruments…..and in the same family too!
Don’t forget, TCM Music are offering some fantastic ‘recording packages’ at the moment. But if you just have a question regarding the recording process, feel free to get in touch with us – click here. We’re here to help.
Editor’s Note: News that Clarence Clemons, Sax player extraordinaire, died in Florida Saturday night. From the early 1970′s, he was a huge influence on the E Street Band sound. And has played with many greats over the years from Jackson Browne to Aretha Franklin. Just recently he played on Lady Gaga’s album ‘Born This Way’. He will be sorely missed, our thoughts go out to his family.