Posted tagged ‘Saxophone’


February 20, 2012

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 51 Mixing Horns

This week in the TCM Mastering Home Music Studio series we look at Horns in the mix.

Last week I included a link to an article which looked at how Stevie Wonder’s hit track ‘Superstition’ was put together using just 16 tracks, 8 of which were Clavinet. The article included mp3s you could listen to, featuring the separate components of the song. I’m including it in this week’s blog because it shows the simple but very effective horn arrangement that is a big part of the signature of the song.

Horns can be any combination of Trumpet, Sax and Trombone (and sometimes a few other instruments too). We looked at recording horn sections in this earlier blog, followed by solo horns in the next blog.

Four Piece Horn Section In Home Studio.

Playing horns is physically demanding. You never know how long the players will last before ‘collapsing with exhaustion’, especially if they’re not pros. After everyone has warmed up, consider focusing on the more difficult parts first when the musicians are at their freshest.

Different notes can be played on brass instruments using the same valve combination – or in the case of trombone, slide position – by varying lip, tongue and jaw position. So there is room for error when trying to reach certain notes, especially higher registers.

You will need to decide whether a missed or ‘cracked’ note is worth keeping because the overall performance was good or whether the musicians need to record another take. So record everything your horn section plays (including rehearsals) and allow for several rest breaks.

Horn arrangements can utilise combinations of unison lines (and/or octaves) and chord triads. With two players, harmonies of thirds or sixths tend to work over roots and fifths for melodies that move in parallel or sustained notes. For inspiration take a listen to the recordings of Miles Davis, Coltrane, Chuck Mangione or Freddie Hubbard.

One Of My Favourite Horn Players – I’ve Seen Composer & Trumpeter Mark Isham Perform Many Times.

The trumpet often plays the melody or top note of the voicing in a standard three-part horn section. Doubling high unisons produces a powerful result. An alternative approach to get a strong triad chord voicing is to put the trombone lowest, trumpet in the middle and the tenor sax on the top.

Many trumpet players also play the more mellow flugel (horn). This instrument does not have the strident quality or brightness of the trumpet and has a lower range. The flugel is more suited to slower ballads.

The Versatile LeRoi Moore (Dave Matthews Band) Who Died In 2008 Played Various Instruments – Sax, Flute, Oboe & Clarinet.

Saxophones come in various sizes. The soprano sax is not a common instrument in a horn section unless playing the melody, it’s mostly used for solos. Alto saxophone has a similar range to the trumpet and sounds good as a solo or section player. The tenor sax is in the same range as the trombone and unison voicings of these two sound good together. The bari sax will often work well playing lead-ins to the root of the chord. Take a listen to Motown tracks – Baby Love, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg and Heatwave.

Wycliffe Gordon – Busy Trombonist With The Wynton Marsalis Septet.

The trombone is a powerful instrument which can play an octave lower than the trumpet. The bass trombone is usually used in larger bands and has a lower range than the standard instrument.

If you’re trying to achieve a good strong, dual harmony – have the trombone and trumpet play in unison whilst the sax plays the upper harmony.

There are many combinations of horns that work. The popular combo of trumpet, sax and trombone is pretty standard and is used extensively.

Chicago Horn Section – Trombone, Sax & Trumpet.

But there’s no rule which says you must have all three instruments to make a horn section sound good. You can produce great results with just two instruments – trumpet/sax, trumpet/trombone or sax/trombone – with some careful arranging and doubling. Or try a couple of tracks of overdubbed trumpet and trombone with added octaves.

Recording, then mixing horns in a home studio setting can be challenging. To achieve a fuller sound get the players to double track their parts. Pan each part to the left and right. Record a third part and pan it down the middle to give an ever fuller sound.

Generally speaking if there are two players, try tripling the parts; with three players try doubling. But remember to keep detailed notes on what the different parts are playing – the highest melody, the middle or lowest and what instruments are playing in each combo. For example, one track might contain consistent upper melody played by trumpet and tenor sax, otherwise at mix time you could end up with several tracks of horns and no idea how they should all go together.

Here are some popular groupings of instruments…..

With a single player – often sax or trumpet – try unison doublings (double tracking) for solos and sometimes chords.

Two players – often trumpet with sax or trombone – allows for doubling or tripling of parts to give a rich, thick sound. If you’re aiming for 4 to 6 part harmony this may take quite a bit of rehearsal to get the parts sounding good and tight for each combo.

Yet Another Three Horn Combination – Two Sax & Trumpet.

Three players – commonly trumpet, sax and trombone – can achieve 6 part harmony with doubling. If the players are well rehearsed or often play together, they should be tight and produce a great resultant sound. An alternative three horn setup is 2 trumpets with trombone. And remember you can always supplement a horn section with a good synth/sample brass part.

Four players – common groupings are 2 trumpets and 2 trombones; or 2 trumpets, sax and trombone. Big 8 part harmonies with powerful unisons are possible. The more players in the combo, the tighter they need to be. It just takes one horn player to be slightly early or late and it can ruin an otherwise perfect performance.

Five horn players – 3 trumpets and 2 trombones or two trumpets, two tenors and a baritone sax (see Tower Of Power) – should sound pretty full. Doubling may just be too much. Try adding a sax as a separate line.

One Page Of A 5 Part Horn Arrangement For 2 Trumpets, Tenor Sax, Trombone & Baritone Sax.

The frequency range for most horns you’re likely to encounter, goes from a little below 50 Hz up to 1.8 kHz. But they have a very strong harmonic content between 2.5-5 kHz. This is the area that gives horns their bite or edgy sound. So pay attention to this frequency range. Too much and you’ll drown everything else out in your mix. Too little and your horns may have difficulty in cutting through.

Each horn type has a specific tonal range, so different EQ considerations need to be applied to each instrument. However, in general the 100-200 Hz range can be boosted to improve warmth to particularly thin sounding instruments. The 400-800 Hz range is where a lot of muddiness exists. In the more bass range instruments like tuba or bass trombone, you may find the muddiness is more prominent in the 200-400 Hz range. So listen to each instrument’s merits and weaknesses and EQ accordingly. Boosting the 2.5-5 kHz range should add and improve the attack. If the horn needs more air/breathiness try boosting in between 7-9 kHz.

Also bear in mind that if you use just brass (trumpet, trombone) or just reed (sax) instruments, the resultant tone won’t be as rich as using a combination of brass and reed.

Compression – Gentle 2:1 Ratio, A Good Place To Start For Horns.

Good horn players rarely need compressing whilst recording. But if you feel the dynamics are a little wide in the mix, try some gentle compression. Start with a ratio of 2 or 3:1, a fast attack (5-10 ms) and a slower release (80-100 ms). Listen to the effect on the horns and adjust the gain reduction until you get the power, punch and clarity you require for your song.

Reverb and echo/delay can work on solo horns to great effect. On horn sections a touch of reverb can sometimes help, but in general, use effects with caution. If your home studio room is small and has been treated to reduce reflections, there will be little natural reverberation, so a good plate or hall verb will usually improve the horn sound. Rumour has it that the TC-Helicon VoiceLive 2, designed for vocals, works well on horns too.

TC Helicon VoiceLive 2 – Vocal Effects Processor Used By Some Horn Players Too.

Alternatively, if you’re able to get the use of a church or large hall to record in or even a tiled bathroom, you may get the sound you’re looking for. Of course, the only way you’ll be able to tell which effects work and which ones don’t, is to try them.

The success of a horn section in a mix depends on the song and the horn arrangement as much as the combination. So if you have access to the various players try different combos, different voicings, harmonies and doublings. For some inspiration, listen to the likes of Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears or Tower Of Power.

If you can play keyboards, you could always use some good quality samples for a complete horn section or supplement a pairing of real instruments with a third or more from your keyboard. I’ve heard good reports about Mojo: Horn Section.

Over the next few weeks we’ll look at MIDI. Then move onto Mastering, the final stage of the music recording process.

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June 19, 2011

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.


June 13, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 15 Recording Solo Horns

If you have any questions or comments for TCM, on the Home Music Studio series so far, please drop us a line or call us – click here for contact details. We really appreciate your feedback.

Last week we considered some of the challenges recording Horn sections or Brass Ensembles. This week we’ll continue with a look at Solo Horns…..Trumpet, Trombone, Saxophone and French Horn.

There have been many great Horn players over time – Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Bill Watrous, JJ Johnson, Arturo Sandoval, Kenny G, Herb Albert, Chuck Mangione, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane to name a few…

…And several instances where Horn players contributed a major part to a band’s sound. If you need inspiration check out – Clarence Clemons on Sax in the E Street Band – Tom Scott, Wayne Shorter and many others on Steely Dan’s albums – Randy Brecker, Jerry Weiss and many more over the years in Blood Sweat and Tears – Miami Sound Machine – Earth, Wind and Fire and Tower of Power Horn sections.

It’s tempting to go for the easy option and just pull up that Horn sample on your keyboard. But if you take the time to record a real Horn it can sound incredible and can make your music truly stand out from the crowd.

Incidentally, pay attention to the sound quality coming from the instruments. Players and instruments tend to warm up as the recording session progresses. So the sound of any one instrument could be quite different at the beginning of a session compared to the end.

This could be an issue if you’re doing several takes and then editing them together to form a final ‘go’ take. Also these instruments require quite a lot of effort to play. So players can tire easily. Be realistic when it comes to how much you can do in a session.

Large Diaphragm Mic On Trumpet.

Let’s start with the Trumpet. It produces a very high SPL or sound pressure level (around 130dB SPL close to the bell) with a huge dynamic range.

It can play relatively quiet melodies then in an instant blow your socks off with a stab. So providing your recording room sounds good, it’s prudent to place your mic some distance from the bell end. Besides they sound better when you capture the blend of direct and indirect sound.

With Trumpets and Trombones most of the desirable sound comes straight out of the bell. If you stand behind a Trumpet you will hear very little high frequency content. To the side, you’ll pick up the lowest frequencies.

You could use a cardioid condenser 3 to 6 feet distant from the bell and then add a stereo pair further away to capture the room sound. Large diaphragm mics – Neumann U47 or U87, or small capsule mics like Neumann KM54 or DPA 4011 work great. They’re all quite robust and can handle high levels (although expensive).

High quality Ribbons like the Royer R-122/121 or AEA R88/R92 also work well. Just be aware that the high SPLs from a Trumpet can blow a Ribbon if placed too close.

To pick up the ambience of the room a pair of omni or cardioids like AKG 451E, Neumann KM 83i or SE Electronics SE-3 produce great results.

DPA 4099 Super-Cardioid Condenser Clip Mic.

An alternative is to use a clip mic, like the DPA 4099 shown above. This mic is a relatively cheap super-cardioid condenser which should give good separation if you are recording with other instruments. The main advantage with any instrument clip mic is that once it’s attached in the best position, the player can move without going off axis to the mic. So maintaining a consistent sound throughout your recording.

By adding a couple of ambience mics (as mentioned above) you pick up the reflected sounds of the Trumpet which should give you a fuller, warmer more desirable sound.

Condenser Mic On Trombone.

Similar techniques can be employed for recording Trombones. The Trombone is about as powerful but not as piercing or shrill as the Trumpet. Try placing your mic between 2-5 feet from the bell.

And if you’re room produces unflattering reflections, rig up some acoustic panels, duvets or blankets behind and to the sides of the player. If you can capture a good dry sound you can always add some reverb or echo in the mix.

Horns have quite a sharp attack, so don’t overdo reverb as it can muddy the sound if you add too much.

If you have to record 2 Trombones simultaneously, mic each one. This will help to prevent the sliders crashing together.

This next point applies equally to Trumpet and Trombone – if you have to mic really close up (between 2 and 12 inches), recommend to the player that he/she blows slightly off to the side of the mic to reduce the chance of overloading and distortion.

As a player alters the length of the Trombone’s telescopic slide to change pitch, invariably the bell end will move slightly. This means if you’re using a very directional mic, the instrument can easily go off axis to the mic and the quality of the recorded sound can vary.

Sennheiser e908b Clip Mic For Trombone.

You may not consider this to be a problem. But you can avoid it if you need to, by using a clip mic like the Sennheiser e908b or the Shure Beta 98H/C which are both cardioid condensers.

The Saxophone is slightly different to the other two Horns we’ve mentioned so far. Strictly speaking it’s a Woodwind and the quietest of the three. It has sound holes along a large section of its body and these holes when open contribute to the overall sound of the instrument, resulting in a much wider pattern of radiated sound.

Left To Right – Soprano, Alto, Tenor And Baritone (Not To Scale).

There are several types of Sax covering different tonal ranges. The most widely used ones being – Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Baritone.

One Of The Larger Saxophones – Contrabass…..Should Come With A Free Course Of Back Treatments!

The instrument is basically a long conical metal tube of mostly brass. The lower pitched versions would be very long and difficult or impossible to play if it weren’t for the fact that they incorporate a U-bend.

 Saxophones Radiate Sound In A Wider Pattern, So Place The Mic To Capture TheWhole Sound.

If you’re recording Alto or Tenor Sax try using a single mic 12 inches or so from the Horn, level with the middle of the instrument (see the picture above). If you want more of the room pull the mic back  and position it at ear level pointing towards the instrument.

A solo Baritone Sax presents different challenges because of its size and shape. Try placing a single condenser mic about two feet from the bell. You can also try putting a second mic at the bottom of the instrument to pick up the lower frequencies which arise from there. Ribbon mics produce great results too producing a lovely warm bottom end, especially when close miked.

Audio Technica Pro35 Clip Mic For Sax.

There are also clip mics for Sax which produce good results. Ultimately, mic choice is down to what you want from a recording and how best a mic fits for a particular player or location.

The Soprano Sax being a straight tube, presents slightly different problems to the other instruments in the range. The bell end does not curve upwards but points down. So you might prefer to use two mics – one placed to pick up the more strident sound emanating from the bell and another pointed towards the keys to capture the warmer sound from the middle of the instrument – but check for phasing problems. This will give you some flexibility in the mix to blend the results from the two mics.

The Horn Or French Horn.

The Horn or French Horn as it’s commonly known is part of another sub-group of instruments which pose another set of challenges. It’s not normally used in a rock or ‘pop’ setting or Horn section, but is used in classical music.

This instrument does seem to benefit from being miked from a distant to capture the full reflected sound. So providing your recording space sounds good and you can place the mic a good 5 or 6 feet away, this should provide you with a great sound. Try placing the mic pointing towards a reflective surface to maximise the total sound. The Horn tends to project in all directions so works best as an overdub or as a solo instrument.

This group of instruments require a bit more time and effort in setting up than some other groups we’ve discussed. Their tonal range, very different shapes and sizes present several challenges to both the professional recording engineer and home studio musician trying to capture that elusive Horn sound. But with a little patience and perseverance the resulting recordings can really transform a song or music track.

Next week I’ll discuss Woodwind instruments. Then go onto Drums and Percussion.

Editor’s Note 13th June 2011: News that Clarence Clemons of E Street Band fame, is seriously ill after suffering a stroke – We wish Clarence a speedy and full recovery. He has been unwell for several years with back and knee ailments.