Posted tagged ‘Woodwind instrument’


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 6, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 14 Recording Horns

Last week in the Home Music Studio series of blogs, we rounded up our look at String Instruments by considering the challenges of recording the Harp and String Ensembles.

We couldn’t cover everything in the String Group – it’s a huge family – but we hope we have given you enough insight into the problems you may encounter with the most common String Instruments. If there is enough interest we will come back to the Strings and cover them in more depth.

The Wind Instrument family consists of both Woodwind and Brass instruments.

Woodwind includes – Flute, Oboe, Clarinet and Saxophone. The Harmonica or Mouth Organ is classed as a (free reed) Wind instrument.

Brass includes – Trumpets, Cornets, Trombones, Flugelhorn and Tubas.

This week we will discuss recording small Horn sections or ensembles and next we will discuss recording specific Horns –  all part of the Brass family. Technically the Sax is a Woodwind instrument because it employs a reed. But it’s commonly found in many Horn sections, so we’ll include it in our discussions here.

Chicago Horn Section.

Horns or Brass mean different things to different musicians. Depending on whether you’re dealing with a Symphony Orchestra, a Brass Band or a more ‘popular’ idiom like R & B, Funk, Rock or Jazz – will determine the number and type of instruments comprising the Horn section.

Most ‘modern’ Horn sections tend to utilise three Horns – Trumpet, Trombone and Sax – in some combination, but you may also come across Brass Quintets or larger Ensembles.

Brass Band.

Of course once you start using more than one Horn you (or they) can figure out harmonies, which enriches the sound immensely…..relatively easy for two Horns, but becomes much more difficult for three or more.

A word of warning…..whenever you are recording any group of musicians, plan out the session as well as you can before they arrive. A Home Studio can often be a pretty relaxed setting when you are the only one recording. But, as soon as you invite others to record in your Studio they will undoubtedly expect things to move along at a brisker pace. They are bound to ask for something you have not thought about. Make sure you have ready – spare mics, cables, headphones, music stands, chairs etc. Plus they may have other commitments or gigs to go to. So be prepared for any eventuality.

5 Man Horn Section.

Capturing the players of a Horn section in isolation, one at a time (except for a solo) usually results in a far inferior recording than if the players are allowed to play as a group.

In a Home Studio setting with limited space, you may have to record a Horn section with a mic on each player and record them to separate tracks… that you have some degree of control in the mix.

The expensive Sennheiser MKH20s do a good job when using the pad switch (see further below ###). Even good old Shure SM57/58s can yield good results.

However, close miking is not necessarily the best solution for Horns.

And no matter which way you decide to record, always get the musicians to play before positioning the mics, so that you can see where the player positions the bell of the instrument. That way you can place the mic as opposed to the musician trying to move his/her instrument onto the mic.

Mics On Trombone, Sax and Two Trumpets.

They are loud instruments producing high SPLs or Sound Pressure Levels (so take care especially when using delicate Ribbon mics) and it might be difficult to get good separation on them in a Home Studio environment, although it’s often achievable in a pro studio.

In addition, a Horn section will usually want to play close together to give a tight performance. Which means multiple mics in close proximity leading to almost zero separation and phasing problems.

If you get to record a working Horn or Brass Ensemble chances are they’ll be pretty tight, good at blending together, working out harmonies and mixing themselves. So with a bit of luck all you’ll have to do is choose the right mics and place them accordingly.

### A microphone converts acoustical energy (sound waves) into electrical energy (the audio signal). Some Condensers have a pad switch – which reduces the amount of electrical energy coming from the mic capsule, effectively reducing sound by 10-20dB. This helps prevent distortion. But by engaging the switch this also decreases the signal to noise ratio by the same amount. So a better solution may be to just back off the mic to a safe distance…..Trumpets and Trombones produce around 130dB SPL just a couple of feet from their bells.

X-Y Stereo Mic Pair.

Providing the musicians are good and tight, using one mic or an X-Y Stereo pair or Blumlein pair 5 or 6 feet away, on a small Horn section could produce a great result. The Blumlein technique is explained in last week’s blog.

The Sax is the quietest of the three, so you may want to position it closer than the Trumpet or Trombone. The Trumpet will cut through everything, so you will need to adjust the various players’ positions to get a balanced sound for the group as a whole. Try positioning the musicians in a semi-circular layout for starters, then go from there.

Once you get a solid performance you can then thicken the sound by double tracking the Horns. Leave any solos ’til last and record them to separate tracks.

Blumlein Mic Pair.

Remember that the Blumlein technique, because it uses figure-8 mics, will capture a lot of the room sound.

Like many String instruments, Horns do well in a large space which allows their sound to develop. They are generally powerful instruments and need room to breathe. At the same time you don’t want a room that’s too live which produces an echo. So if you find yourself recording them in your Home Music Studio consider carefully your room and have a few acoustic and/or reflective panels at the ready. Don’t forget you can always add a good reverb in the mix if the recorded sound is too dry.

Next week I’ll consider Trumpet, Trombone and Sax separately. Many recordings feature these Horns as solo instruments. So I’ll spend some time considering the best mics and technique options. Then the week after go onto Woodwind.

All of us at TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group are passionate about music recording, mixing and mastering. So if you feel we have left out a major instrument, or simply have a question about recording please let us know and we’ll try to cover it in a future blog. Leave us a message or call us here.