Your Lucky 7: Helpful Tips for Recording Marimba

Mike Lawson • • May 11, 2018

Share This:

The marimba is a very unconventional instrument to record. Here are some helpful tips.

1. Room selection: The type of room where you record the marimba is important because the environment can enhance or suppress the beautiful natural qualities of the instrument. The marimba resonates and has a lot of beautiful overtones. The best room in which to record a marimba is one with a wooden floor, high ceiling, and wide-open space. A wooden floor reflects the tones of the marimba and resonators, so the entire room fills with the sound and the overtones. A high ceiling gives the sound a chance to expand throughout the space and create a natural reverb, as well as enhancing the sound of the metal resonators. A room with a high ceiling and wooden floor is an excellent place to record a marimba.

2. Microphone selection: This is important for the marimba. It is best to use two microphones for the instrument. High-quality condenser microphones are best because they capture the entire marimba as well as the space around the instrument. This means that they will not only capture the sound, but they will capture the overtones and natural reverb that is bouncing around the room. They will also capture the full spectrum of sound frequency, with the lows’ mids, and highs. They will provide a full and rich sound. As marimbas have more overtones than most instruments, a condenser microphone is important. A simple Shure M57 will not work.

3. Microphone placement: The condenser microphones should be placed about two feet above the marimba, with one near the high end and one near the low end of the marimba. This will help capture the entire instrument as well as the overtones. This placement will also help create a natural stereo effect and will make the sound richer. Engineers often make the mistake of putting a microphone underneath the marimba, as though it were a snare drum. This does not work, and it will create a muddled sound. The marimba sound reflects off the floor and around the room by the resonators, so the best place to get a great sound is about two feet above the instrument.

4. Mallet selection: This is another important aspect of getting a great marimba sound in the studio. Your student needs a mallet that has both articulation and body. Mallet selection also depends on the type of music performed. I recommend your student experiments with different mallets for the music selection. Your student should also record a little bit of the music and have the engineer play it back to see how the mallets are translating into the recording. Use big, soft mallets for ballads, and medium mallets with a lot of body for technical passages. Hard mallets on the marimba usually do not sound good on recordings. Just remember that the recording studio is a completely different artistic arena than a live performance. Mallets that work well in a live performance may not work at all in the studio because the microphones will pick up many more nuances than the human ear will. The louds will be louder and the high frequencies will be much more intense in the recording studio when captured by a condenser microphone. I recommend the Jeff Moore Performing Artist Series mallets for their rich sound. These mallets will have both articulation, fullness, and body.

5. Mallet technique: Make sure your student is pulling the sound out of the instrument and using the natural rebound of the stroke. It is also very important that your student is playing in the center of the bars, and on the edge of the sharps and flats in fast passages. Playing on the node above the strings will create a very poor-quality sound so this should avoided.

6. Microphone volume: The engineer should always make sure the volume of the microphones is set to the right level. If the microphones are set too low, then you will have to turn up the volume in post-production and you will get too much room noise and hiss. If the levels are too hot, the articulations of the mallets have the risk of distorting.

7. Post production: This is critical for a quality marimba recording. Remember that the goal is to enhance the natural qualities of the marimba, rather than to change them. The marimba is a beautiful instrument, so the engineer needs to enhance the marimba qualities. Over-production can destroy a great marimba recording. Usually adding a little reverb to fill out the sound always helps the recording. Sometimes a little delay can also help the sound, but not too much! The EQ involved in marimba post production typically requires a reduction in the lows because the low end of the marimba has many overtones that can cause distortion in recordings. A slight reduction in the lows will help, but not too much! Cutting the lows too much will kill the beautiful overtones of the instrument. Sometimes a little bit of compression will help smooth out any frequencies or loud notes that sound a little harsh. Compression should always be very slight and never overused. Too much compression will remove the beautiful overtones of the marimba and make it sound like a MIDI instrument. It takes an engineer who has experience in recording a marimba to get a good sound. Using processing and any effects that change the natural sound of the marimba should be avoided.

The marimba is a beautiful in and of itself, so post-production should enhance what is already beautiful.

In 2016, The Huffington Post called Kevin Lucas “the most talented percussionist since Lionel Hampton, Ginger Baker, and Tito Puente.” He has been nominated for 38 music industry awards for his Echoes in the Sand album, and he won the 2016 American Songwriting Awards. Kevin performed with the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps from 1992-1994, and won the DCI Midwest Individuals in 1994 for keyboard percussion. He placed second in concert hall percussion at the Music Teachers National Association collegiate competition in 1997.

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!