Do you use percussion in your recordings?

You may think I’m talking about something like congas, which certainly qualify as percussion, but I almost never use congas in my recordings. However, I DO use a lot of percussion.

Mainly I use:

  • Shaker
  • Tambourine
  • Hand claps
  • Finger snapping (yes, I did this on one song on my album)
  • Cymbal swells

I’ll use one (or even ALL) of these on just about every song I record. Why? Because they add an extra layer to the song that you just can’t achieve by throwing on another guitar track. Oftentimes these simple little elements can be the missing piece that takes that song to the next level.

Is percussion obvious in my mixes? Nope. If you use percussion right, it will sit in the mix, and you won’t even notice it unless you’re specifically listening for it…but you’ll miss it if it’s not there.

As much as software companies try to create realistic-sounding percussion samples, I’ve found it’s easier/better to just record them yourself. Go out and buy a tambourine and a shaker…and USE them.

Cymbal swells, however, aren’t quite as easy to record. For one thing, you’ve got to buy the cymbals, stands, sticks, etc. Unless you’re a drummer, you’re probably never gonna buy them JUST for cymbal swells.


That’s where my free gift comes in. A few years ago I had the pleasure of recording a professional percussionist in a pro studio. I had him record a bunch of cymbal swells for a track I was working on. They sound awesome, and they make a HUGE difference in every song I use them on.

They make transitions from one section to the next SO much smoother.

Here, take a listen:

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This is a clip from “Treading Water” off of my album Out of Indiana. In this clip you can hear THREE different types of percussion being used: shaker, tambourine, and cymbal swells.

I’ve taken those same cymbal swells I recorded YEARS ago and used them on countless other songs…and you can, too!!

I’m giving these away for free. Download them here:

Cymbal Swells [35MB]

It’s a zip file with two separate (stereo) takes from that percussion session. Consider it my early Christmas present to you. Just drag and drop them into one of your sessions, chop ’em up, and put the cymbal swells in key places throughout the song…and enjoy!

Comment Question:

In the comments below, answer one of these questions:

Do you use percussion? (If so, how do you use it?)

How are you going to use these samples in your next recording?

[Photo by vxla]

  • Jacob

    These sound so good! I just used some of the swells to help make transitions sound more natural when I had to cut up a song for a video.
    Thanks so much for this!

  • Yak Diezel

    All i know is swells and percussion in any genre of music gives it life. just let me know what your email is and i’ll send you a finished song with the swells in it.

  • Trevor Petrie

    Thanks Joe, I’ve never used swells in a recording but I’m looking forward to experimenting with them. Season’s greetings!

  • Jeff D. Elliott

    Thanks Joe. Find myself using the same swells over and over, and these will add a new dimension for me. Much obliged

  • James Hayford

    yes! Cymbal swells!

  • De Sava

    I’m new DJ and I am researching and trying to understand how to use transitions between songs etc… to make my sets better 🙂

  • Rob Kuhlman

    Thanks Joe just heard this in the latest podcast April 8th 2015 is when I heard it.

  • Rotger Rosas

    Thanks a lot 🙂 I always been looking for a good swells specially for ballads. This is great

  • Mic Geer

    Thank you! This is closer to what I’m looking for. I’ve recorded my own cymbal swells but I like the tone of these much better. I’ll be using one of these to transition from one part of the song I’m working on now to the next part. BTW – Damn good quality. 🙂

    • You’re welcome! I think they were recorded with a pair of Royers…Mmmm…

  • Nick McClure

    Thanks! Exactly what I was looking for. I did my undergrad in music performance in percussion. I’ve played a LOT of this background stuff for churches and pop gigs. Much as I hate playing shaker 16ths for an entire song or resting a bajillion bars for one or two cymbal swells, it really does contribute if mixed well.

  • toby

    I try and use percussion as much as I can- I especially like a tambourine triplet, compressed hard and mixed in subtly to give a lift to a chorus or similar. Not sure if it qualifies as percussion but I often use cymbals with a violin bow to add a swell to key sections. Thanks for the samples and a good article!

  • shettykp

    Thanx a lot…!!!!! 🙂

  • Claus Bleijerveld

    Thank you Joe, for this nice gift.

  • BOlupona™ /// Bolu

    Thanks for the gift Joe. You rock!

  • Don T.

    First off thanks for the gift…I do use some percussion in projects to add texture. I’ll listen to these later and will possibly use them in a song I’m mixing/mastering for a friend.

  • JB

    You are amazing! Thank you so much!!!

  • Eddy

    This is too awesome!

    I have some software samples, and in a song I’m creating, I just KNEW it needed a cymbal swell between the intro and the 1st verse…but much to my dismay, I either don’t have any, OR, I just don’t know where to find them in all my instruments lol!

    I haven’t worked on the song in a few days, so it was “outta sight, outta mind” til just now. If just ONE song I have needs a cymbal swell, it’s the one I’m talking about(although I know a TON of songs I’ll work on will NEED them…yes, NEED).

    TY TY TY!

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