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:


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]