One of the greatest pleasures of music-making is sharing your music with others. Some instruments, such as the electric guitar, are incredibly easy to record and a myriad of apps and tools exist to help record it. But what about the kalimba? how exactly do you record a kalimba?
There are several great ways to record a kalimba:
- Using the video or sound recording function of a phone.
- Using an air microphone.
- Using a contact microphone.
- Using an electric kalimba.
Each method has its pros and cons of course, so let’s look at each in more detail to better understand how to record a kalimba!
Recording Your Kalimba Using A Phone
Recording a kalimba with a phone is arguably the easiest and most accessible for most people. Almost all of us have a phone nowadays with built-in apps, software, and hardware to allow us to record anything we please.
The process is pretty simple; get your phone, hit record (whether it be through the video recorder or voice recorder), and start playing your kalimba.
You’ll need to experiment with the placement of your phone to get the best sound quality, and a tripod to hold your phone will help immeasurably with this. Try changing the angle of the phone, the distance from the kalimba, and the general position of the phone relative to your kalimba to get the best sound.
I personally like to have the mic on my phone positioned a few inches away from the soundhole of my kalimba, but every kalimba is different. Some kalimbas will sound better with the phone placed behind them, for example.
Other things to watch out for are general background noise or ambient noise in the room you are recording in as this can also affect the sound, but more on that later!
Once you’ve recorded your kalimba, the next steps will depend on what you want to do with the recording. If you’re just making a recording for your own personal use or to show friends and family, then you’re done!
Maybe you wanted to record a video for Youtube though? In this case, you will need to get the recording from your phone to Youtube. There are several ways to do this and which one you choose will depend on what your end goal is. The easiest method is, of course, to simply upload the recording directly to Youtube via the app on your phone.
You may want to do a bit of editing beforehand though. In which case, you’ll want to transfer the recording to your computer and use DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software to add the finishing touches, again we’ll touch on that a bit further down this article!
No matter how you use your phone to record your kalimba, you should be able to achieve some great results with minimal effort. Before delving into some of the more advanced methods below, I highly recommend you give this method a try, you may be surprised at just how much you can achieve!
Recording Your Kalimba Using A Microphone
If you’re looking for a more professional sound and using your phone just doesn’t cut it, it may be worthwhile to invest in a good quality microphone.
Using a microphone to record a kalimba has a lot of major advantages. Specifically, you’ll be able to really dial in the sound you want with a lot of accuracy. It does require a bit more recording knowledge, however, as well as some extra equipment. So for complete beginners using a microphone may not be the most user-friendly option.
That said, if you want to give this option a go, here are my recommendations to achieve the best sound quality possible!
Ribbon microphones are extremely versatile and great for a lot of general-purpose sound recording. They are great for picking up the natural sound of an instrument and are pretty close to how our ears hear things. This makes them ideal for instruments such as the kalimba as they are able to capture all the right frequencies (and less of the wrong ones!).
Mic placement is critical to achieving the best recording and the same general rules apply as recording with a phone.
Experimentation is key, so be sure to try the mic at different distances from your kalimba; above, below, in front, behind, nothing is off limits! You’ll achieve different tonal qualities with every placement and because every kalimba and room is different, there is no one size fits all answer here.
So don’t be afraid to try different things here, and remember there is no right or wrong mic placement, only what sounds good to you!
Contact Microphones (Piezo Mics)
Another option to consider is to use a contact microphone to record your kalimba. As the name suggests, a contact mic is placed directly on the body of the kalimba (or any other instrument) and picks up the sound directly from the source. This can be advantageous in more challenging environments where there is a lot of background noise.
Simply attach the microphone directly to the body of your kalimba and start playing, it’s that simple!
A key thing to watch out for when using contact mics is that if you use a flat board or acrylic kalimba you may not get as good results as a hollow kalimba. This is because contact mics rely on the resonance of the instrument to capture the sound and a hollow kalimba is naturally more resonant due to its hollow chamber.
To improve the quality of the recording, be sure to grip your kalimba lightly to allow it to resonate to its full potential. If you grip it too tightly, you will be choking off a lot of the sound and the end result may not be what you would like.
Regardless of the type of microphone you choose, you will need to invest in some additional equipment to actually record your kalimba. Basically, the microphone is just that, a microphone, and you’ll need a preamp and DAW recording software to actually record what the microphone is picking up!
Preamp (Audio Interface)
A Preamp is an interface that sits between the microphone and your computer and its purpose is to process the signal that the microphone picks up and make it strong enough to be useable. Without it, your recording will sound weak and tinny.
Preamps come in all shapes and sizes (and prices!) from large professional units to smaller handheld units. For beginners, I recommend a simple one or two input audio interface, which will more than do the job for simple at-home recording!
It is possible to buy microphones with a preamp built-in as well, which can be an easier option for some and worth considering if you want to keep it simple.
It might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people forget about this key part!
Cables will of course be required to connect your microphone via your preamp to your computer.
Most microphones will require an XLR cable but it’s always worth checking the specific mic you have to be sure. Similarly, the situation should be the same for your preamp, with the inputs requiring an XLR connection nine times out of ten.
You should be fine when it comes to the connection from your preamp to your computer, with most beginner level preamps providing the necessary USB cable for this purpose.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
The last piece of the puzzle is DAW software!
DAW software allows you to record the sound that the microphone has picked up and the preamp has processed and boosted. From the DAW interface, you can then edit the sound wave and export it to an audio file such as an mp3.
Professional level DAWs such as Cubase or Pro Tools will set you back a few hundred dollars and can be difficult for first-time users to pick up. Luckily there are a few free DAWs out there, which are also a lot more user friendly!
If you’re a complete beginner, I highly recommend Audacity, which offers a basic user interface that should be easy to pick up for most. If you want something with a bit more bite, Cakewalk is another that is completely free to use and will give you a lot of the functionality of the professional-grade DAWs.
Electric kalimbas are the final option and can be simply thought of as a standard kalimba with a contact mic already prewired into it.
You’ll still need a preamp and a DAW to record an electric kalimba but if you’re someone who likes to keep things simple, this is a good choice. Simply plug in the kalimba and that’s it!
Kalimba Recording Tips and Tricks
No matter which method you decide to go with, there are several tips and tricks that will help you get the best possible recording of your kalimba.
Here are a few of my favorites!
Amplifying the Sound
If you’ve recorded your kalimba and the sound just feels quiet or thin, there are a few things you can try to help boost the tone and give your kalimba a much fuller sound quality.
You’ll need something to rest your kalimba on. Larger wooden objects work best in my experience, for example, a chest of drawers, a door, or even other musical instruments such as guitars or a Cajon!
What this does is allows the kalimba to take advantage of the resonant qualities of the other object, effectively boosting its sound. Get creative and you may just surprise yourself with some of the tones you can create!
Improving Sound Quality
If you are recording with your phone or using a non-contact microphone, such as a ribbon mic, you may find that the room you are in produces too much background noise or echo to get the best sound quality.
One thing you can do here is to isolate the kalimba by creating a soundproof room or booth. A common way of doing this is by using acoustic panels.
Acoustic panels are large squares of material (usually a foam) with ridges across the front surface and are commonplace in recording studios the world over.
Acoustic foam panels will help to dampen or flatten the natural reverb in a room. This will help to ensure your phone or mic only picks up the sound of your kalimba and nothing else, which will make a huge difference to the quality of the recording! If you plan to use a DAW afterward to edit your kalimba sound wave, utilizing acoustic panels will make this process a lot smoother.
Bonus Tip! If for some reason you have an abundance of them, egg cartons can also work very well for soundproofing!
To add that extra bit of polish and finesse, why not try adding effects to your kalimba recording?
Adding effects such as reverb or delay is a great way to improve the quality of your kalimba recording and give it that professional touch! This is where a good DAW will really shine, and many have effects modules built-in as standard.
Recording Multiple Tracks
My final tip to try is recording multiple kalimba tracks and overlaying them.
This is a fantastic way to add depth and color to your recording and is almost an unwritten rule when recording music. Think of an orchestra, they don’t just have one violinist, or a band with two guitarists, for example.
The most basic way to do this is to record one track with your kalimba, then go back and record the exact same thing again (you might need to use a metronome to help keep time). Don’t just copy and paste the original track! It has to be a brand new one, otherwise, all you’ll achieve is an increase in volume. The subtle differences in playing are what really make this technique shine!
Now that you have both tracks recorded, pan one to the left and the other to the right. Notice the difference? This should have a massive impact on the recording and make it much fuller.
Recording your kalimba need not be a difficult process. Often a phone is all you’ll need to get a good quality recording. If you want to take things to the next level though, investing in a microphone and some recording software/hardware will really make your kalimba recordings shine.
Once you really get comfortable with the process, you’ll be able to have a lot of fun with experimentation. Why not add multiple effects and combine the kalimba with other instruments, you’d be amazed at what is possible!
I hope this article was useful and answered your questions on recording a kalimba. So why not have a go at recording your own kalimba song or even a cover using all the tips you’ve learned today!