I'm near the end of a project that involves a lot of small percussion, and we're using djembes for many of the tracks. I got a decent sound by using a pair of dynamic mics, one above the rim pointed down on an angle, the other pointed at the djembe's bottom opening at the floor. (The djembe wasn't in a stand, so that made very close miking on the rim not practical.)

I got a decent sound, a little boomy but with decent bass and okay detail. Here's a typical sample of three djembes, with no EQ or reverb or other changes:

This will be pretty buried in this mix, so the sound is good enough for this use. However, I have some projects coming up where I'd like to get more detail from the head and have better control over the sound.

Can anyone tell me how I can do this, given my setup? Should I use a condenser mic on the head and a 57 on the tail? Will I be better able to get detailed sound from the head (so we can hear the sound of fingers scraping the head, et cetera) if I get a stand for the djembe and mic the head even closer?


From what I've read, the popular technique seems to involve getting the djembe off the floor (whether in a stand, or otherwise) so that a kick drum mic (like a D112) can be placed inside the center of the base. Some kind of condenser mic will give you more detail on the head than an SM57 will. Of course, then you have the typical drum mic'ing tradeoff of being able to put a rugged mic like a 57 closer to the drum where it might be bashed around, or a more sensitive (i.e. expensive and fragile) condenser mic farther away (where it still might get bashed around ;).

There's an SOS interview from 2007 that goes into a little more detail with some other mic choices. It recommends using a small-diaphragm condenser, roughly 12 in. away, pointed directly at the center of the head (in addition to the bottom kick drum mic).

Here's a video describing how to mic when holding the djembe, rather than using a stand:

The sound in the video has some nice detail, and the technique she used for the top head is similar to what you described, but possibly a little closer to the head. If you've got enough mics available, it sounds like having one really close to the head for sliding/scraping detail, and another (farther away) pointed directly at the center of the head for percussive "slap" would be a good combination.

So to summarize, for a baseline setup,

  1. Lift it off the floor,
  2. Put a kick drum mic in the center of the base, and
  3. Use a condenser for detail on top.

In addition, it's always worth listening [with headphones and a mic] for sweet spots while someone is playing that add to the sound around the sides of the drum (in addition to the baseline mics). That's even more true if you've got a good room to record in. For example, sometimes a drum will sound much better at a certain location in the room (e.g. near a corner). If you really want some kind of "signature sound" (i.e. the djembe is a primary instrument in the mix), experimenting with various placements for a contact mic could yield something interesting as well.


Aside from the more obvious sounds of the Djembe to be reproduced in your recording, I always think it's worth considering that in folkloric musics, any stray rattles or jingles are considered characterful, rather than something to be rejected or avoided. They're worth considering in your mic set up too.

I found this article that describes the 'standard' techniques and tones producible by the Djembe here, which could be helpful in deciding which sounds you want to concentrate on capturing.

I would consider a small diaphragm condenser for the head - you might need it to be a bit further away than you might ideally like, since your percussionist will need plenty of room to move his arms and hands.

I would experiment with bass drum microphones for the base of the Djembe - I would also try to be open to the idea that emphasising the bass tone of the Djembe might be the wrong thing to do in terms of the music. Often, the 'open' tone of the head is the most important sound. If you do opt for the bass mic, don't forget to invert the phase Of course, if you opt for a single, well-placed microphone, you won't get this problem.

If you go for multiple microphones, I guess it would be good idea to make sure that your top microphone is the same distance from the drum head as the lower microphone. I imagine phasing problems are a really good way of taking all the life out of your Djembe recording!

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