The Orchestral Percussion Section

The use of the orchestral percussion section has become twofold in the last couple of years. In trailer music and modern Hans Zimmer inspired scoring, very often its function has become to mimick a drum set, basically providing a continuous rhythmic pulse and fundament. In more traditional orchestration, the percussion section is more used for highlighting moments and generally is used more selectively.

While using the percussion section as a surrogate drum kit can have fantastic effects and create massively driving pulses, especially in more action oriented cues, it shouldn’t be seen as the standard way of handling this section for several reasons.

First of all it very often is a lazy solution as you don’t have to worry much about providing a pulse when you have a rhythmically driving fundament to sit on. With this you can even get away with pretty pedestrian ideas and long sustaining notes in the rest of the orchestra. Another issue is the balancing. It will be very tricky to do any small orchestration details when your percussion section is constantly creating a quite loud dynamic level.

An even more problematic issue arises when you want to record such tracks with a regular orchestra. Unless you record top orchestras in top studios, you’re very likely going to struggle a lot with balance and timing issues. Also, in such cases you practically always need to record the percussion section separately. You will not be getting enough control for the mix out of the sound if you record it together with the orchestra in the same room.

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