In my last post, I discussed writing a tab for Elk River Blues. The next challenge was to record my own version of this tune. I find the act of recording not only captures the tune, but also helps me to analyse my performance and make improvements, particularly around timing and rhythm.
I recently bought a Rode NT-USB condenser microphone and plugs directly into my MacBook via USB. This is a great mic for recording acoustic instruments and the USB interface makes it super easy to connect to a computer. I’m using GarageBand to capture the recording and mix the tracks.
I wanted to record the banjo backed with an acoustic guitar. I’m not great at flat-picking on the guitar, so I just used a simple strum pattern to keep the rhythm.
After several failed attempts to record this tune, I started to get frustrated. The time signature changes throughout the tune was throwing me off. I found it difficult to play along with just the metronome click-track, as there was no emphasis on the timing changes. So I used the Smart Drums in the iPad version of GarageBand to create a basic drum loop, then edited in the time signature changes. GarageBand only allows a single time signature for the entire song, so I just had to shorten the loop to emulate the bars in 2/4 time. This meant the position of the bars in GarageBand was no longer accurate, but this didn’t matter as I wasn’t using the scoring features.
Once I had a drum track to follow, everything came together! First I recorded the backing guitar over multiple takes, then assigned seperate tracks to the left and right channel. I found this gave a much fuller and richer sound than just one guitar. The banjo was recorded straight down the middle, with a little reverb to enhance the sound.
I left out the drums in the final mix because I preferred the simplicity of just the banjo and guitar.
I used the built-in Acoustic Guitar EQ effects in GarageBand for the guitars, but the banjo was harder to EQ. I ended up going for a brighter sound on the banjo that would cut through the guitars. I’d prefer a mellower tone for the banjo, but this just ended up sounding muddy. My Deering Vega Senator banjo naturally has a bright sound due to the tone ring, but I love the versatility of this banjo – it’s great for playing both clawhammer and 3-finger style.
I could have added some further embellishments – and maybe I will record it again in the future, but I thought it was better to keep things simple at this stage.
So here is my final mix of the tune. Please feel free to leave any comments or suggestions below!