How to write Cinematic PercussionYour Journey in Cinematic Percussion

Are you ready to master cinematic percussion for your music compositions?

Do you want to create amazing percussion mixes: for epic power…dramatic action…intense energy…or perhaps percussive underscores?

My name is Mike, and I am a music composer. Just. Like. You. And in this course I will take you on a learning journey and adventure, where you will unlock the secrets of cinematic percussion.

  • Learn the Guidelines of Cinematic Percussion
  • Explore the Sound Palette and Colors
  • Discover Practical Tips & Insights
  • Get Live Examples & Demonstrations
  • Master Cinematic Percussion for Your Music

Take Action, and begin your adventure in cinematic percussion, right now!

Get a Special Discount on my course on Cinematic Percussion here.

The Power of Cinematic Percussion

Percussion is one of the core elements of music, because rhythm is present in every single part and performance you add to your composition. Percussion is also by far the biggest family of instruments and sounds you can add to your music productions. Ranging from a classic drum kit, to orchestral percussion, all the way to sound design elements. Percussion instruments and sounds in all types and colors can add so much to your music. Let me give you a complete list of the main ways percussion can be used for your compositions:

Rhythm & Groove
You can use percussion to set the main rhythmic groove for your music. The fundamental beat that the listener will feel as the anchor of rhythm for your music.

Drive & Energy
Percussion is excellent for controlling the amount of drive and energy in your music, and can be changed dramatically between different parts at any time in your composition.

Accents & Impact
Percussive sounds are incredibly useful for boosting the power of any specific beats with accents, and layering for extra impact. And you can also use percussion to augment specific melodic notes or chord changes, which will give them more emphasis.

Fills & Transitions
You can spice up, create anticipation and build energy with percussive fills and transitions. Sudden changes in rhythm, dynamic curves and so on.

Variation & Expression
Percussion can also have a lot of variation and even expression by changing the rhythms, adding syncopation, and controlling the dynamics.

The Guidelines of Cinematic Percussion

Learning the fundamentals, the guidelines and ways to shape your percussion parts, is essential for getting your creative vision come true in your music compositions. Now, I will give you my top guidelines on cinematic percussion!

Tempo for Energy
The higher the tempo, the higher the energy. There are two parts you need to control here: the BPM of your music, and how fast the rhythms are that you write for your percussion parts.

Time Signature for Groove
Breaking away from only composing in 4/4 is a huge step to open up the creative power you have as a composer. For  example, when I write action music I like using 6/8 for an intense groove, or even 7/8 if I want really high tension rhythms. Remember, the time signature is as important as the BPM for shaping the fundamental language of your rhythmic groove. It is basically the percussive equivalent to musical scales for melodies and harmonies.

Timing for Human Vibe
I always teach that you should never quantize anything to 100%. Because it is simply unnatural, and when you think about it, a lot of the power and depth actually comes from the individual differences in timing of every single instrument and part of your music. With percussion and rhythmic parts you can quantize a lot more than melodic parts, but I would rarely go over 75% in quantization strength, because you want to have that dynamic, natural and human vibe in the music composition.

Sound Palette for Character
What types of drums and percussion you use to create your sound palette for your percussion mix, is essential for the overall character and tone you aim for. Do you want to focus on power drums on a rock drum kit, classic orchestral percussion, hybrid epic percussion, ethnic or world character, or perhaps an edgy electronic character? Remember, you have even more power if you mix and blend different types of percussion instruments and colors, into your own unique percussion sound palette.

Frequency Focus for Color
When writing and adding percussion parts to your music, you should also think about which frequency ranges you are focusing on. Do you want the final sound color of your percussion mix to be very low and deep, warm and bold, or crisp and bright. Or perhaps you are aiming for that wall-of-sound kind of fullness.

Dynamics for Expression
The main expression of a percussion performance comes from the dynamics. Both the dynamic variation for all hits, as well as the overall dynamic curve. The dynamics will shape both the loudness and intensity, as well as the sound color for each percussive hit.

Sound Stage for Depth
The placement of each percussion instruments in the stereo field and room is incredibly important for the final sound. With recorded instruments, the actual room size, instrument placement in the stage, as well as the microphone setup and mix, are all creating that sound stage and depth. If the instruments are dry, you can use added reverb and panning to shape the depth per instrument.

Accents for Power
Percussion is one of the main ways to add accents and emphasis on any specific points in your music composition. The two main ways to create these accents are with high contrast dynamics, and the power of layering.

Fills & Syncopation for Spice
Adding short little fills and tiny variations, as well as syncopated grooves into your percussion parts can make them much more interesting. It’s like adding the final spices when cooking, that will take the entire meal to another level. These types of unexpected rhythmic add-ons or changes can also be used to great effect in transitions.

Rolls & Swells for Transitions
Drums rolls and cymbal swells, and other types of dynamic and rhythmic crescendos, are super effective to build up energy and anticipation in both soft transitions within a performance, to strong transitions into new parts of your composition.



The Sounds of Cinematic Percussion

The great thing about percussion for cinematic music, is that you are free to use practically any type of percussion instruments and sounds, and even blend different types and colors of percussion together into your own unique percussion mix. Let’s go through the fundamental sounds, colors and types of percussion now:

Acoustic Drum Kits
The classic acoustic drum kit is way more versatile than you might think. There are a lot of different sizes, models and variations of drum kits. And as for the sound, you can go from soft jazz kits, to a snappy pop sound, all the way to powerful rock and metal kits. And you can even use ensemble drum kits to make it more powerful and cinematic if you want. And you can open up amazing creative possibilities if you dive into production techniques, microphones, mixing and effects. Such as compression, saturation, EQs, reverb etc.

Electronic Drum Kits
Now with electronic drums you will have amazing creative flexibility with your percussion. From the vintage drum machine sounds of 909, 808 etc. to more modern and edgy beats. Electronic drums and sounds have the most control and sound design options. You can also use layering, and many kinds of production techniques to shape the sound into whatever sound and character you need.

Orchestral Percussion
Cinematic percussion with a heavy focus on the orchestral sound has evolved over the years from a more classic orchestral percussion mix, to include way more types of drums and percussion. Particularly various types of Taiko Drums and Frame Drums are more used today. As well as lots of auxiliary percussion in the mid to high range.

Traditional Percussion
Traditional style percussive instruments include ethnic drums like bongos, congas and dhols. But also various types of shakers, marching drums and so on. Basically any type of classic percussion instrument that is not generally used in a standard drum kit or in orchestral percussion. I would even count hand claps, foot stomps and finger snaps into this category.

Sound Design Percussion
This is the most creative category of percussion, as you can basically use any audio recording or synthesized sound that is percussive in nature. You can even use a mix of natural recorded sounds and synthesized techniques to create a new hybrid sound. Then there is the entire field of foley recording, meaning you can basically go out and record yourself hitting any type of objects with a stick, mallet, your hand etc. Sound design percussion can be anything from low booms, to massive impacts, to light percussive hits of any type of object, to tapping, clicking etc.

Tuned Percussion
Percussion instruments and sounds that provide a tonal centre and pitch can be used for adding harmonic content to the percussion performance. Here you will find instruments such as various types of mallets, various types of bell sounds, tuned drums etc.

The Colors of Cinematic Percussion

Now when it comes to creating your own unique sound palette for the percussion mix of your composition, you should not only focus on the types of percussion instruments and sounds, but also the range and color of your percussion. Meaning the respective frequency ranges and character. Let’s go through the main colors and ranges of cinematic percussion, right now.

The Low-Range Percussion

Here are some of the most common instruments and sounds for cinematic percussion in the low end.

  • Deep Booms
  • Big Impacts
  • Bass Drums
  • Timpanis
  • Taikos

The Mid-Range Percussion

Here are some of the most common instruments and sounds for cinematic percussion in the mid range.

  • Toms
  • Snares
  • Frame Drums
  • Hand Drums
  • Punch Hits
  • Gongs

The High-Range Percussion

  • Sticks
  • Metals
  • Woods
  • Clicking
  • Shakers
  • Cymbals

The Tuned Percussion

  • Mallets
  • Bells
  • Percussive Articulations

Assignment – Create your Sound Palette

Now it’s time for you to take action. Go into your DAW, and create a complete sound palette for percussion from scratch. First you need to choose and define the overall character you want for your percussion mix. This of course depends on the style and mood your composition should have. Then you create a unique mix of percussion instruments and sounds that will make up the sound palette you will use for writing your percussion parts.

Assignment – Write a Percussion Performance

After you have created a complete sound palette for your percussion, you should now write a full percussion performance that covers the complete range and colors: Lows, Mids, High and Tuned Percussion. Start by creating a percussion performance that has that full and complete sound. If you want to dive deeper in this field of color and range, you can create other percussion performances that are more deep and low-end focused, crisp and snappy focused, or bright and shimmering. Your goal is to have full control over the ranges and colors of your entire percussion, so that you can write and create percussion mixes that goes well with your creative vision for any specific composition you make.

Let’s write Cinematic Percussion

Now it’s time to put the guidelines, sounds colors and power of cinematic percussion..into action! You will now get to learn from watching behind the scenes as I create different styles of cinematic percussion performances. All focused on a unique mood, character and overall balance for a specific context, which could be a movie scene for example. So let’s write some cinematic percussion, right now!

Live 1  – The Might of the Galaxy

Live 2 – The Battle for our Final Destiny

Live 3 – Dark Caves of the Underworld

Live 4 – Race in Full Speed

Live 5 – The Tension in the Shadows


Mikael Baggström - Composer and Sound DesignerMy name is Mikael “Mike” Baggström, and I am a composer, sound designer, artist and educator.

PS. Do you want to LEVEL UP as a Composer? – Learn How here.