sample your own instruments

Sampling Your Own Instruments

The most powerful tools in a DIY film composer’s kit are virtual instruments. You can easily make your own by sampling real-world instruments – or in this case, a toy.

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TL:DR, get the kalimba samples here:


Virtual instruments are plugins that use either synthesized sounds or recorded samples of an actual instrument (or a combination of the two). They give you access to unique sounds – or entire orchestras – that you could never find, play, afford to hire in the indie film world.

When I come across a unique instrument, I like to sample it myself. I prefer to play a real instrument, but there are times when having it available in a DAW makes life so much easier.

kalimba made from a coconut

One such instrument is this Kalimba that I used in the soundtrack for a short film last year. It’s really just a toy, made out of a coconut husk, and was sold to me at an inflated price at an oceanside souvenir shop.

Setting up for Sampling

There are some things you’ll need to sample your instrument. You’ve probably already got the basics covered if you’ve read this post. Here’s a rundown of what you’ll need:

  • DAW software – I use FL Studio
  • Audio interface – I recommend this or similar
  • Microphone – I used this in the video
  • Headphones – I love my Sony’s
  • Sampling software – my new best friend SampleRobot

Get your instrument into a studio (or quiet bedroom) and get to work! Take a few minutes to figure out the best way to mic your instrument. The kalimba was fairly simple, just stick the business end of the microphone close to the metal tines and sound hole. But, if you’re sampling something like a piano or church organ, you may have to experiment with the right mic(s) and mic placement.

The Process

I made a quick tutorial video while sampling the coconut kalimba. You can check it out here:

The process is fairly straightforward once you’ve wrapped your head around SampleRobot’s various options and parameters. I won’t lie, it took a bit of trial and error (and judicious video editing) to make the process look this smooth.

The software was really designed for sampling midi instruments. Most of the automation centers around controlling external keyboard and synths to make the sampling process completely hands-off.

But, it’s still a killer app for recording real-world instruments because it walks you through note-by-note and builds the virtual instrument for you. Other sample editors don’t include a recorder, and most times the looping and trimming process have to be handled manually as well. This can get super tedious if you’re trying to build an expressive instrument with a large range.

I recommend checking out SampleRobot’s extensive support page and online tutorials if you get stuck.

End Product

At the end of the process, I had a fully-functional virtual instrument made out of 26 unique samples. Unlike the actual kalimba (which only has 12 tines) I can play any note I want, as fast as I want, in as many combinations as I want. In many ways, the sampled kalimba is more useful than the real deal.

But don’t just take my word for it – I’ve made the samples available for download here. Pay what you think they’re worth – even if that’s $0!


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