For a lot of us in home studios, recording real strings is not an option.
It’s difficult because in order to get a nice, full, orchestral sound, you need to have a lot of people playing at the same time.
And I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that many friends who play strings.
So the common solution is to resort to using sampled strings via MIDI. Some DAW’s, such as Logic, come with some virtual instruments that sound pretty good. There are also great products like SampleTank that can work well.
But even with a good sounding instrument, if you’re programming the strings or playing them in on a keyboard, often they still sound fake.
This is because it’s hard to recreate the “feeling” of a human playing a stringed instrument. You can get closer by playing the part on a keyboard rather than programming it. But even then, some of the feeling gets lost.
But here’s a trick you can use to get even closer: ride the volume fader.
Think about it this way. If you’re playing a piano, the dynamics, or “loudness”, of the notes you play are exclusively determined by how hard you hit the keys. After that point, you have very little control over the way the note decays over time. And you certainly can’t make it swell up in volume after you’ve played it.
But strings are different. The dynamics of an instrument like a violin is determined by the speed and force of the bow across the strings. This means that a violin player can make a single note swell up in volume or drop off at exactly the rate they want.
Since we can’t do this on a keyboard, the best tool we have is the volume fader.
One nice method is to record each string section with one hand on the keyboard and the other on the fader (probably a piece of hardware like the FaderPort would work better than using a mouse). Record the part you’re playing, along with the volume automation. Consider the automation to be a part of the performance. Another option would be to control the volume from a foot pedal to free up both hands.
If you’re just mixing a song that already has sampled strings, you can write in volume automation to make them sound more dynamic and “real”. I personally think it’s best to record the dynamics as part of the performance, but creating the dynamics later is better than nothing.
Do you ever record sampled strings? What method do you use? Leave a comment below!