Home Music Studio: How to Record Violin with a Microphone


Recording different instruments require different techniques. Unlike MIDI, you can record everything within the computer by using a MIDI controller or by programming the notes on a piano roll or MIDI editor. The violin is a stringed instrument such as a guitar, but they differ on how you play the instrument and produce sound. Because they are somehow different, it is quite evident that the recording process would somewhat be different as well.

To record and capture the sound of a violin on one of your tracks, you will need a computer, an audio interface with a condenser microphone, and of course, a violin. Some violins have an output jack, and those types of violins are more comfortable to record because you will only need to plug it in the audio interface. However, if you will be using a microphone, you will need to position the mic about three feet away from the violin and point it where the bow plays.

EQUIPMENT TO USE

For recording a violin by using a mic, you will need a computer or laptop, an audio interface, a trusty microphone, and the violin. Make sure you know how to set up your computer for recording, and that you have a reliable audio interface to do the job. Some people like to record with two or more mics for a more dynamic range. Using two mics can capture the highs and lows, you can set up your DAW to record two separate tracks change the track to stereo mode for this process.

You need to make sure that your violin is in good condition. Make sure the bow is in good condition, as well as the strings. An up-to-par violin will significantly have a much better quality when you capture its sound. High-end violins will sound much better when recorded, so make sure you invest or rent a good-sounding instrument, as it will be the root of sound quality.

WHAT KIND OF MIC IS BEST?

Same as recording a grand piano, you can either use a large-diaphragm condenser microphone or a ribbon microphone. You can try out several mic positioning while the violinist is warming up to make sure you find the best range to capture. If you are playing and recording yourself, you will have a chance for more trials. With gaining experience, you can record any acoustic instrument, and more clients will come into your home studio. Here are some of the best mics you can use for the job:

RODE NTR PREMIUM ACTIVE RIBBON MICROPHONE

(Price: $560)

Rode is well-known for creating high-quality mics for music production. A lot of pro music studios use Rode products because of their name is always associated with the quality of their products. This ribbon microphone is suitable for recording vocals as well as acoustic instruments.

Key Features:

  • Figure 8 polar pattern
  • Velocity transducer
  • 20Hz to 20KHz frequency range
  • 3-Pin XLR output
  • Sleek design
  • Heavy-Duty Black matte finish
  • Perfect for recording acoustic instruments such as a classical grand or upright piano

NEUMANN U-87

(Price: $3,000)

This vintage style mic is an excellent mic that is worth the price. It is a large-diaphragm microphone that is suitable for capturing almost any vocal and acoustic instrument tracks. This mic is a classic studio microphone that has three directional characteristics, Omni, cardioid, and figure 8. The features give the mic more functions in a recording session. It has a vintage design that will automatically attract people whoever sets their eyes on this amazing product. Because it is way more expensive than the other mics on the market, I would not recommend that you buy this product unless you are certain that you want to choose this music producer path.

However, you can always sell pre-loved musical instruments. That is another good thing about investing in musical instruments, as long as you take care of them, you can sell them at a reasonable price that is not too low compared to the cost when you bought it.

AUDIO-TECHNICA AT2035 CARDIOID CONDENSER MICROPHONE

(Price: $150)

This product was designed with home music producers in mind. It has the perfect features for every home music or professional music producer’s needs. The wide dynamic range provides excellent versatility for recording vocals and acoustic instruments alike.

Key Features:

  • Handles high sound pressure levels
  • Cardioid polar pattern
  • Reliable performance
  • Large-diaphragm
  • Custom shock mounts for superior isolation
  • Switchable 80Hz high pass filter and a 10dB pad

RECORDING TIPS

Now that you have gathered everything you need let us dive into the recording process. Make sure you have a suitable acoustically-treated room for much better quality. Because the violin is a much smaller instrument than a grand piano, you will not need that much space. You only need the space you would typically use for recording vocals. As long as the room is suitable, you can move on to the basic mic positioning techniques.

  • ROOM

For string players, tiny rooms are not the ideal choice. You will need enough space for the player to move their bows freely without any limitations in the area. A living room in your home would be fit. You can place the violinist in your studio, but an ideal space should be open instead of isolated. However, if your studio is treated, you can also use that assuming it has enough space.

The rule here is: The bigger the room, the better the sound.

  • MIC PLACEMENT

You can use the 3:1 method of recording. It is the same method you would use for recording a grand piano. To learn more about that, click here.

Do not place the first make too close to the instrument. You want a little room for the sound to resonate before reaching the mic. Somewhere along the 3 feet distance is suitable enough. An omnidirectional mic is best to use so that you can capture the sound waves coming in from different directions. If you are going to be using two microphones, you can use two cardioid mics or a combination of a ribbon mic and cardioid mic. (the best choice)

You want to position the mic above the player and closer to where the bow plays. However, to capture the further dynamics, you need to strategically place the mic where it can capture some of the string slips and movements. 

For using two mics, place the ribbon mic closer to the player, and another one further but in the same angle. The mics need some distance away from each other to avoid clashing and phasing when you are in the mixing phase.

COMMON PROBLEMS

The mic is too close to the instrument if you hear these sounds:

  • Crunchy bow noises
  • Lack of balance between all of the strings
  • You can listen to the movement of the player, including their jewelry and other noises

The mic is too far away if you hear or don’t these sounds:

  • Too much reverb and room sounds
  • Lack of low-end frequencies/ the closer the mic is to the instrument the more bass
  • Lack of pizzicato, staccato, or ricochet
  • Cannot hear dynamics clearly

If you experience these noises, you will have to readjust the positioning of your mic/s. Make sure that you do a couple of test runs. You don’t want to tire out the violinist and play the same piece over and over because of production errors. The client might not like that.

ALTERNATIVE WAYS

This method is probably the best method to capture a violin sound clearly and with high-quality. However, for an electric violin, you can simply plug it in the interphase and capture the audio directly. You do not have to worry about mic placement or the room condition. However, for classical music, the acoustic violin displays much more emotion when recorded via a microphone.

If you do not want to go through the trouble of recording a violin, you may also choose to use a MIDI instrument track. You can look for the best VST violin sounds on the internet and purchase them for a lower price, but it will not sound as good as the real thing. Not unless you know the techniques for making a MIDI track with dynamics and emotion. It is all about the articulation. When programming notes on a MIDI track, make sure you try to emulate the way a human violinist would play. A little bit of imperfection can be perfection in a way.

RELATED QUESTIONS:

  • Can I use this method to record other string instruments as well? Yes, you can use this method for recording a cello, viola, or any other stringed instrument in your home recording studio. However, the mic positioning will need a little adjustment, depending on the instrument. Make sure that the mic is positioned over the player and always closer to the bow.
  • Can I record a whole string ensemble using this technique? Recording an entire ensemble will be quite different. You will need more mics to capture every player. You will need overhead mics and individual mics to capture and distinguish each instrument. It is a whole other technique that would be a good topic for a new article.

CONCLUSION

Recording different acoustic instruments are very challenging. However, if you learn and experience them, you have an edge among other producers who stick to MIDI instruments. I’m not saying you will be better than them, but only in this aspect. Even if you have experience recording pianos or stringed instruments, it is always nice to share your knowledge with aspiring and fellow music producers such as yourself.

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