I have several recordings that feature a small string section - quartet probably. The parts sound like they were recorded just once - you can hear the individual players.

If you were to multitrack record a string quartet playing the same music a dozen times or so, would the final recording sound like a big group? If not, what could you do to make it sound like a big group?

I know you can multitrack a single voice to sound like a choir - so I wondered if there any recordings that do something similar for strings?

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    You could try multitracking with a very slight delay, and or chorus, which ought to give the sound of players all playing at very slightly different timings, and vibrato that wasn't exactly the same, much as you'd get with an ensemble. I have the same sort of problem making horns sound like many, when playing with, say, a trumpet sound on keys. 5 or 6 notes don't sound like 5 or 6 different players blowing together, live.
    – Tim
    Nov 13 '17 at 13:45
  • Well, do you know how the single voice gets multitracked? Following that procedure would seem a good start here. I might add to @Tim 's comment that adjusting the dynamics on a per-fake-player basis would come closer to what actually happens in an orchestra. Nov 13 '17 at 14:15
  • Tim - an experiment [one I've used a lot even with 'keyboard' strings & horns] Play each part as a solo part, not as a 'keyboard player's ensemble'. Pan, eq & fx as if each player had a different relationship to the mic & room, & you can really get quite close.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 13 '17 at 17:41
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    For the verses in "Time Is Running Out" (by Muse), the guitarist Matt Bellamy took one guitar part and recorded in multiple passes, playing only one string of the guitar on each pass. When played back together, it mostly sounds like one guitar playing the chord progression with really good string definition. So there's precedent for all kinds of crazy tricks along these lines. Nov 13 '17 at 17:46
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    Example where I've done this – an entire orchestral string section, recorded with only two instruments in a large room, each take in a different seat position, violas transposed via vari-speed (i.e., recorded at ½ the intended speed, so the final pitch is one octave up). It was a ridiculous amount of work for a very short passage, and it doesn't sound quite proper, but yeah, I daresay it does work. Nov 14 '17 at 0:01

It's possible. It would require a lot of patience & perhaps also some ingenuity.

Ideally you would want a large room, so you could mic it as though it had a full string section, & for each new take, move the players to new seats.
Note whilst doing this you would run out of seats for the basses long before the violins. Bear that in mind as you arrange your tracking.

Consider also, whether for a full arrangement, it would continue to just be 4-part, or whether a fuller arrangement could be contemplated... also whether you ought to consider a bass, not just cello at the bottom end. You could score this in advance, or depending on the players, let them wing it & see what happens.

Not having the above wouldn't preclude you trying, but would limit the 'expanse' of the final recording.
Try moving the mics slightly between takes; get the players to handle the performance differently - perhaps suggest they could mimic different styles per take - things to make each take sound different. Part of the overall sound of a large section is the differences in each performance, contributing towards the whole.
The one thing you will not really be able to fake, except perhaps to some extent with EQ, is that not only each player in a large section will sound different, but their instruments will also have different timbres.

You might think about adding very subtle amounts of short echo to increase the apparent number of players [I would keep it wider than the real instruments' panning to give it further distance], but personally I would spend the time getting as many takes as you can.
You can gain apparent width in multi-tracks by panning in an arc [not a flat line] across the sound-field, bearing in mind where each instrument's 'home' would be in a large orchestra - though putting 2nd violins on the right can be interesting.
Avoid spreading the basses too far, keep them just right of centre.

Also, I would avoid the temptation to use chorus... it has a distinctive sound. OK for pop, maybe, but I would avoid it for anything vaguely approaching classical.


Absolutely. You can do this for all kinds of things, and it has been done for all kinds of instruments over the years. "Bohemian Rhapsody" is a famous example of doing this with vocals. A lot of rhythm guitar and backing vocal parts are double tracked in pop and rock music.

This is done for orchestral instruments but I'm not sure how widespread that is. It may be cheaper many times to hire a larger group for a shorter amount of time than to hire fewer musicians but need them to be around twice or four times as long to keep layering up.

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    If your budget is zero, or close to, finding a few friends prepared to spend the day doing overdubs is definitely on the cards ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 13 '17 at 17:35
  • I'm surprised about Rhapsody. Isn't that lots of different harmonies done by the same two or three people? The OP is asking about, I think, the exact same music by the same four players, which may be quite different.
    – Tim
    Nov 13 '17 at 18:09
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    @Tim Bohemian Rhapsody is both. Each of the vocal lines is layered up by re-recording multiple passes of each line, with the different vocals lines together forming the harmonies. One source claims a total of 180 overdubs for the whole song. Nov 13 '17 at 18:17

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