Welcome to Day 19 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

Whether you’re recording audio or MIDI, if you’re using some sort of DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), then you should have the ability to record takes.

What are takes? Takes are simply multiple attempts at recording the same part.

3-5 Full Takes

Whenever I record a lead vocal, I almost always record 5 takes. That means I have the singer sing through the entire song five times. At that point, as long as the singer is comfortable and singing well, I’ll be able to piece together one awesome take from those five takes.

When I record acoustic guitar, I usually record at least 3 takes.

Somewhere from 3-5 seems to be the magic number for me.

If the musician is comfortable with doing full takes (meaning he/she knows the song well and is comfortable with playing it in its entirety several times), then I would default to this approach to recording takes every time.

Recording full takes of the song is just a natural way to do it. It causes the musician to focus on the song as a whole, rather than focusing too hard on a specific section of the song. It removes a lot of pressure and lets the musician just…play.

If you can capture 3-5 confident, high-energy, passionate takes, then you’re well on your way to a great-sounding recording.

If, after recording 5 takes, there’s one section that he/she never really “nailed,” then it’s fine to go back and punch in a few takes of just that one section. Again, I would do several of these as well, so there’s no pressure on the musician to get it done in one take. (Don’t underestimate how much psychology goes into the recording process.)

The Section-by-Section Approach

There’s another way you can approach recording takes. Rather than recording multiple full takes, simply record one section until you get it right, then move on to the next section.

This approach is particularly helpful if:

  • The musician doesn’t know the song very well.
  • The musician is getting frustrated with having to do full takes.
  • You’re in a hurry.

The musician doesn’t know the song very well.

This is what I did with my bass player/brother-in-law Joel on my album Out of Indiana. I hadn’t played my songs for him much before our tracking sessions. He would just show up, I’d write up a chord chart, and we’d plug through the song.

We’d basically go through section by section. Record the intro…good? Good. Record the verse. Good? Eh…let’s change this note. Okay. Record the verse again…good? Good.

This doesn’t work very well if the musician isn’t very consistent, since each section will sound fairly different. Joel, however, is a stellar bass player, so I didn’t have to worry about that. (And he came up with some SICK bass parts.)

The musician is getting frustrated with having to do full takes.

Sometimes recording full takes can be exhausting, particularly if the musician just isn’t “feeling it.” Trying to go section by section can be really helpful. Record 3 takes of the first verse, then move on. It’s worth a shot.

You’re in a hurry.

This is never a really good idea, to record in a hurry, but it happens. Depending on the song/musician, it may be faster to go section by section (like I did with Joel), rather than spending time recording lots of full takes.

Day 19 Challenge

Which approach to recording takes do you use? Why? Your challenge is to try the other approach and tell us what you think.

  • Hi, my question relates to the amount of takes a recording engineer utilzes in a session. Is it standard, or should I say common practice to record 5-10 times (verses, adlibs, dubs, choruses, intros, outros, etc) to get the “fullness” of that vocal before mixing them?

    • If you’re talking about actually playing all of the vocal takes TOGETHER, then no. IF there’s any doubling, it’s usually just two vocals.

      Otherwise, if you’re asking how many takes people normally record, I’d say 3-5.

  • Joe R.

    I use both.

    I will do sections for Vocals or Lead guitar (not always)
    For the most part I track the entire song. I feel it more. I just put it on a loop so I do not even have to think about the DAW

  • Arjun Ramesh

    I have tried both methods, even on myself and honestly, both are tools. I cannot really choose one over the other. When I recorded a cover song I recently did, I really wanted to challenge myself, both as a musician and as an engineer. So, I would play the song on Youtube, figure out the guitar chords and piece it together in my head. After I felt comfortable enough, I tracked the guitar parts and compared it. When I was off a bar or two, I ended up trying to add that section in and it didn’t sound right, so I recorded a full take, which came out perfect. Then, I pulled up the lyrics on screen. Listened to the song again, piece by piece (Verse 1), quickly memorized it, tracked it. Then, looked up Verse 2, memorized it, tracked it, etc. So, I did full takes on the guitars and section by section on the vocals and it turned out great. With artists, I prefer that they do full takes, if possible, as sometimes, section by section can tend to cause the artist to be overly critical of their performance, when they really do not need to be.

  • Preshan

    I almost always record section by section for vocals, but guitars / keyboards etc. very often is in a single take for the whole song. It’ll be fun to try full takes of vocals and comping the best performance from there.

  • Matt

    When possible, with vocals I’ll do 4 or 5 full takes and comp the best bits into one track. If the vocalist is tired or not very consistent, I’ll get one good take and then punch in parts that need fixing. With instruments, I usually do as many takes as the musician needs to feel they got the right performance down. Sometimes it is a matter of comp’ing takes together and sometimes its just a matter of relaxing into the pocket.

  • Cush

    On drums, bass, and rhythm guitar I generally do takes and then comp from there. Lead guitar I do sections, unless the guitar is more texture type lead than solo-y lead. Vocals I generally do 1-2 full takes for the vocalist to find the vibe, and then there’s usually a lot of section work and punching from there.

    However, when it comes to any insturment (especially vocals) if the musician is more comfortable with a certain method, I’ll give that a shot first.

  • Paras Pradhan

    If the song is full of solos and is a rock/metal instrumental, I would say section by section for ease.

  • No matter what, every time I think it’s a wrap, I’ll have the musician do one more take, just to be sure. It’s been proven to be a life-saver!

  • Everett Meloy

    I record 3 – 5 takes but haven’t tried recording a song by sections.

  • Simo

    I usually record the vocals section by section, as you said, to focus on one single, small part of the song. I’d rather record instruments in full takes but this happens only when I work with good musicians…
    Today I tried to record vocals with a full take…not bad, it can help to keep the same “intention” (I don’t know if it’s the right word…) during the whole take, while with the other approach sometimes you can really hear one part singed with a different feeling

  • I usually record in sections, and sometimes, my sections are as small as phrases. I guess that stems from my experience as a session singer in Nashville. We never sang a full song top-to-bottom; likely because there was a producer in the booth with the engineer who was just listening to the performance.

    When I have a singer in the studio, I’ll usually let them record a couple of full-takes to warm up and then we’ll piece the third one together punching in/out. On the third take, I’m really listening for the subtle things that need to be improved from the first two.

    I’ve found that I almost always keep the third take as the final.

  • Christopher w

    I often use the full-take method, its only when I can’t get in the groove that I use the step by step method. it works well for me.

  • Lukas

    I often take the full-take approach, however there are times when section-by-section way just works better. It really depends on how well the musician is prepared and rehearsed. Sometimes it takes only two full takes and you can call it a day. Other times, when say, the talent has a worse day and can’t get past the verse, we’d just move on to a next section and come back to the verse later. It’s all matter of adapting your recording techniques to whatever comes up during the session, I think.

  • I’ve always done section by section. This is simply because my equipment wouldn’t let me do full takes without stopping me in the middle of one. I’ve just recently solved my problem, and I got a new interface so I will be recording full takes now.

  • Frank Adrian

    What I do depends on what part I’m playing at the time. If I’m recording my own vocals, I’ll do it section-by-section (where by section, I mean an entire verse or chorus or bridge or climb); if I’m playing bass, it will probably be the whole song; if I’m playing rhythm guitar, it will probably still be sectional, but with longer sections. Leads and fills always get overdubbed sectionally, as do backing vocals. And, if you’re recording sectionally, you’ll still record a few measures in and out to get a nice, wide area to pick crossfade points from.

    I dislike small-scale punching because you can almost never get the same tone or energy quality when you do that. I’ll almost always re-record sectionally rather than punching measures. The only instrument that I do any small-scale punching on is bass because individual bass takes seem to meld better. My assumption is that this is because I DI it, so it’s relatively “non-effected” and has no tonal variation due to room characteristics and mike placement; and, because it’s mainly low frequency and single notes, one doesn’t have a huge amount of tonal character change during parts.

  • Bob Sorace

    I always record in sections for vocals since I’m not the greatest singer and it just feels better. Guitar and bass I will play through the whole song and then punch in anything I missed.
    I was just recording vocals last night and recorded five takes of each chorus, they all came out pretty good so I recorded them all to a seperate track and put some compression on it. It sounded good last night but I like to go back and listen with fresh ears, so we’ll see if it still sounds good.

    Is that ok to do? Taking five seperate vocal tracks and bouncing them to one track? I pan each track seperatly, have some delay on the outside with the middle tracks left dry with EQ and a little compression on each track. I only do it because the CPU usage goes through the roof with the plug-ins, then I can hide and de-activate all of the vocal tracks and I just have the one.

    • Bob Sorace

      Oh, I forgot to mention that I’m bouncing to a stereo track and pan hard left and hard right. Thanks.

  • mgjr73

    I prefer to do both. I will record maybe 3 full takes and then make surgical strikes on offending sections for vocals and instruments.

  • it also depends on the style of music. in rap, its rare to do a full takes of songs.
    verses yes, full songs no. I always record in sections.