How To Record Piano In 5 Steps [GUIDE]

How To Record Piano In 7 StepsDid you know: recording a piano is more than just placing the microphones near the instrument.

Before recording some conditions must be met.

Here is a step by step guide to successfully record your piano tracks anytime.

  • 1
    Step 1
    Goals
  • 2
    Step 2
    Pianist & Instrument
  • 3
    Step 3
    Microphones
  • 4
    Step 4
    Sound
  • 5
    Step 5
    Recording
  • 6
    Step 6
    Comments



1

Goals of the Recording

piano-microphone-setupFirst of all, you’ll need to know if the recording is going to be a sound registration or sound production.

These two differ from each other.

With sound registration, you record the instrument as it is, while with audio-production you’re going to be considering the desired sound and tonal character of the recording.

When you’re choosing for a dull kind of piano sound, you’re usually going for that romantic vibe.

While within pop production a clear sounding piano is often used.

It doesn’t matter as long as you get the sound that you see fit.

Some differences between lo-fi and hi-fi: ‘Hi-fi’ is used when you want to capture that high definition piano sound, while with a ‘lo-fi’ approach it’s all about the character and effect.

Then you have the no-fi, which doesn’t have any definition.

You can think of a toy piano when talking about no-fi.

Stop!

Sometimes a toy piano is just what you need if it fits the production.

It’s a beautiful sound when it fits the production, while it’s no-fi when it’s unintended ugly!

Usually, you’re not going for ugly, I hope.

Before actually recording the piano, you need to know what you need to get it done.

What resources do you have to accomplish this and how will you even start.

2

The pianist and the instrument

playing-the-pianoBefore you even start recording, you must be sure the pianist knows his part and how it should be played.

If the part can’t be played as it should be, it’s better to postpone the recording to another date.

The point is…

Magic is an innate talent, but it must be honed through practice.

There are a few questions we come across when recording a piano:

  • Does the sound fit the music production?
  • Does the Piano need to be tuned?
  • What about noises like crackle?
  • Is there reverb or echo in the room?
  • If so, does it sound nice?
  • Do we have to use absorption panels of some sort?

If you set a piano in a room, make sure you don’t place it near a wall.

This way you will suppress the first reflection.

The first reflection is the sound that is reflected from the wall to the microphone.

This reflection can sometimes be louder than the direct sound!

The primary goal is to record the direct signal of the instrument.

Therefore,

Stick to the following guideline:

GUIDELINE

Rule of thumb: The distance between the instrument and the wall must be three times as great as the distance from the microphone to the instrument.

  • How is the recording being monitored?
  • Is there a control room, or are headphones being used to monitor?

The most important thing is to know how your monitoring system sounds.

Even if there’s not enough definition in the system (like not enough lows), the engineer should know about this.

And he should also be able to translate this.

The best situation would be to have a dedicated monitoring system, so that you can adjust your settings faster and with ease.

FACT OR FICTION? BIG PIANO’S

Bigger piano’s can give you better low signals when comparing them to smaller piano’s.

It’s not strange because bigger piano’s have bigger strings, this enables the instrument to produce more accurate low tones.

This seems logical right?

But that’s not always the case!

The strings are attached to a bottom, giving a piano its characteristic sound.

With a ‘wing’ or older piano, this bottom can lose its tension.

This will cause the instrument to sound less dynamic.

In that case, a smaller piano might sound better than the big wing.

3

The Microphone

Every microphone has its character; this character has its pros and cons.

One thing that is noticeable is the size of the capsule, which influences the color of the sound.

Usually, with piano’s electrostatic (condenser) microphones are used.

Because these respond faster to air and sound pressure.

It makes your recording sound more clear.

When recording pianos always make sure you use good microphones which give you a clear signal.

If you can’t capture specific frequencies, you can’t add them later. If you want to have a romantic type sound, you can always sculpt it later.

Want to know a Secret?

“Most Engineers use 3 Microphones as the preferred method.”

It’s actually very EASY:

  • Place two of the same Condensor Microphones at about 4 to 8 inches away from the strings, but not too close to the little hammer. These two should be 7 to 12 inches apart from each other (They will be panned left and right)
  • The third microphone will be used to capture the bass. This one will be panned to the center. This centered bass sound will fill the space in the mix and gives a nice stereo effect in combination with the left and right signal.
  • The third microphone (part 2) should be placed at least 3 feet away from the first two mics to avoid phasing problems.
  • Use cardioid polar patterns to get an overall better sound because it’s aimed and doesn’t pick up too much background noise (The mics should be aimed correctly).
  • Place an X, Y cardioid microphone setup with the first two mics. They should be set up at an angle of 45 degrees aimed at the strings. Be aware of the front and back!

You just became a genius engineer!!

I hope so, but wait!

You’re not done yet…

Here is the Solution to finish the whole process

  • The advantage of big condenser mics: they record less noise in contrast to small condensers. Because of its bigger dimension, the outgoing signal has an excellent sound level.
  • A disadvantage of bigger condenser: they color the sound when recording from a wrong angle. The Recording will then sound nasal.

SECRET: Most Engineers use small Condensors because they are more precise

  • Using a low pass filter at 150Hz and 12dB per octave the sound of the third microphone will be adjusted. We only want to capture the bass.
  • We’ll do almost the same with the stereo pair, but instead, we’re going to use the high-pass filter.

Pro Tip:

Experiment with the filter setting of -6, -12 or 24dB per octave. Usually, 12dB will give you the best result.

 

Tadaa… your officially a Genius!!

Nowadays you can’t really find lousy equipment but…

…There is a big difference between amateur or professional sounding equipment.

But if you have a computer with a Digital Audio Workstation and an Audio Interface you can get some decent recordings going.

Do not use the sound card which is built into your PC.

4

Sound Checking

At this stage, it’s important to check which play style on the instrument you want to implement.

This hugely influences the dynamics.

Sometimes the gain of the microphones has to be reset.

This is because we need to adapt to the changing dynamics and loudness.

If it can be arranged, make sure the pianist plays with the same dynamic style when recording.

5

The Recording

Take all of the above steps into consideration, and you’ll be on your way to become a good prepared engineer.

Know your instruments and how to utilize them when recording. Have some fun!

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