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Old November 25th, 2014, 03:38 PM   #1
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Microphone setup for recording piano

Hi all,

I have been asked to record a piano player in his home, and it got me thinking about the best way to record a large instrument like the piano.

From a bit of reading, 2 identical mics seem to be preferred (I have a Rode NTG2 and an NT2A).

Basically I'm wondering if it would be enough to just use the NT2A on a stand above the piano. Or would it be beneficial to also use the NTG2 somehow? I realise that shotgun microphones don't lend themselves well to this sort of work, especially indoors.

Any info appreciated :)
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Old November 25th, 2014, 04:03 PM   #2
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Re: Microphone setup for recording piano

What kind of piano? Grand or upright? It will depend what you are going to use the recording for and how much room you want to capture in your recording. What are the accoustics of the room like? If it isn't too bad you could use just one mic but I'd prefer a matched pair above and back about 8' set in a simple X-Y.

f my goal is to isolate the piano and all I have are two matched mics I would split the soundboard in thirds and place the mics in between each third.

For the piano I prefer recording in stereo so that I can give it a little bigger imaging and open up the sound.

The key to getting a good recoding is to play with your set up so you get the best balance of instrument and room for your needs.
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Old November 25th, 2014, 04:11 PM   #3
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Re: Microphone setup for recording piano

Pianos are one of the most difficult instruments to record.. at least to get professional results.
A matched pair of LDC mics are the usual go-to mics, but placement varies from one piano and room to the next. I would use a shotgun only if nothing else were available (on planet earth).
Have the piano tuned just prior to the session.
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Old November 25th, 2014, 05:44 PM   #4
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Re: Microphone setup for recording piano

Thanks for that.

So if 1 mic was the only option, would the result not be any good?

It is being recorded in a regular house, not a recording booth of any kind.

Apologies, my audio recording knowledge is limited!
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Old November 26th, 2014, 05:03 AM   #5
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Re: Microphone setup for recording piano

If it is an upright the best results can be had from miking the soundboard at the rear of the piano, some people also like to open the lid and place a mic above it.

A single mic can actually give quite good results and I would go with a condensor and not a shotgun mic. If you can get a matched pair then even better for stereo.

You can add stereo ambience or reverb to make it more realistic and within the context of the room it is in.

A grand piano can be done in several ways and I have done them with AKG 414's placed inside, PZM mics on the floor below the soundboard and even two DPA lav mic's inside with the lid closed.
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Old November 26th, 2014, 07:35 AM   #6
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Re: Microphone setup for recording piano

+1 on mic from the rear for an upright, especially if there are pages being turned. Helps with noisy pedals and muttering performers too :-)

+1 on having it tuned, which should be done afterwards if you are having to move it to get at the back to place mics.

Get help when moving a piano even if it's only a upright - they can tip over easily if you pull them the wrong way. Ideally let the piano tuner move it - they should be insured.
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Old November 26th, 2014, 10:16 AM   #7
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Re: Microphone setup for recording piano

All the above advice is good.

If it's an upright in a relatively small room, pull it out from the wall, at least five or six feet if possible. Rotate so the back of the piano is not parallel to the wall. If possible, hang some blankets on that wall, to minimize reflections. Then mic as described above.

Micing an upright from the back will give a more mellow sound; micing from the top will give a more percussive sound, with more action noise.

You will be amazed at the variety of different sounding recordings you can get from the same instrument. But keep in mind that you will never get the sound of a concert piano in a concert hall, if you are recording in a living room. There will be some degree of standing wave issues, which will accentuate some frequencies and attenuate others. The closer you mic, the less noticeable that shoud be. But the closer you mic the piano, the further you will be from the "concert hall" sound. And in any event, you won't have anything even vaguely like the ambience and reverberation of a concert hall.

So if you undertake this project, make sure your client understands all of this up front. You can give them a reasonably accurate recording of the way their home piano sounds in their home. On your first try, it will probably not sound like anything that's been released commercially. And it will never sound like a big piano recorded in a big space.

Last edited by Greg Miller; November 26th, 2014 at 03:30 PM.
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Old November 26th, 2014, 01:21 PM   #8
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Re: Microphone setup for recording piano

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jody Arnott View Post
I have been asked to record a piano player in his home, and it got me thinking about the best way to record a large instrument like the piano.

From a bit of reading, 2 identical mics seem to be preferred (I have a Rode NTG2 and an NT2A).

Basically I'm wondering if it would be enough to just use the NT2A on a stand above the piano. Or would it be beneficial to also use the NTG2 somehow? I realise that shotgun microphones don't lend themselves well to this sort of work, especially indoors.
First things first -- politely decline this request. If you need an excuse, it's because you don't have the equipment for it.

Next, if you want to record music, it's probably a good idea to start just about anywhere other than a piano. Piano, no matter what the type or where it's located, is perhaps the most difficult instrument to record well. Or even to record acceptably.

Piano is all about the instrument, the player, the room, the mics, and the mic placements. IOW, it's a huge multi-variable problem. Some links for you:

Piano Recording
Recording Real Pianos
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Old November 26th, 2014, 05:46 PM   #9
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Re: Microphone setup for recording piano

Thanks all. Appreciate the input.
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Old November 27th, 2014, 09:40 AM   #10
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Re: Microphone setup for recording piano

+1 on everything above, even when it's contradictory. Welcome to the world of piano recording.

My wife is a concert pianist and has played with some chamber music groups so I HAVE TO record piano - no way to escape!

Honestly, you just have to move the mics around and play with position and fully open vs short stick (on a grand piano) until you like what you hear. I use a Schoeps MS pair (Omni & Figure 8). I have a DPA mic semi permanently mounted under the lid - it works well but I get more "string" in the recording than I really like - we usually just use it for her to review practice sessions.

The usual catch phrase is that a well positioned inexpensive mic is better than an expensive mic poorly placed, but for piano, particularly a grand piano, I think it's unlikely that a low end mic will cut it regardless of where it's placed - the sound is just too complex and powerful and originates from too wide an area. I think this is a case where it has to be a high-end mic properly placed.

I really hate it when you get a stereo spread that has the bass and treble separated so I always want enough air between the piano and the mic to blend the sound and record from roughly in front of the piano. I also like the omni for the same reason.

It's a tough call how much "string" sound you want - for classical I don't want any "plunk" at all, but for other genres you might like the percussive or twangy effect - this will also play into mic choice and placement.

I sort of like the "I don't have the equipment to do it right" suggestion.

Of course, if it's just an amateur pianist playing for fun who just wants to hear themselves, then go for it and have fun.
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Old November 27th, 2014, 10:50 AM   #11
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Re: Microphone setup for recording piano

Or you could explain that all the variables (different pianos, different rooms, different musical genres) mean you can't just walk in off the street and get a perfect recording. Then schedule a test session free of charge. That would provide experience and education for you, and would give you a good "out" if you never got results that met the client's expectations. I think a lot of this depends on the personal relationship between you and the client.
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Old November 29th, 2014, 08:06 AM   #12
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Re: Microphone setup for recording piano

[quote]First things first -- politely decline this request... [\quote]

A key question here is paid client or free for a friend? I hope the latter, then you can make it a fun day with good food and beverages as you try different setups to find what sounds best.

If paid, go to great lengths to manage expectations. Mic selections are very personal things, and if you are not already in the audio recording business can be a venture into uncharted waters. Mic manufacturers typically provide suggestions as to which mics they recommend for which instrument, and suggestions on placement as well. They are worth reviewing.
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Old November 29th, 2014, 11:29 AM   #13
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Re: Microphone setup for recording piano

This website for Schoeps has a lot of information, drill down past the intro page and you will find a detailed variety of piano (as well as other) recommended setups: Schoeps Microphone Showroom

Interestingly, they have an interactive audio setup so you can actually hear the results of different placements.
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Old November 29th, 2014, 11:20 PM   #14
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Re: Microphone setup for recording piano

The DPA website also has (maybe had - it's a while since I went there) a lot of info re piano recording.

Assuming this is a serious endeavor, I think the first and foremost requirement is to have a very good concept of how you and the performer want the piano to sound (ie do you want to hear the keys? the strings, etc) and how you want it to be placed in the stereo field (Bass to the left, treble to the right - I hate it but it isn't up to me). Also, what genre? Modern classical usually sounds good with a more percussive or more "stringy" sound. Bach sounds good with a crisp sound and maybe it doesn't hurt to hear a hint of the action and strings at work, not too mellow, sort of reminiscent of the harpsichord, And on and on and on

What I'm trying to get at is that to make it work you and the pianist have to think this through - it doesn't hurt to have studied piano yourself for that matter. A full size (or concert size) grand piano is a huge source and it sounds different every time you move a few inches.

Every pianist and piano sounds different. I remember when we moved to the US from Japan and my wife was looking for a new piano. We went to a Steinway dealer where they had six "identical" grand pianos in a row. She played all of them. A couple of days later she wanted to go back and try one of them again. They were all still lined up in the same place so she sat down and played for a couple of minutes - then asked the dealer where the piano was that used to be in that spot. He admitted that they had in fact moved it to a different location.

If this is for broadcast or the equivalent, respectfully decline the honor.on some of the grounds alluded to above. If it's for fun - go for it. It would be a wonderful way to play with placement and learn about recording this marvelous instrument.
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Old December 1st, 2014, 09:29 AM   #15
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Re: Microphone setup for recording piano

Last time I had to do this, I opened the top to half stick and boomed a pair of Schoeps in X/Y in.

Time before that, I taped two Countryman EMW lavs on the inside of the closed lid.

Customers were very happy in each occasion.

Regards,

Ty Ford
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