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Old February 23rd, 2018, 06:20 PM   #1
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Video of Playing on an Upright Piano - Audio Support Requested

The plan is to make a home video of a couple pieces (one Bach “Praeludium VI”, 2 pages; and one Chopin, 3 pages) played on an upright piano. This is in a residence, room ~ 40 feet long x 18 feet wide with 8-ft ceiling, half carpet, half vinyl floor. The piano is near the middle of the room. To make life easy for the videographer, after a review of the various miking options I’ve decided to go with the “under the keyboard” miking option this time and see how it goes.

Piano hasn’t been tuned recently but, if this session shows any promise then tuning is in the future. The tuning seems “okay” to two individuals with golden ears who normally play on grands. The pedals don’t squeak; however, when they suddenly come up thee is a hard stop. Will discuss pedal noise dampening options with the tuner but will try a chunk of foam rubber, later. Pianist will not wear shoes or have any wrist jewelry. The back of the piano is off but it is a few inches away from the wall.

Mic placement: Since the mics are not a “matched pair”, given that the strings run, left to right: low treble, high treble, low bass, high bass, which mic should be placed on the left and right sides? The C414 XLS on the left (because of it’s high frequency boost) and the XLII on the right? Or maybe vice versa? Bottom edge of keyboard is 25” off the floor and the mics as shown are currently 16” off the floor.

Spacing out from the strings: I’ve read recommendations from 20 cm to a foot, to parallel with the front of the keyboard (18 inches in this case), that’s quite a range.

Spacing between mics: recommendations from 50 cm apart (keyboard -white keys - length ~ 49") to about a foot inboard from the outside of the piano, and angled in slightly.

The AKG C414s have settings, so use cardioid, intermediate, or hypercardoid? Bass roll off: options include 0, 40, 80 and 160 Hz; use 40 or 80 to reduce pedal noise?

There is a preattenuation pad (0, —6, -12, -18), leave at 0 dB?

I’ll be recording to a Tascam DR-44WL then use the tracks for syncing with the cam.
Comment: Not seeking perfection, just a first stab to see how it goes. With regard to comments “trust your hearing”, unfortunately, the good days have gone past. 100W a side and 16” woofers … you get the idea. Just want some ideas for a starting point then I’ll tweak it from there, how’s that?
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Last edited by John Nantz; February 23rd, 2018 at 06:42 PM. Reason: Edit: keyboard length
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Old February 24th, 2018, 12:18 AM   #2
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Re: Video of Playing on an Upright Piano - Audio Support Requested

For aesthetic reasons, I've never recorded an upright by removing panels, which is a well-accepted approach to expose various parts of the innards. Instead, I've placed mics behind the piano to very excellent effect. Because I was short on channel count and mics, the last time I recorded an upright (about a foot away from the wall!) was with a single omni SDC. No, it wasn't stereo, and I ran out of cardioids, but it sounded surprisingly good.

In any case, I think a close-mic technique is the way to go, since uprights aren't meant to emanate into large spaces like concert halls, and so you're not wanting to record ambiance. Below the keyboard in front is going to give a mellower sound because half the strings extend above the keyboard. For a comparatively bright and punchier sound, you can also put a spaced pair right above the piano with the lid open (or off). I've never tried this on an upright, but I've mic'd a few grands with a pair inside a half foot behind the hammers with the lid closed to control bleed in a jazz ensemble; bright and perfect for the context, yes, but not the best for classical fare.

I wouldn't set a high pass filter. Get all the bass the piano has to offer. Set a pad only if you need to. I'd try both mics in cardioid, especially if the room acoustics aren't good.

Can you pull the piano away from the wall a couple of feet to record from behind?
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Old February 24th, 2018, 12:49 AM   #3
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Re: Video of Playing on an Upright Piano - Audio Support Requested

I agree and you don't tend to mic the strings or underneath as the pedal and mechanical noise is a problem, the rear of the piano is a soundboard that resonates.

What we used to do is put a condenser or dynamic mic on the rear soundboard and then another or pair pointing in the top of the piano to pick up more of the hammer and percussive sound.

A grand piano is done similar with one mic at one end near the hammers and the other further down the soundboard. Or a couple of PZM's on the floor underneath.

See what a high pass filter does to the sound as very low resonance can kill a piano tone and make it too muddy. It may also be required to get rid of pedal noise or passing traffic depending on the location.

As for pattern it should not matter too much as the piano is quite loud but don't get the mics too close as you need to let it breathe and pick up some of the resonance of the instrument.

As a side note I did a live concert of Taro Hakase and they put two DPA lav mics inside the lid of a steinway grand with the lid shut, it sounded fantastic so if you need it to look good for video just put a couple of lav mics inside the lid and see what it sounds like?
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Last edited by Gary Nattrass; February 24th, 2018 at 02:16 AM.
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Old February 24th, 2018, 06:54 AM   #4
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Re: Video of Playing on an Upright Piano - Audio Support Requested

I don’t know about the Chopin piece, but the lowest note (in the US: read lowest tone) in the Bach will not be below a cello C (2 octaves below middle C and about 130 Hz) unless it’s an arrangement which doubles some of the LH in octaves.
That may be useful in choosing a HP filter setting.

The Chopin may well go below that.
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Old February 24th, 2018, 10:27 AM   #5
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Re: Video of Playing on an Upright Piano - Audio Support Requested

Steven -
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Originally Posted by Steven Reid View Post
Might I suggest you enjoy some time reading, searching, and listening within the audio sub-forum that Bruce linked above? In addition, I can recommend an excellent book on recording that, I think, more than adequately addresses your points in very accessible prose. (FYI, I've read and learned from it!)
Thanks for info and it appears to be an excellent reference book. It's interesting how much more the hard back is over the paper back version!

The good news is the piano is on casters but the bad news is there is "stuff" around it that'll have to be moved.
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Old February 24th, 2018, 12:03 PM   #6
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Re: Video of Playing on an Upright Piano - Audio Support Requested

Gary -
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Originally Posted by Gary Nattrass View Post
What we used to do is put a condenser or dynamic mic on the rear soundboard and then another or pair pointing in the top of the piano to pick up more of the hammer and percussive sound.
There is a Sennheiser ME-64 cardioid available and could be used as a third mic. I could run it through a JuicedLink pre for cleaner audio.
With regard to the PZM and the grand, I have a "Crown PZM" M/N 12 SG available with a 1/4" phono jack. The paperwork in its box is dated May, 1983. (!). Probably one of the very early generations and maybe it could be considered an antique.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary Nattrass View Post
See what a high pass filter does to the sound as very low resonance can kill a piano tone and make it too muddy. It may also be required to get rid of pedal noise or passing traffic depending on the location.

As for pattern it should not matter too much as the piano is quite loud but don't get the mics too close as you need to let it breathe and pick up some of the resonance of the instrument.
Par 1: Good to know. The filter can be changed with the flick of a switch; however, it takes about 10 minutes to play the piece!!! (but, fortunately, I don't have to play it)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary Nattrass View Post
As a side note I did a live concert of Taro Hakase and they put two DPA lav mics inside the lid of a steinway grand with the lid shut, it sounded fantastic so if you need it to look good for video just put a couple of lav mics inside the lid and see what it sounds like?
I've read about putting mics inside a grand and closing the lid. In a way it seems counter-intuitive and maybe even unbelievable but postings by experienced people who know what they're doing.

For the video part, in this instance, the "mics-under-the-keyboard" option can be videoed without any mics or stands shown using a "close-wide" looking down the keyboard and the B-cam for fingering closeups. Generally speaking, the other options won't be as easy to hide the mic gear but that's okay. It'll look kinda studio-ish.

The piano was intended for use in large rooms like a church or a school and isn't that expensive of a model. The two pianists routinely play on a fully restored Steinway 'golden-era' classic and, surprisingly, they both say they like playing on this piano.

Had an interesting problem yesterday that I'll have to troubleshoot. One of the audio tracks (only checked one so far) appeared to have an occasional missing milli-second spot. Will have to check the other track and see if it has the same problem, and if it is at the same time. One of the cables is a brand new Mogami and the other is one of my old ones. Neither cable was moved during the take but I did mess with the headphones.

Once this is de-bugged I have to break out the light panels, stands, and reflectors.
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Old February 24th, 2018, 12:18 PM   #7
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Re: Video of Playing on an Upright Piano - Audio Support Requested

Colin -
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Originally Posted by Colin McDonald View Post
I don’t know about the Chopin piece, but the lowest note (in the US: read lowest tone) in the Bach will not be below a cello C (2 octaves below middle C and about 130 Hz) unless it’s an arrangement which doubles some of the LH in octaves.
That may be useful in choosing a HP filter setting.
I'm Really impressed! The Chopin piece is a Prelude and it does have some quite low notes.

One of the pianists also plays the cello. And a bit of trivia, one of the first conductors of the Seattle Philharmonic was a woman who also played (and still does) the cello as her favorite instrument. She performed in a string quartet last year; a very senior citizen. Very interesting instrument.
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Old February 24th, 2018, 12:27 PM   #8
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Re: Video of Playing on an Upright Piano - Audio Support Requested

For classical music I would want to have some ambient sound, close miking the piano is good for rock or jazz not so much for classical.
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Old February 25th, 2018, 02:13 PM   #9
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Re: Video of Playing on an Upright Piano - Audio Support Requested

Overstrung uprights in my own experience tend to fall into two distinct categories - those that record well and those that don't. Not so much the quality of the piano, but uprights make mic placement very tricky because of the severe overstraining, which makes finding the right place for the mics very time consuming, and there's often not a perfect position. Taking the front off exposes parts not meant to be exposed, often making the tone suffer quite badly. The lid open/close timbre change is not normally horrible - but opening the front can make the sound hard and quite nasty.

If it's getting on a bit, the felt in the pedal slots as you mention gets hard and thumps - but the same thing happens insides when the dampers hit their end stops.

The local piano tuner here can fix some things quickly when they are global - like the pedal slot problem, but other fixes are done almost note by note! (and are expensive)

It's worth trying your two AKGs looking down into the piano from the top - this works nicely on most Yamaha's and later Kembles.

Experimentation is the thing here. Very few rules. The three pedal upright Yamahas can record quite nicely!

I've been recording some Handel works this week, and the worst thing for me has been the noise the grand makes at the very end of each piece as the sustain pedal is released. It's almost a sound effect, but quite annoying on some of the movements. There's a kind of faint rumble for a second or so rather than silence.

I found this pic from a previous session - not an upright, but a grand - with two types of mic - we do a close mic pair and a distant X/Y because the recordings are for specific purposes. I've not tried the X/Y on an upright from the top?
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Old February 25th, 2018, 03:38 PM   #10
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Re: Video of Playing on an Upright Piano - Audio Support Requested

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Nantz View Post
The plan is to make a home video of a couple pieces (one Bach “Praeludium VI”, 2 pages; and one Chopin, 3 pages) played on an upright piano. This is in a residence, room ~ 40 feet long x 18 feet wide with 8-ft ceiling, half carpet, half vinyl floor. The piano is near the middle of the room. To make life easy for the videographer, after a review of the various miking options I’ve decided to go with the “under the keyboard” miking option this time and see how it goes.
I'm not a big fan of recording the way you show in your picture. Mics are too far apart; you'll end up with multiple mono (hole in the middle) as opposed to actual stereo. As to the mics under the keyboard with the cover removed, you'll get all manner of mechanical noise doing this, which is fine if that's what you're after.

If it were me (and yes, I know it is not), I'd be looking to pull the piano a couple of meters off the wall and mic the soundboard from the back (with all panels in place, especially the one removed in the picture). I'd probably start with an ORTF pair of cardioids to knock down reflections coming from the wall you just pulled the piano off of. Spaced omnis will work too, but I'd start with spacing around 40cm or so. I don't like that "piano as big as a house" sound stage though.

This record the back technique is done a lot, it does not originate with me. It was used on a lot of the Jerry Lee Lewis rock 'n roll records in the 1950s and 60s. Last I heard he was still alive and kicking BTW. ;-). I'm just sayin' that recording the soundboard from the back is a professionally used technique.

More information, a place to start at least, is with the Sound on Sound articles.
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Old February 26th, 2018, 08:16 AM   #11
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Re: Video of Playing on an Upright Piano - Audio Support Requested

I've usually mic uprights for the top and 414s should work good. If the mics cannot be visible, PCC-160s boundary/PZMs taped to the lid underside worked as well. Either way, getting optimal placement is trial and error, and depends on the piano, player and environment.
FWIW, I've put thumb tacks on the hammers of uprights for percussive attack.. more of a honky-tonk type sound.
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Old February 26th, 2018, 11:59 AM   #12
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Re: Video of Playing on an Upright Piano - Audio Support Requested

~Couldn't see the original photo yesterday, but now being on a sensible computer, it strikes me that the hole in the middle doesn't matter too much because that's a string overlap area anyway - The pretty severe overstringing means left and right are going to be pretty confused with the mics in this position - running up from the lowest note, it will go one side, then back, then back again - so while there will be a sense of 'width' it's going to be a bit of a mess. Worse is the creaks from the pedal struts. I'd recommend closing that up again, and recording from the top because that's also nearer the hammers. The overtones from the tail end will sound very strange - and the percussive hammer tones, especially in the right hand are missing from the other end of the strings. You'll be getting soundboard sound, but it's going to be very odd - you would never mic a grand piano from the opposite end to the hammers and dampers.

Last edited by Paul R Johnson; February 27th, 2018 at 01:58 AM.
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Old February 26th, 2018, 10:34 PM   #13
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Re: Video of Playing on an Upright Piano - Audio Support Requested

Cary -
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Originally Posted by Cary Knoop View Post
For classical music I would want to have some ambient sound, close miking the piano is good for rock or jazz not so much for classical.
Had a lay day Sunday and today has been really busy.

Since, and actually before, the original post I've been reading about various miking arrangements for various kinds of music ... very interesting. So much to learn!
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Old February 26th, 2018, 10:52 PM   #14
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Re: Video of Playing on an Upright Piano - Audio Support Requested

Paul -
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Originally Posted by Paul R Johnson View Post
Overstrung uprights in my own experience tend to fall into two distinct categories - those that record well and those that don't. ....

If it's getting on a bit, the felt in the pedal slots as you mention gets hard and thumps - but the same thing happens insides when the dampers hit their end stops.
This upright is all I have to work with but I'm looking forward to doing some video with good audio on the grand I mentioned earlier. This is more of a stepping stone. While I was watching closely the pedal movement on the Chopin piece, I didn't hear any associated thumps. Doesn't mean they weren't there, but I was watching and didn't hear any.

By the way, we got a really late start Saturday for the shoot due to a number of issues and then we more or less ran out of time so there were only two takes. Looking at the audio afterward, it appears the Tascam was set a little lower than I would have liked and the cam's audio a little higher that I would have liked. Hope to get another opportunity in a few weeks.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul R Johnson View Post
It's worth trying your two AKGs looking down into the piano from the top - this works nicely on most Yamaha's and later Kembles.

Experimentation is the thing here. Very few rules. The three pedal upright Yamahas can record quite nicely!
Going down from the top would be an easy option here. Question: with the top partially open or full open (if it can go full open)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul R Johnson View Post
I've been recording some Handel works this week, and the worst thing for me has been the noise the grand makes at the very end of each piece as the sustain pedal is released. It's almost a sound effect, but quite annoying on some of the movements. There's a kind of faint rumble for a second or so rather than silence.
Don't remember where I read it, but I asked the pianist to sustain the last note instead of just ending it but I think she forgot on the first piece.
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Old February 26th, 2018, 10:57 PM   #15
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Re: Video of Playing on an Upright Piano - Audio Support Requested

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Originally Posted by Rick Reineke View Post
I've usually mic uprights for the top and 414s should work good.
Sounds like a plan, what heights seem to work good?

I might try playing myself a bit now that this shoot is over - took a few piano lessons years ago (Book 1), to see how it sounds.
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