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Old November 9th, 2005, 12:40 PM   #1
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Recording grand piano

Hi all,

What would be the best way to record the music from a grand piano? I want the recorded music to be crystal clear. What kind of mike should I use and where should I put it?

This is for a short movie where a girl plays at the piano (not incidental music). As I record the music I will also be shooting video with 2 cameras, one on a medium shot of the girl, the other on an insert of her hands. Making this even more complicated, the first camera is likely to be on a steadycam, moving around the piano. Therefore, I need to position the mike in a position where it can't be seen. Wide shots and close-ups will be shot separately, and layed over the music track thereafter, so I'm not recording sound for these.

Recording the music before-hand and playing it on set (as if doing a videoclip) is not a possibility, because I want the music to be improvised and spontaneous (and that is even more important to me than the quality of the sound).
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Old November 9th, 2005, 02:25 PM   #2
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1. Use condenser mics.
2. Put the mics inside the piano or as close as possible.
3. Mic both the bass and treble sides of the piano

* if you only have one mic, put it on the bass side of the piano - it's easier to brighten up the bass, than it is to "re-create" it from the treble side.

Personally, I'd rent a DAT or 2nd camera with phantom power, just for the sound.

My initial gut feeling is to go with hyper-cardiods because it's easier to get just the sound you want and you can add the ambience later. But you might want to experiment with a cardioid, it may be able to pull in sounds that make the sound "cleaner", though you may be stuck with un-wanted ambience in post.
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Old November 9th, 2005, 02:33 PM   #3
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What he said. Get large diaphragm condensers like a Neumann u87 or u47 (if you can afford it) or AKG 414s are good for this as well (and smaller/easier to hide).
Of course, you could shoot the video and then overdub another take onto that. That way you don't have to hide (suffocate) the mics.
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Old November 9th, 2005, 09:33 PM   #4
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Jean-Francois,

I have up-loaded a piano clip just for you. I made about two years ago.
BG info: on the "performance night" out of three cameras, I ended up with one wide from the audience (the other two guys did not feel appropriate to "buzz around" during performance, and from where they stood, the image was not usable.

5 minutes is a lot more than anyone can take to watch a video of a piano player from a static shoot (beginning and end).

I took the theatre two weeks latter for two hours to spice it up. 14 takes (5 cameras for one performance and other 9 other takes for real inserts). Two days to cut the sound in one piece from about 3 or 4 of the takes (well over 50 cuts, listen if you can spot them) and another 4 days for the picture. (no, he did not play it as you see it, he made mistakes)

The best sound (imo) from a grand would be from above the piano. There is a resonance of the chords, even when they are not played (from the other ones) which, if the mics would be too close would be lost. The sound level should be waaay down (inside piano to cut distortions and the natural resonance would be attenuated) sorry to contradict you Michael. Best of all, TEST, TEST, TEST and do the best. I will not comment on the equipment (what sort of mics) for I don't know. Learn from other people’s mistakes and good luck. Here is the file; 20Mb for 5 minutes:

http://rapidshare.de/files/7422295/b...r_web.wmv.html

Scroll down and click on “Free”, it will start uploading in one minute. I'd be happy to see and hear your finished product as I am an addict to classical music.
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Old November 9th, 2005, 09:50 PM   #5
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What about a boundary mic on the inside of the lid? I think I've heard of people doing it like that.
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Old November 9th, 2005, 09:50 PM   #6
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Either "Mix" or "Sound on Sound" magazine had an comprehensive article on mic'ing and recording piano just a couple of months ago. You might Google their websites and search their online articles
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Old November 9th, 2005, 09:56 PM   #7
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Try a Barcus Berry. It's this weird microphone if it can be called that that sticks to the underside of the piano. They have great sound and they're virtually invisible to cameras.
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Old November 9th, 2005, 10:50 PM   #8
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A PZM mic to record a piano....I've used several brands over the years for this...........
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Old November 9th, 2005, 11:05 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dan Diaconu
sorry to contradict you Michael. Best of all, TEST, TEST, TEST and do the best
Naw, that's a really good point about getting the resonance of the other strings + the wooden case. And, mic'ing above is a really good idea, if possible.

Here's the SOS article on mic'ing pianos.
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Old November 14th, 2005, 10:24 AM   #10
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Wow, lots of information, thanks a lot. I need to think this over, and hopefully do some tests. It won't be for a while though (maybe in late December or January).
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Old November 16th, 2005, 05:56 AM   #11
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There is a hugely informative discussion of microphone design and placement techniques on the homerecording.com forum, which is a bit like an on-line seminar conducted by an old-hand recording engineer called Harvey Gerst. It includes a section on recording pianos - see post #280, "Pianos and Mics - No Simple Solutions", and the subsequent discussion. A couple of the things I picked up from it are:
* Small capacitor mics are preferable to large (with large caps. "the response changes as the sound enters from different angles and the larger mics add coloration ").
* In the context of video, and not wishing to have mics in the shot, the most interesting suggestion is to try placing a pair of mics underneath the instrument. After all, it's the sound-board you are listening to, which lies below the strings (in a grand piano). Might be worth a try...

(You can down-loaded a Word document version of the thread from this page...)
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Old November 16th, 2005, 09:22 AM   #12
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A ton of information - some a little 'confused'?

If the recording was for audio only - then for any comparison with commercial recordings, you won't find the suggestions for mics inside much help. Much also depends on if you want mono or stereo. The piano is one of a small group of instruments that has considerable stereo width - mainly because the lowest and highest notes come from a different physical location. Most times (and especially in BBC radio history) a single or stereo pair a short distance away work best. Lid on full stick, the mics in the gap created by the curve on the treble side.This seems to give a natural and open sound, without being overshadowed by the mechanical action noise.

inside the lid is a compromise - trade off the less visible microphones, for better visuals, but a worse audio track. The soundboard means that miking up the bass end usually results in dull, thumpy inarticulated sound quality. The bass strings are also much longer, and close in, shift the overall balance to the bass end. So, a single mic is best placed somewhere favouring the treble strings. If you need even lower visibility there are a couple of tricks I've found useful. If it is a Yamaha piano (it doesn't seem to work on other makes) then the sound from UNDERNEATH is pretty good. Nowhere near as good as doing it properly, but quite acceptable. If this isn't for you, then a Senheisser MKE-2 on a thin wire support works quite well. I know it's omni but this actually helps. If you use a radio pack, you can even do away with cables totally. Close miking a piano is good for volume in a live situation, but I've never found anything close that reveals the 'quality' of the instrument. Barcus Berry and other similar pickups are great for PA applications, but just don't sound like a real piano, rather like a very good synthesised one.

If you have real problems, and the pianist is not one likely to move about too much, then an omni head worn will produce a sound quite like the pianist hears when playing. Gentle eq can often salvage piano sounds quite well,as long as you have captured the full frequency range.
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Old November 16th, 2005, 03:38 PM   #13
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I've occasionally heard mention of recording a
grand from the bottom/underneath?
The advantage with this would be that
the mic would be inconspicuous during
a live performance.
Has anyone ever tried this, say by placing a
cardioid on the floor facing upward?
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Old November 16th, 2005, 04:10 PM   #14
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Okay, so far we've had inside the piano, underneath the piano, and above the piano. Is there a bad way to record a piano? :)
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Old November 16th, 2005, 05:05 PM   #15
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A bad way to record a piano? well, dynamics usually sound poorer than condensers.

Dave asked about miking from below. I mentioned briefly that it sometimes works. On Yamahas, especially C3s there is a large wooden spar runs accross the bottom. passing the mic cable around it and then taping the mic back to its own cable so it is about 12 " below the soundboard, about 24" from the keyboard end works quite well - a mic with a narrower pick up pattern is even better. With a bit of eq - the sound is surpisingly clean and realistic. I've tried this on quite a few other makes and it sounds simply awful - most texts on piano miking say don't do it from underneath - it just seems Yamaha works. Actually, it is worth listening to the sound coming from the 'holes' in the soundboard in the cutaway section - again, this shouldn't work but often does. I guess the real secret is to have a mic and a pair of headphones and try to find that magic sweet spot - then work out how to keep the mic there!
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