How to Mic a Piano ( & Record Music in High Quality )

Miking a piano might seem simple, but it’s quite a tricky task. When someone asks “How to mic a piano ?” You might say that all you need to do is open its lid, and throw a bunch of microphones inside and you’re done, right? Nope.

There is a lot more that goes into recording a piano. The acoustic piano is a complex instrument that is capable of wide range of frequencies and dynamics, which make it very difficult to record on stage ( or even in a studio ). There are tons of ways you can do it, in this article, I’ve mentioned a few.

One important point of a piano is that you need to keep high strings on player’s right, and low strings go on player’s left.

Usually, separate microphones are used for these sections. The prime issue is whether or not to pan the microphones or not. This is something that even Mozart has struggled with. A lot of people also argue that it is unrealistic to have the low strings coming from one side and high string from other. So, make the judgment before recording.

Miking a Grand Piano

miking a grand piano

Points to Keep in Mind

  • A concert grand piano is definitely among the largest, and at the same time, most versatile instruments in the world.
  • To capture the full dynamics and natural timbre of this kind, you need both quality recording equipment and skill.
  • The grand piano performs differently depending on the room that it is placed in.
  • No two rooms are alike; thereby the recording method would be different as per location and situation.
  • On top of that, how the elegant instrument is placed also influences the miking process.

The grand piano is often referred as king of instruments, and to ensure you’re able to capture sound in high quality, you need the best microphone

What factors influence the most

  1. As I mentioned above, room acoustics are important factors when you want to record a grand piano. You’ll want to judge whether or not your room would be good for piano.
  2. The grand piano is ideally built to be played in concert halls, where the reverberation times are automatically tuned between 0.9 seconds to 1.3 seconds at 500hz. Wagner designed a concert hall especially for playing music which had the reverberation time of around 2 seconds!
  3. When your lid is open, your piano is capable of giving top-notch experience to the audience. If you’re recording in a studio, this must be put into the account. The first, and hardest thing to do is finding a good location.
  4. The repertoire to be played also affects the choice of recording method. If its the case of classical piano music, it deserves a natural blend of ambiance. When it comes to composers, different composers have different characteristics, which often leaves little or more space for ambiance to impact music.

Recommended Microphones

pair of rode ntk

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If you’re a treated environment, look no further than the blumlien pair to recreate possibly the most natural sound of the piano. In case you don’t know, Blumlien was named after Alan Blumlien, who was an English electronics engineer. He invited this recording technique that proved to be the best technique to recreate spatial characteristic of the piano. If you consult with a musician, he/she will agree that this is one of the most common ways to mic a piano. The technique works by using two bi-directional microphones that are positioned 90 degrees from each other and as close as possible ( to one another ).

Due to the placement, it gives a 360* image of sound that is coming from the piano and room. But before you start recording, always double check to ensure that your mics are picking up sound from both directions. Some microphone comes with the toggle switch between cardioid and bi-direction.

Once you position your mics in the right manner, you’ll be able to produce very natural sound. Also, once you get the hang of it, feel free to experiment with positioning. In the end, it is about personal preferences and musical ear.

If you’re going to record grand, or baby grand piano with bluelein pair technique, then Rode NTK is you go to the microphone.
Upright Pianos

Miking an Upright Piano

stand up piano
On the other hand, miking an upright piano isn’t that straightforward. Due to the way it is constructed, you’re not allowed the same amount of access to its strings and source of the sound. The piano is made compactly and small size to benefit personal preference and storage. Thereby, miking it can be little more creative ( and tricky ).

Also Read: best microphones for youtube

The point where the hammers strike the strings ( action ) on the upright piano is towards the top. The Soundboard is the back wall of the instrument. It amplifies the strings, in the same manner, the top and bottom panels amplify in acoustic guitar. To save space, the low and high strings are layered diagonally across each other.

To recreate the sound in the best manner, you might need to undressed a piano a bit. What you need to do is remove the front cover, this will expose hammers and the top strings. Here, you can place two large diaphragm condenser microphone, making sure they’re about 8 inches off the piano. Both of these need to be one-third of the way in from edges.

Pair of Audio Technica At2035

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If you don’t want to disassemble your piano, there is a way around. You can place a large diaphragm condenser microphone about 10 inches off the back of the piano. Also, make sure that it is halfway down the instrument. This is done because strings overlay each other in the middle, thereby placing the microphone to either edge won’t much sense. The Higher stringers shorter than longer or the mid strings, so, you need to place the microphone on the left side a bit higher than the one on the right side.

There are handful of things that you should keep in head while doing this

  • High pass filter on input channel works in your favor. It enables you to control proximity effect and cut on pedal noise as well as some other unwanted sounds that reach microphone via stand.
  • Once your piano is in the mix with bass and other instruments, you’ll be able to set the High pass filter pretty high without any noticeable loss of low end.
  • Do your best to aim your wedge monitors. This will prevent you from blowing directly into the microphones.

If you deploy these strategies, you’ll get decent quality audio. If you have any doubts or encounter any problems, drop them in the comments below.

Erwin Cooper
 

a sound and video production expert who blogs about gadgets & accessories to help you select perfect equipment. The site is supported by commissions I receive from Amazon, please purchase items via my affiliate links to support me and this blog.

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