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Recording a Piano

by Bruce Bartlett

Recording a Grand Piano

This magnificent instrument is a challenge to record well. First have the piano tuned, and oil the pedals to reduce squeaks. You can prevent thumps by stuffing some foam or cloth under the pedal mechanism.

One popular method uses two spaced mics inside the piano. Use omni or cardioid condensers, ideally in shock mounts. Put the lid on the long stick. If you can, remove the lid to reduce boominess. Center one mic over the treble strings and one over the bass strings. Typically, both mics are 8 to 12 inches over the strings and 8 inches horizontally from the hammers (Figure 1, bass and treble mics). Aim the mics straight down. Pan the mics partly left and right for stereo.

Figure 1. Suggested grand-piano miking for popular music.

Figure 1. Suggested grand-piano miking for popular music.

One alternative is to put the treble mic near the hammers, and put the bass mic about 2 feet toward the tail (Figure 1-B). Another method uses two ear-spaced omni condensers or an ORTF pair about 12 to 18 inches above the strings.

The spaced mics might have phase cancellations when mixed to mono, so you might want to try coincident miking (Figure 1, stereo pair). Boom-mount a stereo mic, or an XY pair of cardioids crossed at 120 degrees. Miking close to the hammers sounds percussive; toward the tail has more tone.

Boundary mics work well, too. If you want to pick up the piano in mono, tape a boundary mic to the underside of the raised lid, in the center of the strings, near the hammers. Use two for stereo over the bass and treble strings. Put the bass mic near the tail of the piano to equalize the mic distances to the hammers (Figure 1-C). If leakage is a problem, close the lid and cut EQ a little around 250Hz to reduce boominess.

If your studio lacks a piano, consider using a software emulation of a piano. Some programs provide high-quality samples of piano notes that can be played with a sequencer or a MIDI controller. Examples: Steinberg’s The Grand 3 ($249 at www.steinberg.net), or search for “piano emulation freeware.”

Upright Piano

Here are some ways to mike an upright piano (Figure 2):

Figure 2. Some mic techniques for upright piano.

Figure 2. Some mic techniques for upright piano.

  1. Remove the panel in front of the piano to expose the strings over the keyboard. Place one mic near the bass strings and one near the treble strings about 8 inches away. Record in stereo and pan the signals left and right for the desired piano width. If you can spare only one mic for the piano, just cover the treble strings.
  2. Remove the top lid and upper panel. Put a stereo pair of mics about 1 foot in front and 1 foot over the top. If the piano is against a wall, angle the piano about 17 degrees from the wall to reduce tubby resonances.
  3. Aim the soundboard into the room. Mike the bass and treble sides of the soundboard a few inches away. In this spot, the mics pick up less pedal thumps and other noises. Try cardioid dynamic mics with a presence peak.

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AES and Syn Aud Con member Bruce Bartlett is a recording engineer, audio journalist, and microphone engineer (www.bartlettaudio.com). His latest books are “Practical Recording Techniques 6th Ed.” and “Recording Music On Location.”

About the author

Bruce Bartlett

Audio Engineering Society member Bruce Bartlett is a recording engineer, audio journalist, and microphone engineer (www.bartlettaudio.com). His latest books are "Practical Recording Techniques 6th Edition" and "Recording Music On Location."


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