The grand piano is the most acoustically complex instrument to record,
with its great dynamic range and wide musical range. From classical,
jazz to pop music it lends itself very well to recording. There are
numerous miking and processing techniques you may utilize depending on
the desired effect you are looking for. Grand pianos vary in size from
7'-9'6" with the larger pianos sounding bigger due to the size of
the resonating sound board. Achieving the precise tonal characteristics
can be challenging yet will prove to be very satisfying for all parties
One thing to acknowledge is that the same grand piano with the
same miking set-up will most likely sound very different with another
player even if they are playing the same musical piece. How a player
strikes the keys and uses the sustain pedal are just some of the
personal performing characteristics that define many different styles
and sounds. With hard hammers and close miking you may get transients
that meters are too slow to read and you'll have to use your ears to
identify them. The mechanics of the piano can inhibit a good pick-up
with the extraneous noises from the pedal, hammers and resonating
buzzes. The acoustic ambient characteristics associated with the
recording environment also influence the sound you are striving for.
With pop piano (Norah Jones, Elton John), we tend to prefer a close
pick-up. This allows for good clarity, minimal ambient influences. As
we move into jazz-pop (Norah Jones, Dianna Krall) we discover that the
grand piano sound starts to play a bigger role in a production and
needs to be treated accordingly and isolation from the live singing is
a factor. With Jazz instrumentalists (Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett)
the use of the piano harmonically and sonically are greater and miking
set-ups are more challenging and need to be very accurate. Last but not
least is classical piano where certain rules are applied for achieving
an excellent pick-up that requires the ambient acoustics to play a
major role in the overall sound.
Pop piano is a situation where the piano plays a contributing role in
the production by defining the chord changes. It needs to be able to be
heard amongst various other instruments yet not overpowering or
attracting too much focus especially if the artist is not known as a
piano player. Close miking is the preferred way to go which allows for
clarity and isolation.
I first ask the player where in the range on the piano they will be
playing. A well disciplined player will play between 3-4 octaves,
shying away from playing too many bass octaves with the left hand;
respecting the bass player, avoid getting in the way of the lead vocals
both harmonically and rhythmically and using the sustain pedal only
when needed. Too much sustain pedal makes the piano sound too
reverberant and muddy.
For mics I prefer pencil condensers for there ability to pick up an
accurate mid-range and high-end. Because the diaphragms are small in
mass, they tend to react faster than large
Diaphragm condensers and therefore pick up higher frequencies more
efficiently. I don't really need a lot of low end from the piano for
with a good arrangement a bass player will cover the fundamentals of
the chord changes. If the player is playing a lot around or slightly
below middle "C" and not to dynamically I'll use large diaphragm
condensers to capture the low end..
I'll position the 2 mics approx 8"-12" above the strings and
approx 12'-18" apart. I'll try to position them over the same
harmonic points of the strings and slightly angle them at 45*. If the
mics are positioned on axis (0*), some of the notes will sound brighter
than other notes due to the cardiod pick-up patterns of the mics.
I'll also watch that the mics are not too far apart to avoid getting
"the hole in the middle" sound. If the mics are too close to the
strings the balance of the different notes both musically and sonically
will be affected and I'll not get much of an even resonance from the
soundboard. I'll try to leave the lid open but if isolation is
required I'll slightly lower the mic position and lower the lid to
the half way position and use some type of blanketing.
With EQ, pop piano requires harmonic clarity. The music of the piano
needs to come through clearly. I might add a little mid range 3khz-5khz
and/or a little top end 10khz shelving (Wide "Q"). For some
situations I'll just use a top end shelving curve and lower the
activating frequency point anywhere down to 3khz. You need to remember
that if you boost the mids and the highs you will get more clarity but
eventually start to separate the brightness from the music of the
piano. "Watch-out". When we listen to a grand piano we tend to
prefer to hear the left hand or low part in the left speaker and the
right hand high part in the right speaker. When EQ is required it must
be done to both tracks equally. As to not create individual sonic
characteristics between the low end (left hand) and the high end (right
hand). For example; if the piano needs to be brighter at 10khz, then
boost the left and right channel the same amount. If you treat each
channel differently in the sonic ranges the ear will tend to focus on
the speaker with the brighter sound source. Applying the same EQ to
both channels keeps the sonic characteristics the same and helps to
retain good stereo imaging. If you need to EQ in the low-mids (music
range) to create some separation, do it subtly if the EQ points are
somewhat different. With low end add a little if you need to get warmth
but be aware of clouding the production. Avoid bottom end boosting and
if anything roll off the bottom end if the piano sounds boomy.
If the player hits the occasional chord too loud you might need to
limit random transients to prevent distortion and/or the piano audibly
jumping out in level. The best way to do this is to treat the
transients in a sonic transparent fashion. That is to have some dynamic
control without affecting the sound of the piano. The goal is to manage
the transient problem without noticing its effect. With transients you
need to limit only the upper part of the transient by using a very fast
attack time; 1msec-10msec and fast release time; 10msec-20msec(link the
channels together). The idea is to get in and out as quickly as
possible, to manage the transient without affecting the intended
If the piano does not define the chord changes enough and the attack
sounds soft you can make it sound punchier and livelier by compression.
The idea here is to get the attack of the sound to come through more.
You do this by using a med-slow attack time 50msec-200msec, and a slow
release time 250msec or greater. This compresses the sustain part of
the chord playing which gives you the sensation that the piano was
played more aggressively.
I would suggest to limit if necessary first, then EQ (high-end) and
then compress. A ratio of 3:1 to 6:1 should get you started. Bruce
Hornsby uses this technique for getting his piano sound.
At certain times you might want to get a sustain sound from the piano.
This is achieved by high CR ratios, fast attack times and very slow
release times. A good example of this can be found at the end of The
Beatles song "A Day In The Life". Here the release times on the
compressor were modified to release very, very slowly.
Jazz Pop Piano
These days' female jazz/pop singers and pianists dominate the charts.
Norah Jones and Dianna Krall are 2 of the best. Here we acknowledge
that the lead vocal is the most important element but is immediately
followed by the grand piano. Everything else plays a supportive role.
One thing in common is that these types of artists are highly skilled
pianist and will use the entire piano both musically and dynamically.
These types of artists almost always record their lead vocals at the
same time which makes capturing the best performance with the ultimate
sound can prove to be very challenging and trade offs are some times
required. When performing I will place a piece of 4' x 4' piece of
foam, a foot thick right on top of where the sheet music tray sits. I
actually remove the tray for it usually produces sympathetic noises.
This gives me great isolation between the vocal mic and the piano mics.
Because there playing at times maximizing the full range of the piano
I'll use large diaphragm condensers for their ability to capture low
end. I'll place them about 12"-16" above the strings so I can get
more of the sound board resonance and 16"-24" apart for the range
of playing will be wider. Because the higher strings on a piano do not
have dampers they will sustain. If the top end mic is not positioned to
capture this range it will sound distant and reverb like. Basically a
little higher and wider pick-up than pop piano. I will leave the lid
fully open for I don't want to choke the sound. If I need more low
end from the piano I'll introduce a third mic over the lower range in
an effort to capture the sonic fullness of the piano. I will add this
mic in to both left and right channels and use it more for sonic
purposes than musical purposes. I will always rely on the full stereo
imaging coming from the other 2 mics. If I have to roll off the mid to
high frequency range of the 3rd mic to achieve accurate stereo imaging
I'll do it.
With EQ you will need to make sure the top end of the piano does not
interfere with the presence of the lead vocal. If the piano is to
bright you will invariably have to bring down its overall level. When
you do this you also lower the music element of the piano. All of a
sudden your vocalist sounds barren for they are musically out their
exposed on their own and even though the piano can be heard clearly it
will not contain enough of the
harmonic information from the low mid-range to support the lead vocal,
Even though the levels of the piano and vocalist are close they are
quite detached musically. "Be Aware"
With Compression/limiting and EQ I tend to use it minimally. As with
all piano EQ and dynamic control what you do to 1 channel you do
exactly to the other.
With traditional Jazz pianists like Oscar Peterson and Keith Jarrett
you will get performances that are highly complex in dynamics and
musical content. These types of
Pianists are always improvising on the spot where they are literally
are all over the vast range of the keyboard with incredible speed with
dramatic dynamic changes. These random changes in performing are
happening all the time and you need to prepare yourself to capture this
type of performing. Experiment with mics positions and different
condenser mics. Of all pianists, jazz players are the most articulate
when it comes to meeting their needs. They "speak our technical
language" I usually use pencil condensers like the B&K 4000 series.
They can handle a lot of level without distorting and can translate the
percussive nature of jazz playing. As I said previously small diaphragm
condensers capture very fast transients more accurately than large
diaphragm. I'll often place the 2 mics slightly higher in the range
and factor in a 3rd low end mic assigned to both left and right. If the
room has good ambient characteristics I'll pull the mics further back
and get an overall sound from the piano. With Jazz it's nice to get
the articulation and the resonance of the piano. For dynamic control
I'll get the player to play very loud and I'll still back off the
level to allow for more headroom. With traditional jazz playing you do
not want to be in a position to have to reset levels to prevent
distortion. If any EQ is required it's usually in the high end just
too add a little shimmer to the sound. With dynamic control, it will be
used rarely for the dynamics are often exaggerated to high-lite the
performance. If any limiting is required it will be for getting more
level on a CD, but only if it is not that noticeable.
In recording classical piano factoring in a good recording ambience is
very important to the overall sound. Recordings by the greatest
classical pianist were mostly done in good concert halls and large
The conventional and traditional way to record piano is to set up 2-3
large diaphragm condensers at different angles approx 8ft-12ft away
facing the piano. The mics are angled similar to the angle of the piano
lid opening and are usually set up high (6ft-12ft). Large Diaphragm
condensers are used to capture the low end of the piano and are often
used in an omni pattern to allow the acoustics of the space to be used
and mics used in an omni have a flatter frequency response than mics in
The distance between the mics and the piano dictates the ratio between
the direct sound and the ambient sound. The goal of this type of
recording is to place the piano and the mics in a strategic place for
optimum clarity and room ambience. However I find this type of pick up
limiting to a point.
If the tempo changes dramatically from adagio (slow) to allegro (fast)
the piano sound can vary. IF you found a mic position that suited an
overall good pick up, you might discover that the piano sounds detached
and dry with the slower moving pieces and quite muddy at faster
What is perceived to be happening is that this type of pick up has dead
spots in it, where once the ambience completely decays you hear dead
air between the notes. The opposite happens when the tempo picks up and
is quick. The piano begins to sound muddy and reverberant, for the
decay is hanging over too much into the next note. This can be very
apparent in there are sudden dynamic changes where the piano goes from
a loud dynamic and quick tempo to a softer dynamic and slower tempo in
a short period of time. The piano sound appears to have too much reverb
in amplitude and decay time. Other than taking the time to find
suitable mic positions and piano placement and risking losing a good
basic mic position and piano placement most often the people involved
will settle for a basic good all round position. Hmmmmm?
I was very fortunate to work with Glenn Gould the greatest classical
pianist of the 20th century who was very much into sound innovation.
With his recordings I would find a good position for the placement of
the piano, usually in the center of the room away from any close walls.
Next I would place 3 large diaphragm condensers approx 8ft-12ft from
the piano in cardiod pick up patterns. With this placement I would
strive for a sound that would be clear and balanced if the music was at
a quick tempo (Allegro). Next I would place a stereo mic or 2 matching
condensers between 12ft-18ft from the piano in omni to capture a medium
reverb time that would include 1st and early reflections. Next I would
set up another stereo mic or 2 matched condensers approx 20ft-30ft from
the piano for a reverb effect. This would allow for smooth decay times
if the tempo was slow (adagio) and avoid any dead air.
With this type of pick up I have maximum control over the recording
situation. With 3 different mic setups at various distances I can
change the piano sound from a clear distinct sound to a very warm and
reverberant sound without changing the mic positions and having to
constantly go back into the studio to alter mic and piano positions.
With Glenn I would preview and mark the score where changes would be
required if I was recording to a 2 track final mix or record to a
multi-track and have control when I was mixing.
On Mon, 14 Feb 2005 13:27:04 +0100, Chel van Gennip
>In most cases the acoustics of the room are very important.
>If you are close miking, you should be aware of the high levels the
>microphone has to handle.
>For classical piano I prefer small diaphragms above large ones. Depending
>on the noise in the hall cardioids can have advantages.
I'll throw this out to both of you, hell to all of you. I am going to
record an album of classical music on grand piano this afternoon. It
is in the living room of the artist. He is a magnificent player, but
past his prime (in his late eighties). The room has a low ceiling and
there is a slight background hum of traffic. The plan is to use a
matched pair of Josephson's 4 series close mic'ed, direct to a
Millennium Media HV3 and then direct to dat.
I also threw a pair of AT4050's in the bag, but seems I must close mic
in this scenario so I doubt I'll use them.
I realize I will have to set the level for the potential loudest level
so I don't get any overs. Short of that any tips are appreciated.
I've done a fair bit of recording but rarely "serious music" .
I planned to use the waves convolutions reverb to add back in the hall
where this "should: be recorded.
Paul Gitlitz <email@example.com> wrote:
> On Mon, 14 Feb 2005 13:27:04 +0100, Chel van Gennip
> <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>>In most cases the acoustics of the room are very important.
>>If you are close miking, you should be aware of the high levels the
>>microphone has to handle.
>>For classical piano I prefer small diaphragms above large ones. Depending
>>on the noise in the hall cardioids can have advantages.
> I'll throw this out to both of you, hell to all of you. I am going to
> record an album of classical music on grand piano this afternoon. It
> is in the living room of the artist. He is a magnificent player, but
> past his prime (in his late eighties). The room has a low ceiling and
> there is a slight background hum of traffic. The plan is to use a
> matched pair of Josephson's 4 series close mic'ed, direct to a
> Millennium Media HV3 and then direct to dat.
> I also threw a pair of AT4050's in the bag, but seems I must close mic
> in this scenario so I doubt I'll use them.
> I realize I will have to set the level for the potential loudest level
> so I don't get any overs. Short of that any tips are appreciated.
> I've done a fair bit of recording but rarely "serious music" .
> I planned to use the waves convolutions reverb to add back in the hall
> where this "should: be recorded.
Well then you are in for a treat. Why not record an aging gifted player
in his home on his piano---and allow it to sound that way. He is not
playing in a concert hall. Why try to make it sound like that?
What is unique is that you get to record him in his personal zone.
Why would try to take that away from the listener?
That isn't to say that you shouldn't unplug the fridge, or find out if
he is comfortable playing late at night or sunday morning when there is