Whether you’re a singer-songwriter, keyboard player in a band, composer, or sound technician, sooner or later you might want to record the sound of a genuine acoustic piano. And I’m not talking about any pre-recorded Steinway or Yamaha C7 samples either, because no matter how good these sound, it wouldn’t be your own unique sound. So how do you record a piano, which microphones do you need and where do you even put them? Read on to find the answers to these questions and more!

How to Record a Piano

Please note: This blog is about recording the sound of a piano, not about the on-stage amplification of one. The latter involves audio-related issues like feedback and other things that deserve a blog of their own!

The Right Microphone for Piano Recordings

Since pianos cover a huge frequency range and are incredibly dynamic, condenser microphones are generally used to record them. Dynamic models fall short in both regards and, in addition, add too much colour to the sound. It’s also important to use a microphone with a solid off-axis response, which refers to how well it’s able to produce uncoloured sound picked up from the sides. This matters, because pianos are considerably large instruments with remarkably wide sound projection. While small-diaphragm condenser microphones offer the best performance for the job, large-diaphragm models are also often used. Though the sound is slightly less direct and neutral, this can actually be a good thing, so if you already have one, don’t run to the store to buy a new mic just yet!

Recording a Piano in Stereo

Most of the time, pianos are recorded using a stereo pair of microphones. Not only because stereo sounds more exciting than mono, the notes are also registered with more balance. When you only have a single mic suspended dead-centre above the strings, chances are that the highest and lowest frequencies are captured at a lower volume than the mid-range. As such, proper piano-recording setups include X/Y and A/B configurations. In an X/Y system, the capsules of two microphones are positioned against and above each other at a 90-degree angle. This is the simplest and most dependable setup with a much larger spread than a single mic would have and, since the capsules are so close to each other, you don’t have to worry about any phase issues. In an A/B configuration, the microphones are placed further apart to increase the spread even more. Due to a smaller risk of stereo image issues and a more natural off-axis response compared to cardioid, mics with an omnidirectional pickup pattern (either with a small or large-diaphragm) work great here. If you were to use omnidirectional microphones in an X/Y setup, the sound would be mono, so go for small or large-diaphragm cardioid mics if that’s your preferred way of recording a piano.

How to Record a Piano

How to Record a Piano

Piano Recordings for Pop and Rock

Whether you’re recording an upright acoustic or a grand piano, it’s important that you open the lid. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a dull sound. Some models even let you remove the lid completely. What’s also important is what or where the microphones are aimed at. The closer they are to the hammers, the more you can hear the mechanics as you press the keys; the more the microphones are shifted towards the middle of the strings, the fuller the sound gets. Make sure not to place the mics too close to the strings or else some strings will sound louder than others. As a general rule, a distance of roughly 30 centimeters is a great starting point.

Microphone Set-Up for Classical Piano Recordings

When you want to record a classical piano piece, you can try positioning the mics a little higher, or even several metres away from the piano to make it sound like you’re listening to a concert. From the pianist’s perspective, a grand piano projects sound to the right due to the placement of the lid, so that’s exactly where the microphones are ideally placed. In the case of an upright piano, the microphones are best placed behind the player. As long as the microphones are able to ‘see’ the strings, you’re free to experiment with the height.

Got any more tips and tricks when it comes to recording acoustic pianos? Share them below!

See Also

» Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
» Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
» External Audio Interfaces
» Dynamic Instrument Microphones
» Piano Sample Libraries
» MIDI Keyboards
» Digital Pianos

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