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How to Record a Piano

Steinway grand piano

The piano is the first instrument that many people learn, and whilst most will have learned at school it is a useful instrument to have at home to teach any budding musician the basics of reading sheet music or basic chord progressions. Keyboard are certainly useful to learn on, but for me there is nothing like the weight and feel of playing the real thing – so it might be worth checking to see if any pianos for sale in Los Angeles or wherever you may live.

Electric pianos also offer MIDI connections, but even with a traditional analogue piano you can still record your playing for a track even if this is somewhat more complicated and you will need to set up microphones. These recordings can be useful for making demos, or even to record your playing so you can monitor how your playing is improving as you learn.

Recording in stereo with two microphones is probably the easiest to record a good sound, but even with just one microphone situated about a metre above middle C will give you a reasonably balanced sound.

For stereo recording you will want to find a pair of condenser microphones with wide frequency response, low self-noise, and sensitivity that captures the subtleties and nuances that a piano requires.

You should open the piano to expose the strings and place the first microphones (M1) about 30cm above them facing slightly inward around the second G below middle C. The second microphone (M2) should also be 30cm from the strings but above the second G above middle C. You should pan the microphones hard right and left. Each microphone is different, and you should experiment a little with your placement and settings to create the sound you’re after – but this should be a good starting point.

The acoustics of the room, the tuning of the piano, and the manufacture of the piano itself will all have a bearing on the sound as well as the quality of microphone you’re using. But for basic recordings don’t worry too much – remember that this is just to help you record demos for mixing. Once you’re happy and want to do a full recording of a track, the studio you record in will have everything set up for you.

[Photograph courtesy of Alexander Ward]

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