Recording the piano is a very deep subject. Today I’m going to give you an overview of what the process is about. I might offer a video course on this subject in the future because there is so much involved in recording the piano.
A piano is a kaleidoscope of sound.
There are so many different sounds you can get out of a piano. One aspect of the piano is that sound comes out of many different parts of the instrument. You have to decide what sound you are after when recording. There are so many different possibilities and questions regarding how to record a piano!
Microphones hear differently from human ears.
First, there’s the reality of recording versus hearing things with your ears. There’s a fundamental difference. To demonstrate this, say you’re at a party where there are a lot of people around. You can focus in on different conversations around the room. But if you were to take an excellent pair of microphones and try recording a room full of people talking, listening back even through top of the line studio monitors or headphones would not enable you to zero in on different conversations. You would just have a jumble of talking. The best you could hope for his being able to follow the conversation of the people closest to the microphones. You might wonder why this is. First of all, how you can direct your attention to different sounds in a room is a fascinating subject in itself.
Your brain deciphers what you hear.
In motion pictures, or in complex musical recordings, there are recording techniques to enable you to hear many separate elements. Techniques such as panning left and right, and equalizing different bass or treble frequencies can make it possible for you to hear many distinct sounds or conversations in recordings.
Your brain is an amazing machine and it can accomplish this by utilizing the folds in your ears to decipher early and later reflections of sound. It’s able to identify minute differences in distance and frequencies to help you discern the directionality of sound thereby differentiating what you are hearing. That’s why even blindfolded without moving at all, you can tell if a sound is coming from in front of or behind you even if the balance of the volumes are exactly the same!
There are countless variations in sound in recordings.
I bring up all of these aspects of psychoacoustics so you can begin to understand the challenges of recording the piano. If you want to get a more intimate sound, you place the microphones closer to the piano. It will give you a somewhat compressed quality when microphones are placed inside a piano. You can sometimes achieve a warm quality of sound by doing this. However, as you play louder, you can hear more percussiveness with close miking techniques.
Half the sound of a piano comes out from the bottom.
If you want a more balanced sound, try placing the microphones further away from the piano. It’s a compromise between detail of sound versus balance.
There is an art to recording the piano.
What are the challenges of using multiple microphones? Once you have more than one microphone that isn’t physically next to others, you add a level of complexity with such things as phase cancelation. This is when the sound reaches different microphones at different times. Some frequencies will cancel themselves out while others will amplify themselves since sound is comprised of waves. If the sound waves from one microphone are at the opposite end of the wave cycle, the sound cancels out just like in noise canceling headphones There are time alignment technologies that can solve this problem, but it gets complicated, very quickly.
Here’s a tip for you. I suggest when you’re recording, try standing in the room and listen to what it sounds like at different places in the room. Then, place a microphone or a pair of mics next to each other at that point. For example, you might find a pleasing sound at the tail of the piano. Listen to the results of your recording. Then try recording with a different microphone placement and compare the sounds. You might discover a sweet spot where the sound is very pleasing. Ideally, you get someone else to play the piano while you listen on headphones or speakers in another room.
Experimenting with microphone placement.
Better than that, get a pair of mics that you can mount on a stand with headphones and long cables. Have somebody play the piano while you are listening and moving the microphones around the room. There are all sorts of microphone techniques that you can discover. It’s one of the best ways to determine the kind of sound you’re getting out of your piano when you record it. It’s not a right or wrong proposition. There are many different types of sounds you can get depending upon what you’re looking for. Generally, recording closer to the piano will give you a more intimate sound with more action noise. Further miking will give you a more balanced sound. Room acoustics are also an important consideration. Ambient noise may preclude distant miking of your piano. You may have never noticed your ventilation system before. Yet, when listening back to your recording, anything from cars outside to your refrigerator may destroy an otherwise wonderful recording.
My experience in the recording studio.
I grew up with hand me down recording equipment from my father that I loved to play with as a kid! Later, he would let me work with his professional recording equipment. Better than that, I got to attend my father’s recording sessions from an early age and learned a tremendous amount from them. These historic recordings are available now on CD and are on the highest level of the art of recording.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tutorial and thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store info@LivingPianos.com 949-244-3729