Skip to main content

We did the piano concerto in that very difficult acoustics. Main mics were ORTF Sennheiser MKH406. A few spots and outriggers. And an Royer SF24 rather (too ? ) close on the piano.

Listening to this not-finished mix, I started wondering -- should I have the bass of the piano to the right or the left. From where the mic was listening, clearly on the right. As an old (but not good) piano player I would say to the left as that is what I hear playing!

What are your opinions? Does it matter?

Here is an excerpt

The piano player is 13 years old by the way.


Topic Tags


DavidSpearritt Mon, 03/13/2006 - 12:45

IMHO, the panning should be from the audience perspective, not the players. The acoustic design of the piano and the lid is all about projecting to the audience. I cannot see any useful arguments to do it from the players perspective. Rather ugly sound comes across the hammers to the players ears, compared with what goes out front.

ptr Mon, 03/13/2006 - 13:20

It does matter!

To me there is no doubt that in a recording (especially a live one) that the perspective is with the teble to the left and the bass to the right (Given You dont get that much right/left perspective in the mix when You have a grand, lid on full stick, mics quite close) is the correct one.

The perspective should always be from where a potential audience is seated. Not from the seat of the pianist! In the latter case it would be like having the pianist having her back against the audience and such things only happens in concertos where the pianist conducts as well.

An exerpt of the latter as a small comparison :

Mozart - PC 24 exerpt, recording from the local concert hall, pianist (56 yo) with his back to the audience, Steinway D, no lid, pianist also conducts.

Mikes : Main AB pair - Neumann M150 pair, 4' apart 10' up, spot on piano; KM130 pair, spot on woodwind a pair of KM140, spot on double bass single KM140..

Here You have the bass to the right, the trebble to the left, but only because it makes sense, well atleast to me!


pr0gr4m Mon, 03/13/2006 - 13:54

I don't know much about recording pianos...but don't pianists usually play facing the side? How does that give the audience a perspective of lows on right and highs on left? Wouldn't that translate to more of a mono experience?

Anyway, how heavily do you pan a piano?

I do know that alot of people do the same type of thing for drums...panning them using the audience perspective. To me this has always driven me nutz because from an audience perspective, drums are dead the only person with any panning perspective is the why not use his.

mdemeyer Mon, 03/13/2006 - 14:19

{{[quote=pr0gr4m]I don't know much about recording pianos...but don't pianists usually play facing the side? How does that give the audience a perspective of lows on right and highs on left? Wouldn't that translate to more of a mono experience?}}

On a grand, the bass strings are long, so they extend further to the right (when viewed from the lid-open side) then the high strings. So there is a tendency for the bass to favor the right side of the image.


FifthCircle Mon, 03/13/2006 - 15:39

Definitely pan as you see it from the audience prospective on stage... High end on the left and low on the right.

I usually do jazz this way too... The difference being that the mics are closer to the instrument. For that, I like putting the high on the left as it means that solo lines don't conflict with the drummer (who I usually place on the right side of the image). Makes for a more natural sound and less manual mixing...


JoeH Tue, 03/14/2006 - 06:12

Yep, this one's a no brainer. Unless it's some kind of "stunt" recording, it should always be from the audience perspective. And in 99 percent of the cases, it's the pianist seated on audience-left, looking towards center stage. The experience isn't mono by any means, but the left to right (hi to lo notes) ratio is a little less dramatic than one might think, due to where the hammers are, and how the strings are resonating. It's stereo, of course, but not quite as cut and dried in terms of the notes.

And Jazz Trios - as Ben pointed out - are a bit different. Usually it's the drums on the far right, bass in the center, and piano to the left. Then you can be a little creative with the panning; the idea being that clarity and stage position are important, and letting soloists do their thing without stepping on each other. Very often, I'm working the piano from the far left to the center, with very little, if any, on the right. (The opposite, of course is for the drums.) Bass and soloists sit right in the middle.

Also, I tend to sum everything below 150 to mono to keep the image centered - (bass, kick drum, and low end on piano, etc.) and then after that, it's pan as necessary. Assuming this is all done with close mics, the finishing touch is a pair of ambient mics on the whole ensemble and perhaps some Room sim, dialed in according to taste for the overall "in concert" experience.

Nothing like a real piano, of course, center stage and in tune, with a great artist seated at the keyboard. In many cases, that setup speaks for itself, and our job is to NOT mess it up.

bap Tue, 03/14/2006 - 06:59

I play piano more than I record it and I would have to say that, 'from the pianists perspective', I never think about bass-left/treble-right while playing. There are too many other things to concentrate on! We think about voicing, tone quality, texture, polyphony, etc... but I doubt that any pianist listens to their instrument in terms of 'stereo image'.

ghellquist Tue, 03/14/2006 - 13:38

Thank you for all your input. It does make a lot of sense to use the audience perspective.

I was just so baffled first times around listening, after all when playing the high notes are to the right. Here they came out so clearly to the left. Especially annoying was the runs, going wrong direction.

Of course, here the piano was quite a bit too wide in stereo image. And this was the second serious piano recording in my short life as recordist. I learn all the time.


anonymous Sun, 04/16/2006 - 15:01

Free advice is usually worth what you pay for it.

As a pianist & teacher who records on the side, I couldn't help but respond to this topic.

Several thoughts to consider: a 9 ft concert grand at best has a 7 ft audio spread. Front row concert hall audience members have to resolve a 12 degree angle to separate highs from lows. While row 20, at 100 ft, is down to a 2 1/2 degree angle. In others words, audience members don't actually resolve this and just hear a merged sound wave.

There has been a lot of discussin in Mix and other publications over the years on recording pianos. The best advice I've found is an X/Y pattern 30 - 45 degrees off the tail of the grand. Why? Because reflections off the lid don't cause distructive interference with the direct waves, but there's enough power from the treble section to sound balanced. And as someone has noted, you are far enough away from the action to mute their inevitable noise.

Hope this helps some.


DavidSpearritt Sun, 04/16/2006 - 16:12

Yes, good comments, John. We always spot a piano from the tail end or that half when recording in chamber ensemble. When recording solo piano, not live in concert, we tow the instrument round from the concert position, so that the tail is parallel with the right hand keyboard end. We do this because a richer, more mellow sound seem to come from the tail end. Mind you, all this is still miked from quite a distance, some 3m away, so that we still get the glorious mix of sound, that only starts at this distance. Close miking a piano is not good for sound.

anonymous Tue, 04/18/2006 - 08:22

Hi gang,

I need to ammend my comments above. Yesterday, as I sat in a 12 hour session of master classes, my mind drifted back to this thread. Well, here's the situation:

2 each 7 ft grands, side-by-side, one Steinway, in back, the other Boston, in front. From where I was sitting, the centerline of the Boston was 12 ft from me. The Steinway, in the rear, would be 17 ft. The lids were closed. This is important.

Anyway, as the students played on the rear Steinway, I started taking notes on the apparent sound source for different frequencies.

I was stunned. The lowest octave and a half of the Steinway came from several behind the pianist, that is, to the listeners left (stage right)! As the students played up their scales, the sound shifted to the listener's right, with the middle range frequencies (two middle octaves) being roughly just at the piano tail. Then they started to drift back left, with the upper frequencies caming at the mid-point of the curve in the tail of the grand. The overall stereo image from my seat was a about 12 ft wide, with the bass on the far left, climbing to the midrange on the right. This floored me. It is completely different from when the lid is raised, and it is what you often find in clubs or choir performances.

I got to thinking how this could be so. Here's one possibility: Steinway, and many other piano manufacturers, couple the sound board to the hard maple rim of the piano. I believe that it is radiating sound! The piano bridge is near where the curve in the tail begins, so naturally, the highest frequencies would radiate from there.

The Boston, being a bit less refined than the Steinway, exhibited a more amorphous sound; it wasn't so easy to pinpoint a sound source, even at my close distance.

Today's sessions are piano teams, with the lids partly raised, short stick. I will try to position myself to see what different instruments do.

In the mean time, kuddos to the person who first said, "The three most important things in recording are your ears, your ears, and your ears!"



User login