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How to record an upright piano.

Instrument: Yamaha upright

Here is the space, a large classroom:20' x 40' long, 12' high.
Tile Floors, Brick Walls, Drop Ceiling, Sound Panels up high

Microphone Options:

  • 2 RODE NT5 - sdc
  • 1 RODE NTA1 - ldc
  • 2 SM57 - dyn
  • 1 SM58 - dyn
  • 1 Beta52 - dyn

Style: Indie/Classic Rock kind of sounds. The piano would be the main rhythm instrument.


Where do I set up the piano?
What mics should I use?
Where should I place the mics?


My first guess would be to use the sdc's in a stereo pair somewhere close. And perhaps the ldc somewhere in the room where it sounds cool. Maybe just put the piano in the center of the room. Being in a school, I have access to giant gym mats, which work very well as sound baffles. Possibly I can put them in a position to where they block the flat wall reflections.

Thanks for any help!


RemyRAD Tue, 04/17/2012 - 09:14
Yeah, a small pair of SDC's like the NT 5's is really the way to go.

The best way to handle an upright is to open the hinged top and place the stereo pair in an XY position facing downward.

You don't need to bother with the gym mats, it's unnecessary. Those gym mats will not have any real effect on the acoustics of the room that you are in. It's a waste of time and effort. When I've had to make live recordings in environments like this, there really isn't any options except where and how you place whatever microphones you choose. Even those SM57's can do a more than adequate job and in some cases may actually be more desirable because of their lesser sensitivity in Frequency response and outside noise influences. I can tell you this much, it will not sound like a grand piano sounds. It can't because they don't. Sometimes, people will remove the entire front including the music stand liar with a pair of spaced cardioids closer to the strings/harp and in front of the sound board. They never really sound good when you place your microphones strictly on the soundboard from behind the upright piano. Sometimes, one I place the microphones over the top opening, I'll place one extremely far left and extremely far right which is around 4 feet apart. There will be more phase issues with that but you will get a wider stereo feel than with just XY stereo microphone technique. But if you want a reduction in any phase cancellation from spaced cardioids, XY is the way to go.

Numerous piano albums recorded
Mx. Remy Ann David

RemyRAD Tue, 04/17/2012 - 11:05
Well we do frequently place drum sets upon tiled floors, wood floors, with a carpet. It keeps them from marring the finish of the floor and keeps them from moving around on the drummer. And that makes sense to do that. I find that piano's canned sound better with some reflection from the floor. It certainly becomes more intimate sounding when the piano is on a carpet. But I don't think you want to try to lift and place a piano on gym mats? Boxing in with gym mats placed leaning up against chairs might be necessary if it is too close to a drum set or other loud instruments. Sometimes on grand pianos, we would place a moving blanket over the top of the lid and the opening of the piano with our microphones in place. Not quite the same for an upright but something that could also be done. But that still will not eliminate low-frequency percussive noises from outside the piano. It will just prevent some of the high frequency trash from impeding your pickup of the piano.

An awfully practical engineer here
Mx. Remy Ann David

RemyRAD Tue, 04/17/2012 - 12:46
Then, obviously, you have answered your own question in the most practical way. Sure. And that does make sense. Along with the moving blanket over top the opened lid of the upright piano. There really aren't any other options other than placing the piano in a separate room, across the room, away from the room and utilizing headphone feeds. So that's all doable. Of course the greater the mass, the greater the isolation. In that respect, even a movable book shelf self-contained apparatus could also be moved in place to provide even greater isolation. Because mass equals isolation in its most purest sense. That kind of mass would help to eliminate greater low-frequency interference. The gym mats would not eliminate that kind of low-frequency energy. So leaving the gym mats against some low and closed bookshelves would do a greater job of isolation than the gym mats themselves. I would have assumed you would have already known that because you seem to have posted some fairly intelligent posts in the past.

Mass is your friend
Mx. Remy Ann David

aj113 Mon, 05/07/2012 - 09:16

I just recorded a baby grand on location. Admittedly a baby grand is not an upright, but at least it's in the ballpark. I had a pair of NT5's in an X-Y close up to the hammers, and a pair of SM57's higher up, away from the NT5's in a more 'orthdox' L/R configuration. I was careful to keep the SM57's equidistant from the hammers to avoid phasing issues. The result was - well here, have a listen. (Ignore the word 'download' - you can just play the track when you click the link)

Download Just A Gigolo Corrected.mp3 - Mp3 Upload…

It's Jazz Improv so it's not everyone's cup of tea but at least you can hear the results. Things to watch out for that I wasn't prepared for in terms of sounds that you don't want to record: squeaky piano stool, unwanted resonance in any of the piano's woodwork e.g. the music stand, sound of pianist's fingernails on keys, sound of pianist (e.g. breathing etc), sound of hammers brushing against each other, sound of pedal mechanism.

RemyRAD Mon, 05/07/2012 - 16:22
I thought it was a very nice recording. It does lack the beautiful resonance one gets from a much larger full-blown grand. But it sure is totally listenable and quite pleasant. I enjoyed it. Nice job.

I can also tell it's not a Steinway. Sounds like a Kawai? Not a Yamaha either. Could be a Baldwin? I love Alex.
Mx. Remy Ann David


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