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classic piano recording

Discussion in 'Acoustic Keyboards' started by Costy, Feb 15, 2005.

  1. Costy

    Costy Guest


    I need to record a few classic piano students for a radio contest.
    I do not have any experience in recorging grand-pianos.
    Any sujestions on microphone placing will be appreciated
    very much (I'll use a pare of Shure KSM27). Thanks,

  2. Cucco

    Cucco Well-Known Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA

    That one question can be the proverbial "can of worms" to most classical engineers.

    First, I have to ask - why the KSM27s? If they are the only mics you have, you can certainly make good piano recordings with them, but there certainly are better mics for the job. (Even if renting is an option).

    In any case, using the KSM27s, if it were me, I would use a ORTF or modified ORTF a few feet away from the arch in the body of the piano. Try to avoid hard-panning the channels; somewhere in the middle should do the trick.

    My personal inclination would be to steer away from XY, mainly because, to me, it doesn't give an accurate representation of the width and breadth of the piano.

    If your instrument will be short stick, try making sure that the capsules are aimed fairly decisively at the strings, but again, a few feet back. If you are full stick, I would aim at the mid-way point between the strings and the top of the lid. You'll get good resonation and attack with that approach.

    If you are removing the lid, try placing the mics over the piano. This is where you might get away with XY, but make sure you get adequate distance. My thought on this is - don't let either of the capsules aim anywhere within the instrument (in this technique only). Get the mics high enough that they are aimed slightly past the outer edges of the instrument itself.

    Remember, no two pianos sound alike, so all of the information I just provided is merely just a starting point. You must play around with them until you get it right.

    Good luck - a good piano sound is the holy grail of classical recording!

  3. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Feb 12, 2001
    Los Angeles, CA
    Home Page:

    Have you used KSM 27's on piano? They are actually darned good piano mics.

    I'd open the lid full stick, put them in an ORTF configuration probably about 6-8 feet out and about 6 feet high and start listening to where it sounds good. You'll probably end up aiming them down towards the strings of the instrument a bit...

    If the room is decent, you should be able to get a fine sounding recording.

  4. MasonMedia

    MasonMedia Guest

    Using a spaced pair has worked for me with the mics separated about 24" and the piano lid on full stick. Mics are placed about 4-6 feet away using the top edge of the lid as a guide to height. I placed them just below the top of the lid slightly aimed at the strings.

  5. Costy

    Costy Guest

    Thanks to all of you guys.

    Quite a few ideas to start. The thing is I'm going to record at location,
    not in studio. Some house with a piano in it. I'll keep in mind your
    advices and try to catch good sound.

    Ben or Jeremy,
    Could you, please, spell out the " ORTF" ?

    And yes, I'm aware there are better mics than KSM27, but then,
    there are also worse than that too.
    Thanks again,

  6. Cucco

    Cucco Well-Known Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    Ben and Costy,

    No major arguments against the Shure, I've just always found that, to get the right sound from a piano or vocalist out of them, I always had to tweak like mad (Roll off below 80 hz, dip at 5k and slight adjustment between 800 and 1k). For the same price, I found the Groove Tubes mics to be much easier to deal with, especially in less-than-desirable conditions.

  7. recordista

    recordista Active Member

    Sep 7, 2001
    Silver City, NM
    Home Page:

    ORTF (Office de Radiodiffusion-Television Francaise)
  8. Costy

    Costy Guest

    Hi guys,

    Here is the end of the story:

    First, the player was quite good and instrument sounded great (full
    stick open). Second, the room with carpet floor was acustically nill.
    So, walked around and found the spots for the mics. One on the line
    of hammers about 9 feet from the piano axis and 6 feet high. Another
    the same distance and height at about 60 degs. Both mics pointed
    roughly at the axis of the piano. As Jeremy said, it's all depends on
    piano/room set. Run the mics into Yamaha MD8. It's a digital recorder
    with analog mixer (quite good actually). Ajusted levels for each peace
    separately - no clips allowed. We recorded pieces by Bach, Beethoven,
    Chopin and Mozskowski. Very different dynamics. Back home tossed
    all into ProTools. Then I compared what I got with sound of CDs by
    the EMI and Gramophone (same pieces). Obviously, it was lack of
    ambience. So, I added some (small church verb, Lexicon, not much).
    Practically, did not touch EQ or levels, 0.5 dB here and there.
    Finally, made spaces and run through Digidesign Maxim only with
    dithering (no compression) to a CD recorder. Done.
    As a demo for a student player the result sounds good enough to me.
    But I have a couple of topics I'd like to discuss with you guys. It's
    about dynamics of the whole record (classic piano) and different
    ambience for pieces by different authors. I'll post it soon.


    P.S. To "recordista" - 1. Thanks for spelling out the thing. Frankly,
    I still do not understand what kind of geometry of the mics is that.
    2. I love NM. Let me know when you get your hotel running.
  9. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    From your website this suggestion may seem strange, but with "classical" material you should set a level for the loudest stuff and then leave it alone. Neither the pianist nor the listener wants soft Debusy to be as loud as roaring Chopin. Dynamic range is what sets this music apart from most others.

    After you have done everything to the files then do a group normalize if the levels seem a little weak, but this should be a decision based on ears not eyes.

  10. Costy

    Costy Guest

    Thanks Rich. It's what I was curious about.
  11. melquiades

    melquiades Guest

    Another approach

    Sounds like it's too late to help with this specific request, but here's an overly detailed description of the approach I use for my recordings:


    It's a slightly unorthodox approach, but to this pianist's ears, it captures many aspects of the actual sound of a piano that most classical recordings miss.
  12. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Very good and interesting article, Paul. I've actually passed the link on to a client who's experimenting with doing her own piano recordings in her own home.

    I don't agree at all with your choice of mics, though. Hehehe... (As much as I do like the AMT stuff! ;-) They make some great mics for pit orchestras, live stuff, etc. All good Close-up mics, indeed.

    And now that you mentioned it, I DO hear a difference sound between the two sides, and it's too close-mic'd & dry for my taste. What you seem to have (at least as far as I can tell with those MP3's) is an EXCELLENT closeup recording of a piano in a small room, exactly as you'd hear it if you were playing it. That's no small feat, and you did a great job of capturing the sound of JUST the piano in that space. I think it's probably exactly what you needed to do - in this case, the space around it might have been too harsh, or boxy, or whatever.

    But IMHO, very often the task is to capture the sound of the piano in a space - a recital hall, etc. For my money, I LIKE the sound that the piano generates (excites, if you will) in the space it occupies. Your recordings sound to me more like a GREAT way to listen to technique, phrasing, pedalling, etc. UP CLOSE. (I almost felt like I was listening standing over your shoulder, or returning to my piano-teaching days - as short as they were!)

    Pianist and Guitarists often suffer from the same problem: They don't get to really HEAR what they sound like in performance; the best sound is achieved farther away, out in front. (No requests for "Far, Far Away" , please!) ;-) )

    It's good to read your website, however, and I completely agree with your comments about the state of the recording industry, and the means/ways to do it yourself. Good stuff, indeed; and thanks for dropping in, hope to see more from you!
  13. Cucco

    Cucco Well-Known Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA

    I don't know what's worse - that I read the above post at 5:20 this morning, or that you replied at 5:30 this morning.


    Your article is interesting, but I have to say there are quite a few things I take issue with (don't worry, not "big" issue, just a little issue).

    First, I completely understand a musicians desire to record himself/herself and get as accurate a recording as possible, but in all truth, the money spent on getting a good recording could be well spent on a pro with lots of gear and the know how to back it up.

    I'm finding that a lot of musicians now adays are purchasing their own equipment to record themselves or their small ensembles, etc. But ultimately, I still get the call saying "I can record myself, but it just doesn't sound quite right. Please help!!!"

    Also, I agree with Joe, the sound is a very good sound of a dry instrument almost devoid of room indicators. This in itself is a worthy task. However, there are some fine recordings on the market that don't suffer the issues you speak of and capture the sense of the surroundings more than just the instrument. Don't get me wrong, your recordings do sound good and lend an interesting perspective. However, to one who has never sat behind the keys, it is a rather foreign sound.

    While I whole heartedly agree that the GT 66 is a great mic and one used well on piano, I don't think it or the BL mic would be best for picking up the absolute lowest notes on the piano. I often use a pair of GTs on piano when I need to minimize any external leakage into the piano mics - I think they are some of the best "value" secrets on the market. (You don't even want to get me started on the GT44 - small (ish) diaphragm tube condensor - cost $500, value - priceless!!)

    A good pair of spaced omnis for solo piano (my favorites always come down to the Schoeps CMC6/MK2Sg - I can't find a better mic for piano and I've tried for a long time) will capture the absolute lowest tones with aplomb as well as the higher frequencies with a delicacy that is unexplainable. Of course, you are quite right that lid positioning is crucial. I find that, all too often, people are too quick to raise the lid to its highest position or take it off even. True, most of my solo piano recordings yield the best results when the lid is at full stick, but I have found numerous occassions where a mid-way point between full stick and short stick are appropriate.

    Joe makes reference that guitarists and pianists suffer from the fact that they rarely get to hear themselves in a natural environment after the sound has meshed in the hall (paraphrasing of course...) I think this is true of most instrumentalists. I can say, personally, that once I figured out how the horn sounds good on a recording versus 18 inches from my ear, my personal tone improved dramatically. I started to realize that projection and overtones were the key and not that "dark, muffled" sound all too popular with HS and college students.

    As a music teacher, I'm constantly advocating to my students the act of self-recording. I think what you've done here Paul is excellent and a very important educational tool. I would not, however, strongly recommend this as a professional means of capturing the piano.

    BTW... Welcome to the site. We are glad to have pianists in our mist, we seem to be getting overly brass heavy here. :lol: (Ben's getting worried...)(That reminds me though - we don't have any trumpet players on the board that I can tell. I figure their egos wouldn't allow them to remain silent, so we mustn't have one... :lol: )

  14. melquiades

    melquiades Guest

    Thanks, Joe and Cucco, for the comments. It's fascinating to hear the take of some real audio engineers! Thanks for taking this itinerant seriously.

    Joe talked about the performance space, the up-close sound, and performers hearing what they "really" sound like. Implicit in all those comments is the presumption that I perform in a concert hall. I don't! -- well, rarely, at any rate, only about once a year these days. Most of my concerts are small salon-style affairs, in my living room, and the sound you're hearing is the sound my audience hears. (I have actually had a real live audience member, who also happens to be an audio engineer, verify this: the sound is very close to real life.)

    And it's worth noting that most of the music I'm recording was written for this kind of setting: up close and intimate. Chopin only performed a very few (something like a dozen, IIRC) concerts in concert halls in his entire lifetime; the rest were in small spaces for small audiences. Granted, the instrument I'm playing is not much like Chopin's piano (a very good deal like Brahms's, though) -- but still, the point that the concert hall is not the natural environment of most of the classical piano repertoire holds. (In piano concerti, which are actually written for the concert hall, you can actually see the difference in how composers write for the instrument.) It's not just about historical accuracy; this music is meant to be close and intimate. When it whispers, it's not the stage whisper of a concert hall; it whispers in your ear. When it's loud, the floor shakes and you feel it in your gut. That's the experience I'm aiming for in a recording, because that's how it is in real life!

    Recordings that aim for that hall sound may capture the modern experience of a large concert, but I don't think that experience really serves the music -- so such recordings are to me, at best, a perfect reproduction of an imperfect sound. On further reflection: Ideally, what I want from a recording is not a reproduction of anything, but simply a sound which serves the music.

    To Cucco: Agreed that a pro is probably going to do a much better job than me of choosing and handling equipment -- and if I were cutting an album, hiring a pro would be the way to do it. But my goal is to produce not one, not two major recordings, but an ongoing steady stream of small ones, on a regular basis. With my setup, I can make a recording whenever I'm ready -- midnight on a Tuesday! -- and if it doesn't work out, I can make another. I don't have to worry about whether it's worth the trouble of recording my improvs. I don't have to fret if I want to share a rough performance of a new composition. I'm not burning money every time I record. What I lose in absolute pristine sound quality, I gain in artistic freedom. That's the appeal.

    On the BL (the M40): I was surprised at how good it sounds; don't knock it till you've tried it. In that vein, if I'm ever mic shopping, I'll be sure to check out the Schoeps you recommend.

    I do agree that my sound as it stands is a bit dry. Only a tiny bit -- I hate the big wash of reverb! But the sound could use a little breathing room, a chance to develop a bit. (Any suggestions for remedying that on a budget are welcome.)
  15. Costy

    Costy Guest

    Hey Melquiades,

    I'm 100 percent with you on your both points:

    1. The performance space versus composer. Although I'm not
    a pianist, I strongly feel that ambience should be different for
    different kind of piano music. How to get it is secondary question
    to me - live recording or or post-production effects - depending
    on the circumstances.

    2. Recording artist is very natural phenomena nowadays. It helps
    to monitor playing techniques, shape the sound, adjust tempo ecc.
    And, it does not need to be a hard choice like "I do it myself" or
    "Let's a pro do it". For release projects, I do pre-production at
    home, then final production and mastering at A-rate studios.

    Do you use the ProTolls for recording ? The default digidesign
    verb is not a good one, in my opinion. The good ones are quite
    expencive (hundreds of $). I use a couple of Lexicon out-board
    modules. I like them, they are very discent even for low-end

  16. melquiades

    melquiades Guest

    Yes, absolutely. It is all about the type of music, and the player's style. It seems to me that engineers could be far more adventurous with classical sound, that they err heavily toward the "concert hall" sound.

    I am even lower-tech than that: I have Peak LE and a little one-shot program I wrote for actually doing the recording. The only reverb I have is Apple's MatrixReverb AudioUnits, which is basically crap.

    Unfortunately, I don't think I can use the Lexicon units w/o Pro Tools. What I'm looking for is a software reverb that's either standalone, or AU or VST plugin.
  17. Costy

    Costy Guest

    Well, maybe not ALL engineers err, but some certainly do. I just
    started to do the piano recording gigs. But the first one went well,
    and in March I'll have another two or three. As reference for sound
    I collected (from the client) a few piano recordings. Some of them
    sounded great, but one stuck out bad: it's Beethoven pieces (quite
    agressive) in small dry room. Sounded totally lifeless. That's be an
    opposite to the error you've mentioned.

    I'm afraid that any descent software verb is quite expensive. The only
    thing I can note is now it's possible to rent the licence for limited time
    (a couple of days or a week) ) for good quality plug-ins (check out the
    digidesign web). But I didn't do it myself yet. I can see advantage for
    working intensively on final mixes of a project, but not for routine work.

  18. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    Since you are using Peak you are on Mac, which means you can use Altiverb, one of the two best non-standalone reverbs available. IMO Peak is a great value for a stereo-only application.

    For me and many others, the room is an instrument that works either in sympathy or antipathy with the music.

    I don't want the piano and singer to sound as though they are in my closet, nor making their way through an unknown universe of alien reverb.

    Classical music is usually tied to performance reality, and it is simply more enjoyable to make music in a nice space, and far more enjoyable to listen in one!

  19. bap

    bap Active Member

    Nov 22, 2003
    Does SIR reverb work in Mac? As a free option you might check it out with some of the free impulses you can find. It's not Altiverb or Waves but many people like it.
  20. ghellquist

    ghellquist Well-Known Member

    May 25, 2004
    A few short words from an amateur.

    Melquiades, I find great pleasure in reading your home page. I really symphatize with your approach and the way you meticously attack the issues. It really inspires me.

    Now for the difficult part. I´m not sure how to say this except that I want to be very clear that it is all about taste. Some like the meat red, some want it medium. My taste is not for the kind of very close micing of a piano that you do. I really want quite a bit more of room. To be clear, I do not really like any close miking of orchestral instruments. But it is not only about the room, with a bit of distance the instrument sound sort of mellows and changes. Pianos are definitely in that group if you ask me, close up they sound one way, and a few meters of the sound is quite different.

    Regardless of my thoughts about the taste, take my apprecation for the determination and work you do.

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