Do you have a student who is interesting in recording themselves? Maybe you want to record them to show them what they are doing right or wrong? Maybe your students want their music to be out in the world via YouTube.
There are plenty of ways to record a piano, and the first is by simply using your smartphone.
The problem with using a phone is you will likely record a lot of unwanted noise that will spoil the quality of your piano playing.
Today, we’re going to talk a little bit about recording a piano. Nowadays, there are more and more musicians and everyone wants to share their skills with the rest of the world.
The problem is that most studios and professional recording technicians charge quite a lot of money for their services. So, what is the low- budget alternative? Let’s find out!
Need some more technology help? Here are 10 ways YouTube can spice up your piano studio.
What makes a good setup to record piano at a high-quality?
One thing that most beginners tend to forget is to use a piano that is actually in tune.
The strings of your piano need to be set up to play the correct pitch or frequency. If they are not tuned correctly, your music will sound off.
While you might not be able to hear the subtle differences in pitch during your performance, the audience can. Make sure that your piano is tuned precisely before attempting to record anything.
A good set of microphones is essential for recording the original and natural sound of an acoustic instrument like the piano. This might be the most expensive part of your setup, but keep in mind that more expensive microphones can always be resold for a similar price that you paid for them, while a low-end microphone loses most of its value as soon as it leaves the store.
The room you are going to use for recording should be quiet, isolated from outside noises and have no echo. The reason for this is that you will be able to edit the sound digitally with software later on and to experiment with different settings. You can add echo or simulate different types of rooms and environments.
Lastly, you are going to need a good computer, an audio interface which helps to connect your microphone to your computer, and a type of program called Digital Audio Interface (DAW). We will explain this in more detail right away.
Check out our ultimate beginner guide to using a Digital Audio Interface by clicking here.
Which microphones should you choose?
If you’ve never bought microphones before, you should most likely go to a music store with a good reputation and get some professional tips on what to choose.
For piano recording, you need two microphones for a realistic sound recording. Getting models like the Studio Projects C1 (or Studio Projects B1 if you are on a very tight budget) will be good enough for beginner sessions, as well as anything by the company Shure. Another good option is getting a pair of MXL 990/993 microphones.
If you want better microphones, consider getting second-hand mics. Sometimes, people are even selling additional microphone stands and cables along with the mic, but you always have to be careful – don’t buy any expensive gear without testing it at the seller’s home or studio, and make sure that you either know what you are doing or that you bring an experienced friend with you.
What are your software options?
A digital audio workstation is a type of software that has everything a big studio will have but in a digital form. It comes with loads of additional features for editing and adding effects to your recording.
There are a lot of software options available. The high-quality ones are available for MAC systems. For Windows, you are probably going to find tons of freeware programs.
Some important names that come to mind are FL Studio, MuLab, Audacity, Ableton Live and Steinberg Cubase.
No matter which one you choose, you will need some time to get familiar with it and learn all the functions. Make sure to go through different online tutorials.
There are many websites that can help you learn about music production, recording, and playing, so make sure to check them out.
To get your recording into the computer, you need to connect your microphones to an audio interface, which is then connected to your computer.
The audio interface is a peripheral device that takes the signals from your microphones and transforms them into something that the computer can read. Most are very easy to set up and there are quite a lot of cheap ones out there, but make sure that they work with your opera ng system (Windows or Mac).
Read more: How YouTube can encourage effective practice
How to set up your gear to record piano
There’s not a single perfect way to record piano, but here is a setup idea which will help you with the basic recording. You can, later on, adapt to your own needs and budget.
First of all, you want to experiment with microphone placement. There are a lot of different approaches to this, but you can start out with something called X/Y placement. You can find pictures of this online, but basically, the microphones create a 90-degree angle.
For this, you might need a special microphone stand. Another way is to tape the microphones to the lid of the piano and then close the lid, which is also a popular technique. If for any reason the X/Y placement doesn’t work out for you, you can start spacing the microphones apart.
A good audio interface to start out with is the Tascam US-122. This interface connects to a PC or a laptop per USB and it comes with two standard microphone inputs. The computer you are using and your so ware should be able to recognize the audio interface and the microphones, but if they don’t, make sure to look up possible solutions online before blaming it on the gear.
Make sure to eliminate noise sources before recording. Things like air conditioning and fridges shouldn’t be anywhere near the room or should be turned off.
Bes sure to close the windows during recording. Rugs and some furniture can help eliminate unwanted echoing, as well as window curtains. After this, you can start recording.
Here is an alternative setup: if you want a more classical and natural piano sound, consider placing a pair of mics outside the instrument. For example, place a pair of AT4051b microphones in X/Y position about three feet in front of the piano, five feet above the ground. To save time, have someone move the microphones around the room until you get the perfect sound.
Once you’ve got the track recorded, you will have to spend some time adding effects to your software. A little bit of reverb or some simulation of a different room type can really make your sound unique. You shouldn’t overdo it, though. A lot of effects can mess with your original sound, so keep the effects in moderation.
Related: FREE DOWNLOAD | My new GarageBand course for piano teachers
Recording a piano is not the easiest task in the world. But at least it is not the most expensive task, either. As long as you can get some of the equipment second-hand or borrow a thing or two from a musician friend, you should be fine.
Have someone help you with the recording and editing, two or three people can achieve so much more than a single person. It’s a great way to get your students involved with technology. Recording some piano and uploading to YouTube to share with friends and family could be a great summer task or end of term task to set for a student.
A final tip to help you check the final result is getting a couple of decent studio monitors. You want to properly hear how your recording sounds. If you are happy with the final result, then you are ready to publish your work!
The damper noises are impressively well recorded as well…
Thanks for the article, some great points made.
I’ve been interested in recording since I was a kid (started out with recording my piano playing onto cassette tapes with various cheap boomboxes!). Since then have done a fair bit of live sound mixing etc. over many years. I’m now a secondary school teacher and this semester I’ve been given a music class called ‘Digital Recording Studio’ so I’ve done a bit of extra research for that too.
As such, I thought I’d share a couple of things that will hopefully be useful to other readers:
1. To add to the mic placements listed above, I’ve found another good placement for an upright piano, (at least for my piano in my room), is to put them directly behind the piano, angled slightly in towards the sound board, about 2/3 of the way up the piano. When recording in stereo (if using the exact same microphone model), this gives what I think is a quite nice stereo effect. I made some sample recordings for my students at school to play around with for practicing mixing & editing. They’re a bit rough in terms of the playing (some parts more than others), but I’ve put some links below so you can have a listen and see what you think of the piano sound (there’s other instruments in there at times but you should get an idea). I think I did some EQ on ‘Angie’ and some slight compression on ’12 Bar Blues’. I’ve only included the instrumental sections for ‘Angie’ as that’s where the piano stands out more. For those interested, the piano is a Kawai K300. Nonetheless, I think the best advice is already in the article though – experiment with different mic placements until you find one you like for your piano, in your room.
12 Bar Blues https://1drv.ms/u/s!ApDv0fnvZ5Z_k8U2gqR_betvx_hHWw
2. Another useful feature of many audio interfaces is that they have inputs that can accept both XLR plugs for microphones and standard 1/4” jack plugs for keyboards, electric guitars etc in the same jack. This can be handy as students could add other parts using a keyboard / digital piano e.g. basic drum beats using the drum setting. This method of using the line out (or even headphone out) of a keyboard / digital piano tends to give a better result than miking the built in speakers of the keyboard / digital piano. I used the headphone out on my Casio Privia to record the strings, drums and bass in ‘Angie’ and the trumpet and drums in ’12 bar blues’. Some interfaces such as mine will have a ‘direct monitor’ button so you can hear what you are playing in real time through headphones.
3. For using condenser microphones, ensure the interface has phantom power.
4. I’ve found small diaphragm condenser mics are better for piano than large diaphragm ones. Small diaphragm mics tend to have a wider frequency range, higher sound pressure level handling, and better dynamic range.
5. The microphones & interface I bought are pretty cheap but do a reasonable job (I used these for the acoustic piano on both sample tracks above [2 mics] and the acoustic guitar parts [one mic] on ‘Angie’). The mics are Behringer C2 (a matched pair of ‘studio condensers’) and cost between $100 – 120 AUD and the interface is a Behringer UMC202HD (about $130 AUD). The mics come with a stand attachment for doing x-y configuration using one mic stand, too. Behringer perhaps isn’t the highest quality brand out there but they seem to do the job well enough for home recording. We ended up getting 3 sets of the C2 mics for school as well after I tried mine out on the choir and we found that they sounded very nice for that purpose too. They’re probably similar in quality to the MXL’s mentioned in the article but are a matched pair rather than two different types/model of microphones.
Anyway, hope someone finds this useful. Enjoy playing around with recording – it’s great fun!
Thank you for this article, Diego! I am interested in making more recordings of students at my music school and this information is wonderful. My goal is to record students in their first year of lessons and keep recording throughout the year. I think it would make such a nice graduation gift for the student and their parent to receive these recordings. Thanks again!
Thanks Regina! What a great idea. I think videos work great for this too! 🙂