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Q. How should I record an upright piano?

Published October 2010

I have a pretty basic recording setup and, up until now, have just been making vocal and guitar recordings using an Audio‑Technica AT2035 and an Edirol FA66 audio interface with Reaper. However, I've been playing the piano a lot lately and would like to incorporate that. I have access to an old upright that's in the corner of my mum's living room. How can I achieve the best recording of the piano? Will I need different equipment?

Fiona McKay, via email

SOS Editor In Chief Paul White replies: There are many different ways to mic the upright piano, but in a domestic room a pair of cardioid capacitor mics would probably be the best option, as they would exclude much of the room reflection that might otherwise adversely colour the sound. Aim each mic at an imaginary point about a quarter-piano's width in from the ends of the piano, as that helps keep the string balance even. If the piano sounds good to the player, you can use a spaced pair of mics either side of the player's head, but it is also common practice to open the lid and, often, to remove the upper front cover above the keyboard as well. With the strings exposed in this way, you have more options to position the spaced pair either in front of or above the instrument, and I'd go for a 600 to 800 mm spacing between the mics, adjusting the mic distances as necessary to get an even level balance between the bass and treble strings.If a piano sounds good to the player, it's worth trying the recording from just either side of their position, placing the microphones 600 to 800 mm apart. However, it's also common practice to open the lid of the piano and place the mics above the exposed strings at that same distance apart.If a piano sounds good to the player, it's worth trying the recording from just either side of their position, placing the microphones 600 to 800 mm apart. However, it's also common practice to open the lid of the piano and place the mics above the exposed strings at that same distance apart.

If you're lucky enough to have a great‑sounding room, you can increase the mic distance to let in more room sound or switch to omnis. But in a typical domestic room I'd be inclined to start with the mics around that 600 to 800 mm distance apart. Also listen out for excessive pedal noise on your recording and, if necessary, wrap some cloth around the pedals to damp the sound.

SOS contributor Mike Senior explored this subject in some detail back in April of 2009. It's probably worth going to /sos/apr09/articles/uprightpianos.htm and giving it a read.  

Published October 2010