How to Capture the Perfect Classic Grand Piano Sound in your Home Music Studio


Nowadays, you can only hear the true essence of a classical grand piano in shows, orchestras, and other forms of live entertainment. In records, classical grand pianos are what you do hear. However, they are sampled from the real thing most of the time, which is convenient in the sense that you do not have to purchase an expensive grand piano for your studio. But, if you had a grand piano at home, how would you make a song and record it with quality onto a track?

Unlike recording vocals and any other musical instruments, recording an acoustic piano will require much more work. First of all, you need to determine what kind of piano you will record. If it is an upright piano, you’ll need less space than with a Grand piano. Second, You will need more than one condenser microphone to capture the full sound. And last but not least, you have to place a mic at different spots to capture the dynamics of the acoustic instrument.

TYPES OF PIANOS

CLASSICAL GRAND PIANO

A piano, also known as an acoustic piano, is commonly used in classical music by composers like Beethoven and Mozart. The classical grand piano is bulky, so it might not be an ideal choice for a bedroom music studio. 

However, if an acoustic piano what you need for your home studio, make sure you provide enough space for it. If you don’t have enough space, you can still get the “Grand Piano” sound from virtual instruments and most modern keyboards. Piano players, however, prefer the feel of the weighted keys of an actual grand piano.

There are different sizes of the grand piano:

  • Petite Grand Pianos or Baby Grand – 4 feet 11 inches in height
  • Classic or Medium Grand Pianos- 5 feet 2 inches to 5 feet 8 inches in height
  • Full Grand Pianos- 5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet 2 inches in height
  • Recital Grand Pianos- 6 feet 3 inches to 6 feet 9 inches in height
  • Semi-Concert Grand Pianos- 6 feet 10 to 9 feet in height
  • Concert Grand Pianos- 8 feet 10 inches and above

The size of the piano affects its loudness. The bigger the size of the piano means the louder and more powerful the sound it can produce. If the venue for a concert is a big coliseum that fits thousands of people, it will require the power of a concert grand piano.

For your home studio, a baby grand piano might be enough. It is quieter and saves you some space. There are two types of acoustic pianos you can choose from, the grand piano and the upright piano. The upright piano saves more space.

To record a classical piano, you will need to use microphones to capture the sound. The sound of an acoustic piano comes from the back, and that is where mics you can place the mics for recording. Pianos need to be tuned and maintained after some time. Grand Pianos are more expensive than digital pianos.

UPRIGHT PIANO

An upright piano is smaller and more space-saving than a classical grand. The process of recording an upright piano will be slightly different. These types of pianos are made in various heights, depending on how large the sound you want. The main difference between an upright piano and grand piano is that the upright piano action is maintained with the use of springs. Classical grand pianos, on the other hand, relies on gravity alone to maintain the action positions. Upright pianos are more suitable for a home, rather than using them on a concert stage. Mainly because a classical grand can produce a more substantial sound in terms of loudness. For recording, you can get the same amount of loudness you need whichever piano you choose.

EQUIPMENT NEEDED

To record a classical grand piano on your computer. You will need a suitable laptop or computer for the job. Aside from that, you will need a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW. The DAW will serve as your all-around software application where you will record, mix, and master your musical tracks that will eventually become a full song.

You will also need quality condenser microphones to capture the sound of your acoustic piano. Cheap microphones will not do the job in this case. You will need a reliable microphone or microphones to capture the frequencies and create a high-quality piano track for your song projects. To translate your recordings to a language that a computer will understand, you will need an audio interface. Here is a list of what you will need:

  • Computer or Laptop
  • DAW
  • Audio Interface
  • Microphone (two or more)
  • Piano

MIC PLACEMENT

The mic placement will differ when recording a classical grand or upright piano. First, let us discuss how to place a mic for a classical grand piano. Then, we will move on to how to record an upright piano since they differ in a lot of aspects of recording.

Classical Grand Piano

For a classical grand, you will need a bigger room. Because they take up a lot of space, you will need a little bit of excess room for the sound to resonate when you try to record them. (The more significant the room, the better) You will also need a ribbon mic or a condenser to capture the grand piano sound.

As for the mic placement, make sure you open the grand piano lid and place the microphone as close to the strings as possible to capture every soft and hard hit. It is better if you can obtain the dynamics of the playing, so you can feel the track as opposed to only hearing the piano track.

Place the other microphone further away to capture the attack and ambiance of the piano. Unlike MIDI piano recordings, you can simply adjust the resonance, attack, sustain, and all the other effects. But for recording, you will have to play and record the automation of a piano manually.

You will need to experiment with the placement of the mic until you get the sound you want. There is a rule that you will pace the second mic at least 3 feet away from the mic closest to the piano. You can read about the 3:1 rule all over the world wide web.

Upright Piano

Same as the classical grand piano, the bigger the room, the better the sound you will capture. You will also need a condenser or ribbon microphone for recording. Here is where the process differs; instead of using the 3:1 rule, you will open the lid and place the microphones above the player at either end of the piano.

LIMIT NOISE

To get a better sound, make sure you limit the room noise. Watch out for creaks on the floor or any other noises that could ruin your recording, especially if you are midway into the process. Make sure that your piano is in good condition and perfectly in tune too. Also, check the seat of the piano for unwanted creaks and noises, as well.

Recommended Mics:

RODE NTR PREMIUM ACTIVE RIBBON MICROPHONE

(Price: $560)

Rode is well-known for creating high-quality mics for music production. A lot of pro music studios use Rode products because of their name is always associated with the quality of their products. This ribbon microphone is suitable for recording vocals as well as acoustic instruments.

Key Features:

  • Figure 8 polar pattern
  • Velocity transducer
  • 20Hz to 20KHz frequency range
  • 3-Pin XLR output
  • Sleek design
  • Heavy-Duty Black matte finish
  • Perfect for recording acoustic instruments such as a classical grand or upright piano

NEUMANN U-87

(Price: $3,000)

This vintage style mic is an excellent mic that is worth the price. It is a large-diaphragm microphone that is suitable for capturing almost any vocal and acoustic instrument tracks. This mic is a classic studio microphone that has three directional characteristics, Omni, cardioid, and figure 8. The features give the mic more functions in a recording session. It has a vintage design that will automatically attract people whoever sets their eyes on this amazing product. Because it is way more expensive than the other mics on the market, I would not recommend that you buy this product unless you are certain that you want to choose this music producer path.

However, you can always sell pre-loved musical instruments. That is another good thing about investing in musical instruments, as long as you take care of them, you can sell them at a reasonable price that is not too low compared to the cost when you bought it.

AUDIO-TECHNICA AT2035 CARDIOID CONDENSER MICROPHONE

(Price: $150)

This product was designed with home music producers in mind. It has the perfect features that every home music or professional music producers needs. The wide dynamic range provides excellent versatility for recording vocals and acoustic instruments alike.

Key Features:

  • Handles high sound pressure levels
  • Cardioid polar pattern
  • Reliable performance
  • Large-diaphragm
  • Custom shock mounts for superior isolation
  • Switchable 80Hz high pass filter and a 10dB pad

ROOM TREATMENT

Owning a classical piano will require a lot of treatment for storage to extend its life. Classical grand pianos are costly, so you would want to invest in storage to maintain its integrity through the years. Every musician and composer’s dream is to own one of these majestic instruments. But, owning one is not enough, you’re going to need to take care of it too.

Make sure that you have a humidifier or an HVAC system. This device will help control the excess humidity in the room where you will store the piano. An adequately treated room will maintain the integrity of the piano and make it last for a long time. However, if you do have an HVAC system, do not place the piano near the vents. The humidity levels in these areas are less stable.

Make it a habit to cover the keys when they are not in use. It will limit the exposure to contaminants such as dust or pet hair. These piano covers are reasonably priced, so there is no reason not to invest in one.

Do not place any liquids near your piano. It can damage the wooden finish and cause internal damage that may be irreversible. Make it a rule to not eat or drink near the piano, or any of your other expensive studio equipment for that matter.

Playing your piano regularly will keep all the mechanical and moving parts in good condition. A piano that is left untouched for a long time can be damaged or become out of tune due to the stiffness. You should probably try to play your piano at least once or twice a week.

RELATED QUESTIONS

  • Which is better to use? A digital recording, or a real piano? Digital grand pianos are modern types of grand pianos. They are much smaller than acoustic grand pianos. If you are composing a pop, rock, jazz, or funk song, digital pianos can get the job done. They usually have more versatility when it comes to sounds and presets suitable for different genres. The digital piano plays back high-quality recordings recorded from acoustic pianos, instead of steel strings hammered like an old-school piano.

However, some say that organic sounding pianos will sound better on a recording. This information is true if you can manage to capture the sound with the materials you have. You should have quality microphones, and the knowledge you have learned through reading this article.

  • How to make a MIDI piano sound more organic? The number one way to make a MIDI piano sound more realistic is to play the notes rather than programming them on the MIDI piano roll. When you program the notes using a MIDI editor, you tend to align the notes perfectly, and that is not a bad thing. Except for missing the human element of a slight error. When you play the piano, you wouldn’t regularly hit all the notes at precisely the same time, would you?

The same goes for the endpoints of the note. In the piano roll, tweak the end of the notes so that they do not end at the exact same spot. Make a subtle change, and you will notice a more human articulation. You can also change the velocity on various sections to imitate emotion. Make sure you do so that it would match the song. Do not change the velocity randomly. Make use of the sustain automation to highlight the parts where a real piano player would typically step on the sustain pedal.

 Making MIDI piano sound real is all about the articulation. Imagine a human speaking and compare it to how a robot would talk. The same goes for piano. It needs little nuisances to get a bit more character and distinction. 

CONCLUSION

Capturing and recording the sound of a classical grand piano can be a lot of work in contrast to recording a digital piano. But, it is very fulfilling to record and sample your tracks using a real piano. It is not only about how the way it sounds, but the feeling of being pure. Of course, this is not the case for many music producers, because owning a classical grand piano requires a lot of space in your home music studio. But, if you have the resources, I would say that you should always aim for the real thing instead of MIDI. I myself do not own a grand piano. I use mostly MIDI instruments for keyboard and synth tracks, but I always go for organic if I have the chance.

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