Placing Mics for a Piano - dummies

By Jeff Strong

If you’re lucky enough to have a real piano to record, you’ll probably want to record it live rather than use a piano patch on a synthesizer.

Harnessing the sound of the room

Pianos can be tough to record if your room doesn’t sound great. Because of the size of the instrument — especially if it’s a grand or a baby grand piano — you need a large room with a high ceiling to get the best sound. If you have an upright piano in a living room, for example, you may find it easier to just record a piano patch (sound) on a decent synthesizer.

If your room doesn’t add to the sound of the piano, use a closer mic placement than you would if your room sounds great.

Managing the mics

Condenser mics are a must for recording piano. Either small- or large-diaphragm mics work well. Your mic placement depends largely on the sound you want. Here are a few examples:

  • Funky rock or ragtime sound: Place your mic close in toward the hammers. In this case, you should use two mics — one over the higher register and one over the lower, 6 to 12 inches away from the hammers.

  • Natural classical-type sound: Move the mics out from the instrument — 2 to 6 feet is usually good, depending on how much room sound you want in the mix. The farther you move the mics outside of the lid, the higher you should place the mics because the sound moves up as it goes out. A good reference is to use the lid as guide.

The farther outside the instrument you put the mics, the more room sound you pick up.

If you don’t want to use a traditional condenser mic or if you want to try another approach to piano miking, you can use a boundary mic. A boundary mic is an omnidirectional mic that attaches to the instrument.

You can find a decent-sounding boundary mic for about $50 from Radio Shack (Cat. #33-3022) or for a few more dollars from most other microphone manufacturers. Just mount the boundary mic to the underside of the piano’s lid (consult your mic’s manual for details on mounting it) to get the best sound. You can also use two boundary mics — one over the lower register and one over the higher one.