How to Mic a Piano (Grand and Upright)?

So, how does one go about capturing the sound of a piano? Well, the fact is there’s no single correct way to record the piano— and depending on where you position your mic/s, you might find that there’s more than one way of getting the sound that’s right for your track.

Mic a Piano – At a Glance

There are numerous options for micing a piano depending on the piano, the room, the piece, and its purpose. But if using a single mic to mic a piano at home we recommend the following.

Open the piano lid to full stick. Place your microphone around 8 inches away from the piano hammers and somewhere between 8 and 11 inches above the strings. This is far enough away to reduce any mechanical noise from the piano. Make sure the mic is over the piano’s mid-point and that the pan position is also centered.

What’s The Piano’s Role in Your Piece?

Before getting to the recording stage it is important to establish the purpose of the piano in your piece of music.

  • Is it the lead instrument for the piece?
  • Is the purpose of it to be purely aesthetic – are you trying to recreate a particular sound?
  • Is it to provide an acoustic or organic counterpart to an otherwise electronic or synthetic piece?
  • Is it something that will serve more as an ambient/textural layer?

Asking these questions among others before beginning the recording process can help determine several aspects. These include the kind of mic placements and the number of mics one might use for the recording and the positioning of mics.

Microphone Placement

Microphone placement is an integral component to capturing the best sound of the piano that works for your song. You shouldn’t think that you need certain pieces of equipment or knowledge to get the best sound – the fact is good placement with relatively inexpensive mics will allow you to get the best recording you need.

  • Mono – in this case, this means using one microphone which could be positioned on top or above, or around the center/rear of the piano (wherever the sweet spot is) and this is particularly helpful if you only have one microphone, or you’re on a budget.
  • Stereo – this would involve using two spaced pairs (two microphones positioned at different points of the piano).

Tip: When using a pair of mics it’s helpful to remember to position the microphones at least three times farther away from one to the other as this enables you to keep the phase aligned.

How Does Mic Placement Affect Sound?

Depending on how close or far you position the mics to the hammers it will affect the tone of the sound. Mics placed closer to the hammers will have more definition, brightness, punch, bite or percussive qualities, but mics positioned further away from the hammers will have a fuller, darker and more harmonious sound.

You can experiment using different mic placements and a number of mics, and as mentioned earlier it’s important to think about how the piano is going to sit in mix.

It is possible to do edits and alterations once you’ve recorded the piano, but if you can record the thing as closely to how you want it to sound in the track, then you’ve captured a great sound and naturally, that will bode well in your song.

Mics for Ambient Recording

For ambient recordings, it’s important to include the room where the recording is going to take place, as that is also part of the recording (in any instance). This can work well for a heightened sense of depth within a recording as you are capturing more of the space along with the piano which can lend itself to more cinematic or expansive recordings.

  • Positioning a high-hanging microphone away from the piano will enable one to capture the resonances within the room, and having mics set up in corners, or at some distance from the piano itself will also help with this.
  • Placing mics inside or outside of the piano will affect the sound, and it’s important to remember that all pianos will sound different depending on the instrument and the room.
  • Large diaphragm or small diaphragm condenser and ribbon microphones are generally the mics to use for tracking piano.

If you have enough microphones it’s possible to set up and record close mics and room mics which can give you a huge range of flexibility when it comes to mixing – although this is not necessary in all instances.

How To Mic Grand or Upright Piano – Does it Make Any Difference?

The only real difference here is where the microphones are placed due to the two instruments being different shapes and sizes.

– Mic a grand piano

For a grand piano, one might use two spaced pairs and position one close to the upper strings (around 8 inches from the piano hammers, and between 8-11 inches from the strings).

The other mic would be for the lower strings (placed 6-12 inches away from the rear end of the piano, and around 8-11 inches away from the strings).

– Mic an upright piano

When recording an upright, either a single mic on top or above the piano (center) or a spaced pair (one at each end, in front, or on top) could be sufficient.

If it’s possible to move the upright away from the wall, or record it in an open space and place the mics behind the piano, then they will capture more of the resonance and body of the instrument and simultaneously limit any noise from the hammers which could be beneficial for certain tracks.

You will want to experiment with mic placements inside and outside of the piano as this will contribute to the type of sound you will hear, and it will help you to determine what type of sound is right for your recording.

I think this is something that should be left to the person/people doing the recording, and those making the music as it’s up to them to decide what is going to work best for the track – there is no one fixed right way of doing things.

Tip: To help find the sweet spot of the piano it can help to have someone play and walk around the space and adjust the microphone accordingly until a spot is located – it is likely there are several sweet spots to be found.

Conclusion

We’ve learned that mic placement can involve a good deal of trial and error, experimentation but most of all lots of fun – there isn’t one way to mic up a piano, and often the best is just to do the best you can with what you have.

There are more possibilities than limitations (even with perceived limitations) and whether you have one mic or many mics you’re bound to get a good recording with the appropriate placements for your song.

Also ReadThe Best Piano VST Plugins

About the Author Linda Ritter

Linda Ritter is a passionate pianist and a songwriter for more than 7 years. With a Masters in Music, she has explored the world of music and has collaborated with several musicians and brands like Roland, Tune Core, and plenty of blogs.