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A piano player obviously cannot use a hand held microphone. From that I have seen in various shows, it is possible to use

  • a bigger microphone what is attached to the stand and positioned in front of the performer, or
  • a headset - like microphone that is much smaller and attached to the head of the performer.

While a piano player needs no freedom to run around, the keyboard is rather wide so with the fixed microphone the head is unlikely to be always same distance from the mic. How much is this the issue? From the other side, headset microphones look somewhat unusual, optimized for wireless transfer that seems redundant and require converters even to plug into standard XLR jack with phantom power. Headset microphones seem taking a more narrow price range: they are not exactly cheap, however prices do not go a high as for the best free standing microphones.

Which of these two setups is considered optimal and more professional, are any know positive and negative sides?

For the simplicity, let's set recording of the piano sound aside. It probably needs separate additional microphones anyway, or (if digital) may need no any.

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The answer is: It depends. It depends on your expectations, on the type of music and type of playing you do, what type of piano have you got etc. I don't have so much experience and very likely someone else will come with a better answer, but I'll share my 2 cents worth.

You have the following options:

  • a headset: They can do a really good job and certainly meet the expectations of the freedom of movement. You can stand on your head on the piano stool and play and the microphone will catch your voice.

    However: If you get a dynamic microphone, the sound will probably miss some "spark" since the diaphragm is small -- deep frequencies stretch it a lot and the response to the higher frequencies is then quite bad.

    If you get a condenser, then it catches a lot of noise from all around you -- the piano keys, the sounds of your shirt sleeves moving on your arms, whatever. It's difficult to clean the sound, but the result can be good. However, you'll pay a lot for a good condenser.

  • dynamic microphone just in front of you: This is the setting I currently use, but it is far from being perfect. It is difficult to put the stand in such a position that it does not block your view. I mean, it will always block your view to some extent, and you have to experiment with the setup. I have the stand on the right from the keyboard, and the microphone on a long horizontal bar. I've been fiddling with the stand setup for a long long time to get the best out of it. Still, it blocks my view to a part of the keyboard and to a part of the sheet stand in front of me, depending on where my head is.

    Second disadvantage is that you have to sing in the microphone from couple centimetres distance, and really sing into it, not close to it. Therefore when you play c'''', you move your shoulders to the right, stretch your right arm to the right, but keep your head turned left. Looks weird and feels weird at the beginning, but one can get used to it.

    On the other hand, good dynamic microphone is not as expensive as a condenser headset.

  • stage condenser: That's the 3rd option. You sing in this type of microphone from larger distance and it catches the singing really well. However, I think it's usable only with electronic pianos since with grand or upright, you don't have any place where to put the microphone, and it'll catch the piano sound a lot. You can get either a very good one (which will probably look like this one), or some better-quality conference microphone (didn't find a good free image, just google "conference microphone"), which can do the job as well. Again, they are condensers, so they catch a lot of ambient sound.

  • I would not go for a lavalier (the one that goes on your shirt), I'm yet to see them produce reasonable output from singing.

Whatever you opt for (and especially if you stay with a standard dyna-mic), I recommend getting good monitoring of how it sounds, and as well getting a lot of practice with the setup before you go on air.

  • Why use an omni? Large-diaphragm cardioid is much better for voice in particular when you want to sing from a bit further away. – leftaroundabout Jan 11 '15 at 13:45
  • @leftaroundabout That was indeed a mistake, I'm correcting it. Thanks for pointing out! – yo' Jan 11 '15 at 16:37
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I'm not sharing yo's misgivings. I use a dynamic mic- Shure 58 (others are available!) just like a heck of a lot of other stage vocalists. It's on a boom stand sited on the opposite side of the keys to where I sit/stand.So it points directly at me, as a mic should. It doesn't pick up anything extraneous, and is only switched on when I'm singing. The stage piano is only as high as its keyboard - not an upright.

I used to use a headset mic wirelessly. Proper use of a mic means varying the distance between mouth and mic. Impossible with a headset.

Watch performers who sing and play piano, and the option as in my first paragraph would seem to be the favoured one. For t.v. work, they probably have a lavalier mic as well but it's not easy to spot.

Condenser mics, excellent as they are, are not particularly suited to stage work in comparison to dynamics.

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    Could you explain why "varying the distance" is required for singing? Varying the distance as needed looks challenging if you also play outside the center of the keyboard at the same time. Where the song requires, vocalist should be able to vary the loudness of the own voice! – h22 Jan 11 '15 at 12:04
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    @h22 - True, but varying the distance from mouth to mic gives even more control and change of tone - dependent on the mic quality of course. A lot of singers just sing from around an inch or two from the mic, but good, experienced vocalists will use proximity to good advantage. As in singing loudly with the mic away sounds different from singing quietly with the mic close. Same overall volume, change of timbre. – Tim Jan 11 '15 at 17:05
  • How far do you have the microphone? And as well, do you have sheet music in front of you? (Other than that, I +1'd your answer for sure!) – yo' Jan 11 '15 at 17:06
  • @yo' - obviously this works best for a hand-held mic, but I've worked with vocalists who work the mic on occasions from a foot away to close proximity. Sometimes I am an inch away, sometimes 3 or 4, whilst playing keys. Also depends on who else is harmonising, to get a balance.However , this is skewing off the point of the original question. Rarely use sheets on stage! – Tim Jan 11 '15 at 17:12
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    I will second Tim's point on varying your proximity to the mic. Paradoxically, when seeking to convey an intimate tone, tight on the mic is best, singing at a low volume. Think of a Smokey Robinson ballad. When giving full voice, singing "legit", it is best to back away to avoid distorting the audio signal. Also, if you are blending with other voices, you will be listening closely to your monitor to be sure you are at just the right distance. The big adjustment for me when I started in bands was listening for my voice in the room instead of in my head/body, as I would with no support. – memphisslim Jan 12 '15 at 4:06
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My tip - hope it's accurate as it seems to work for me

For dynamic mics go with a cardioid dynamic mic instead of a supercardioid mic - the reason is that supercardioid mics have a smaller pattern to pick up your voice which is great for a standing vocalist who wants to reject ambient noise and for feeback suppresion on stage. For a singing pianist who moves up and down the board, you will notice your voice is sometimes at different angles to the mic depending on where you are playing on the piano (it's just natural) so a cardioid has a wider pattern so it will pick up your voice slightly better as you shift while you are playing. Just my 2 cents.

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It's hard to put the condenser studio microphone (with stand) on a practical place. If you have a acoustic piano, the best option is a dynamic microphone because the condenser microphone also picks up the sound of the piano.

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The headset picks up all mouth sounds, including the ones you don't want people to hear, like a sneeze, a cough, and the heavy breathing you didn't even know you make when you launch into a solo, burps, clearing the throat, mumbles, and in my case sometimes the whiskers in my beard scratch the windscreen. Other than that the headset follows well when you move around the keyboard, or lift your head and drop your head as you look back and forth from keys and controls to audience and sheets. I'm still looking for a mic that does not block my view...a keyboard player , not a guitar player nor a techie, needs to invent one. Good luck.

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For your singer, you ideally want to go condenser as they have better pickup in the lows and highs which give a very clean and "colourful" sound (I am going all in with the buzzwords). However, your big problem is the fact there is a piano blasting out sound right next to your singer, so go for a cardioid or other very directional microphone that is pointed directly at your singer. This should minimize noise pollution from the piano.

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