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I have a pretty standard upright piano and I'd like to move some of my playing+singing from guitar to piano as a way to get more comfortable playing chords.

I like to record myself - just for fun or getting feedback, nothing more serious - and I wondered how to position microphone(s). Well - a vocal mic is simple enough but whereabouts would a mic go to record the piano? Just somewhere near the piano, inside it? I obviously wouldn't want to get too much vocal bleed into a piano mic which makes me think I need to somehow position it far away from my mouth but close to the piano sound?

Or, is a single vocal mic (or smart phone, etc) actually a decent approach since it will tend to get a good vocal/piano balance?

I'm probably after two levels of answer:

  1. If I just use my phone to record a rough copy, where should I put it?
  2. If I am trying to get a half-decent recording what should I do?
  • very quick answers 1. Experiment, you've only got about 3ft of movement to play with. 2. Record them separately - spill off a piano is serious. – Tetsujin Feb 10 '15 at 18:44
  • Here's a link to an article I posted for a similar request. – Meaningful Username Feb 12 '15 at 10:26
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"Just for fun or getting feedback" -- don't attempt to mic the vocal and the piano separately. Mic the room.

This is the only easy way to get a natural sounding recording. If you close-mic any instrument, you'll get a recording without any of the natural effects added by the room, and you'd have to compensate with artificial reverb, EQ and so forth.

Studio recording with multiple mics, and subsequently mixing, is a topic worthy of a whole book, because of all the complexities that arise.

Of course this means that you don't have separate piano and vocal tracks, so you can't play with levels afterwards. You'll probably find that for your "just for fun/feedback" purposes this isn't an issue.

It also means that you need a room that sounds nice -- but if it doesn't sound nice, why are you practising there? If you like how it sounds; good. If it's too lively, add some curtains/rugs/etc. If it's too dead, add some hard surfaces.

When you record you'll need to achieve something close enough to silence in the background -- so turn off or remove noisy radiators, fridges, computer fans, etc.

For a mono recording, you want an omnidirectional mic, positioned where a listener would be.

For a stereo recording "X-Y" placement is good, in which two mics imitate human ears. Use two cardioid mics, and place them as close together as possible, pointing 90 degrees apart.

X-Y mic placement

There are lots of nice, reasonably cheap, stereo recorders on the market with built-in microphones in the X-Y arrangement.

How much of this matters for "fun/feedback" is up to you. Plenty of people record themselves using their smartphone's built-in mic, and put the result on YouTube.

  • My smartphone mic is pretty good. Would you suggest putting the phone on the piano - maybe on the music stand - or somewhere else? It can basically rest on the keyboard, on top of the piano, on the music stand - if it's behind me the vocals will suffer. – Mr. Boy Feb 11 '15 at 12:45
  • Put it where you would want an audience to be. – slim Feb 11 '15 at 13:51
  • I agree with slim. If you put a mic - even your smartphone too close to the source (ie the piano) you will get too much of the piano. Music stand might work if you can position it right. Also the mic stand clips to hold i-phones have multiple adjustable parameters and with a boom mic stand and smart phone mount, you may be able to get the optimum position to get a good balance between voice and instrument. – Rockin Cowboy Feb 11 '15 at 18:16
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For this, and the other recording you asked about, and obviously any future recordings you will be doing, a better solution will be to arm yourself with an extra mic. This may well involve a small mixer as well, but lots of gear = lots of fun. One mic is really too much of a compromise, but with two, balancing signals is a doddle.Proper mics will always give far better quality sound anyway. You may well be put off the idea trying to use only one mic, because you want to play and sing rather than spend time trying to find the optimum position for that one mic, which is probably at the end of a rainbow...

Then, your other part of the question - open the lid, and try the mic centally placed pointing towards the gap. Or under the keyboard. Or behind the piano, where probably the best sound is found, usually masked by a wall.

  • Got one (a mini-mixer) already... although it's not in the same room as the piano :) But yes - for q 2. a 2-mic solution is welcome, I just wasn't sure if it was common since on TV you can't see a piano mic. – Mr. Boy Feb 10 '15 at 13:49
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    @Mr.Boy On TV, it'll likely be a contact microphone, or a well hidden one, or an EP, or a playback, ... – yo' Feb 10 '15 at 15:12
  • @Mr.Boy - as indicated by yo', we wouldn't see the pno mic/s usually. Your SM58 will do a good job for pno or vox, even though it's essentially a live stage work mic.You can experiment, and decide which job it does better for you. Then splash out on another mic - stereo recordings now!! – Tim Feb 10 '15 at 16:04
  • So is just dangling a mic inside the piano (closing the lid to hold the cable so it's not too loud in the room) OK? Or would it be echo-y? – Mr. Boy Feb 10 '15 at 16:06
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    @Mr.Boy The problem with dangling a mic inside the piano is that most mics that can be dangled may tend to emphasize the sound coming from the part of the strings/soundboard closest to the mic. Unlike a guitar which has 6 - 12 strings within a 2" span, a full sized piano has strings spread over more like four feet. Also, inside the piano you will pick too much of the mechanical noise of the hammers and other moving parts. Contact mics used inside pianos react to vibration of the wood verses the actual sound wave pressure. So they don't "hear" the mechanical noises. They only feel vibration. – Rockin Cowboy Feb 11 '15 at 18:42
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the phase cancellation / comb filtering from using multiple mics is not worth the effort or the cost or the time if you are doing this just for fun. Not getting into it here but in short the combination of complex waves from the same source at two different points in time (distance and time are related) (the speed of sound 1 foot = 1 millisecond) when the two sources combine it can have unpredictable effects by unevenly cancelling or strengthening the waves at different frequencies)

Use only one mic, and after each take do a listen test and alter the balance using placement. This can be done using common sense here are some examples...

  1. I don't hear enough piano! - place the mic farther from your voice closer to the piano

  2. I don't hear enough voice! - place the mic closer to the mouth and further from the piano

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