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Violin & piano, positioning of players and microphones Condenser Microphones
Old 7th August 2018
  #1
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Violin & piano, positioning of players and microphones

This enquiry is not to do with which microphones to use for recording violin and piano, but about the positioning of the players, and positioning of microphones that people use.

I'm not keen on having the soloist stand apart at a distance from the piano and then panning them to the centre, sometimes I see soloists being placed at some distance behind the pianist, but as a musician it's nice to be "in contact" with the accompanist.

I'm wondering if a main pair (Blumlein, AB or ORTF) perhaps with a distance pair, and an extra pair of spot mics at the tale end of the piano, would cover the whole thing, or whether people invariably spot the violin with a pair of mics (maybe ribbons or TLM170s for example).

I'm going to use a pair of sE RNR1 mics initally in crossed fig8, and a distance pair of Scheops omni MK5, and probably ribbons or Beyer MN930's at the tail end of the piano. I would hope to place the soloist centrally, so that it sounds as it looks.

Any thoughts on the matter will be gratefully received. It's more positioning than makes of mics that I'd love to hear about.

I also tend to simplicity in micing whenever it can be done that way.

Last edited by Geoff Poulton; 3rd September 2018 at 10:56 AM..
Old 7th August 2018
  #2
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jnorman's Avatar
Assuming no audience, I would position the players facing each other perhaps 10-12 feet apart. A pair of omnis just outside the lip of the piano, and a single ribbon on the violin, with the null pointed generally toward the piano. If the hall is wonderful you can add a pair of amibience omnis out a ways to blend in additional hall sound/verb as needed.
Old 8th August 2018
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Geoff Poulton View Post
This enquiry is not to do with which microphones to use for recording violin and piano, but about the positioning of the players, and positioning of microphones that people use.
These radiation/propagation diagrams can be helpful in such cases. Of course my first reaction would be to keep out of the whole 'player placement' issue yourself...THEY will (and should) place themselves where they damn well want for best eye-contact and sound (don't forget that, in the case of piano, the open lid will be reflecting and shaping the radiated sound of the violinist as well, back to the player's ear, and this will additionally inform their standing position)

It's a conceit to presume that player placement will (and should) be in your hands. When they are comfortable they will give of their best performance...it's the capture of THAT which is your job.....

So, once they're comfortably located according to their own criteria and preferences, YOUR job is to capture the blend (and the space they play in) superlatively ! No big ask

That's where the diagrams can help. 2 ways to approach. Either you can aim to place your main mic pair so it's exposed to the 'maximum overlap' of most of the shaded zones (these are propagations at different frequency ranges)....or you could place your spot mic in an overlap area of all the shaded zones that your main pair misses. So between your main pair pickup and your spot you would have hopefully covered most of the 'shadeds' (at least the musically significant ones)

Oh...and then there's the piano to consider...but that's more predictable, and don't forget that the 'lid throw component' will likely also be bundling up quite a bit of violin, as well as piano string and body resonances.

Be prepared to move your mics around quite a bit, to capture those 'fishbowls of air' which contain the right blend of all the components you want to capture (direct sound from violin and piano, and ambience/hall sound...or add the latter later !)
Attached Thumbnails
Violin & piano, positioning of players and microphones-violin.jpg  
Old 8th August 2018
  #4
Gear Addict
 

It is a bit of a conundrum indeed because the violinist is usually positioned to the left for concerts, even a little behind the pianist. This places the violinist in an unorthodox position regarding stereo imaging - out to the left. For a live recording, I don't worry about it. I just use a pair of omnis more to the left, try to split the difference between the instruments, and use a narrower spacing (20 cm or so) to minimize the stereo separation. I suppose this could even work for a recording session. Why not? It's how they position themselves after all. But tradition says otherwise.

Otherwise, for a recording session with this positioning of the instruments, you can place a main pair of mics out to the left and angled to the right (audience perspective), with the violin and piano sounds centered (the sounds of the instruments will be projecting at an angle to the mics) and then use stereo pairs for spots and an ambient pair for blend. Keep in mind the high register of the piano will be out of the right channel in the mains so you will need to reverse the channels. I admit I haven't tried this but Richard King mentions it in his book, albeit as a 'radical approach', so I thought I'd mention it.

Sometimes violinists will stand in the crook of the piano but move forward a few feet to save their hearing. From an ensemble perspective, as a cellist, I never liked this much because the sound reaching the pianist of the violin or cello is too indirect and can cause issues and it's still kind of loud on the ears for me. But if they are used to it they probably have it figured out. But this positioning can work really well for a recording by using a main pair out front with the violinist centered. But because the violinist stands while playing, the piano can sound rather distant in comparison. This can be corrected, obviously, with a spot pair of cards on the piano behind the filddle player. Spots on the violin and an ambient pair can be used as well.

The other option is what jnorman suggested but what studer will hate! haha, and that is place the musicians apart but facing each other. They will need a little rehearsal to get used to this - it's not too difficult. The good thing is they will be able to see each other well and the violin sound reaching the pianist is direct. It really shouldn't be an issue for ensemble but they will have to be open to it. I would place a main pair of omnis or Blumlein pair in the middle. You adjust the balance by moving the main pair closer to or further from the respective instruments or re-positioning the players. You can adjust how much ambiance you capture through the height of the mics. If you prefer one of the instruments to be brighter, you can point the omnis in that direction or vice versa for darker. Spots and ambient mics can be used as you like.

One more point...ribbons as spots on the fiddle would be my rec.

Last edited by shosty; 8th August 2018 at 06:16 AM..
Old 8th August 2018
  #5
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You could position them so that the piano is picked up in the center of a balanced stereo image of itself (as if it were a solo piano recording) with the violin in the center as well, sounding slightly closer. The violin will sound enveloped in the wider (and slightly more distant) image of the piano.
Old 8th August 2018
  #6
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why not let the musicians decide how they feel the most comfortable and then adjust your technique accordingly?



(my mic technique and placement would be vastly different but let's not go into this again...)
Old 8th August 2018
  #7
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Originally Posted by deedeeyeah View Post
(my mic technique and placement would be vastly different but let's not go into this again...)
Taking a wild guess...it might involve spot mics ?
Attached Thumbnails
Violin & piano, positioning of players and microphones-mic-1.jpg   Violin & piano, positioning of players and microphones-mic-2.jpg   Violin & piano, positioning of players and microphones-mic-3.jpg  
Old 8th August 2018
  #8
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off topic

of course! i'd wanna have some options while mixing...

single mic on the violin, two on the piano, stereo (close to) coincident main and a non-correlated ambient rear pair - most mics (except for the rears) with some degree of directivity.

but not your beloved 4-mic-array!



p.s. i'm somewhat disappointed that my mic didn't make onto the photos: it's a schoeps shotgun somewhat further away.

Last edited by deedeeyeah; 8th August 2018 at 11:52 AM.. Reason: p.s. added
Old 8th August 2018
  #9
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Yannick's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by shosty View Post
It is a bit of a conundrum indeed because the violinist is usually positioned to the left for concerts, even a little behind the pianist. This places the violinist in an unorthodox position regarding stereo imaging - out to the left.
Why unorthodox ? I know some labels (ECM springs to mind : piano very wide AB sound, violin solo smack in the middle, monoish) have their aesthetics, but what is actually wrong with the piano occupying almost the entire LR spread, and the violin being almost hard left ?

If the musicians play amazingly well in this position, why not record&play it back this way ?
Old 8th August 2018
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yannick View Post
Why unorthodox ? I know some labels (ECM springs to mind : piano very wide AB sound, violin solo smack in the middle, monoish) have their aesthetics, but what is actually wrong with the piano occupying almost the entire LR spread, and the violin being almost hard left ?

If the musicians play amazingly well in this position, why not record&play it back this way ?
I would have to agree with you on this. Cellist David Finckel plays way off the the left, behind his wife, Wu Han, on piano.

Old 8th August 2018
  #11
Gear Maniac
 

Thanks for all these suggestions everyone.

Shosty particularly addressed some of the problems I was thinking about, even though I hadn't articulated them as well as his answer, and aracu's comment was where my own thoughts were regarding layout.

I understand this from the musician's perspective as that's been my job for 50 years, and certainly would not dictate where people should stand (although when I work for studios, I don't really ever get a say in positioning!). However, if I were to make a suggestion and the players liked it, it could well solve the problem of a stereo image when a main stereo pair was in use, and it could well work that way.

I'm a brass player, and standing in the area of the crook of the piano has always been my preference, the level of sound is something to play against and feel supported by when the passages are a bit loud and fruity. I don't care for the feeling of being on an island and not quite in touch with a remote accompaniment somewhere else.

I would like to set up as though it were solo piano (as aracu mentioned) and then introduce the violin soloist into that set up if she felt it was good for her. I do like to hear soloists centrally placed rather than off to one side. Most recordings seem to work well that way, and for me, having most of the soloist coming from one speaker feels uncomfortable to listen to. In much the same way a piano from the pianist's perspective rather than the audience perspective does. It's just one of those things I suppose.

If the soloist does stand centrally and then faces the pianist, the side and some of the back of the violin will be facing the main stereo mic, so that may, or may not be an advantage I guess, which is where a pair of spot mics might well come into play.

This has been really helpful to me, if only for assuring me that there is no set way of doing these things! Thanks studer for the radiation charts, they will be very useful for setting up spot mics for the violin, which may, or may not be needed for the purpose of covering the fequencies that might not be covered by the main pair.

I will record straight down to stereo rather than mixing later, which is the way I've always worked, and it means that all the players can listen before leaving the building. I tend to see the main pair as a camera lens, recording what it sees before it if possible.

I've recorded brass, woodwind, and voice with piano before, but never violin, and would really like to be prepared well beforehand, so the best thing to do was ask those that have!

My thinking on this is starting to click into place thanks to everyone's thoughts here, they've really helped me a lot.

Last edited by Geoff Poulton; 8th August 2018 at 03:59 PM..
Old 8th August 2018
  #12
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a final point about spot miking the violin.....the propagation/radiation diagrams only show the horizontal output, but the vertical is just as significant: the higher you go above the face of the instrument, the more strident it tends to become.

A ribbon mic can certainly mitigate this, but experiment with spot mic height...you may well find that the most rounded sound comes from a mic (or pair) level with the instrument (or a little below or above it, rather than from a bird's eye view looking down) A strident sound rarely conveys much of the body or 'wood' of the instrument, so strive for some of this quality, if you can.
Old 8th August 2018
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post
a final point about spot miking the violin.....the propagation/radiation diagrams only show the horizontal output, but the vertical is just as significant: the higher you go above the face of the instrument, the more strident it tends to become.

A ribbon mic can certainly mitigate this, but experiment with spot mic height...you may well find that the most rounded sound comes from a mic (or pair) level with the instrument (or a little below or above it, rather than from a bird's eye view looking down) A strident sound rarely conveys much of the body or 'wood' of the instrument, so strive for some of this quality, if you can.
Thanks studer, this is golden information. I've been looking at this and it's been at the forefront of my thinking. I listen to some recordings of violin and piano and these things have not always been taken into consideration I'm sure. I was typing my last comment while you were sending this I think, as it was here when I'd finished.

If the violin soloist faced the pianist, the side and lower part of the violin would be facing the main stereo mic, rather than the bridge area, so an overhead spot might just be useful for tuning in as little or as much of the top of the violin sound as needed, rather than it being the other way around. This is all forming nicely in my mind now. This help has been fantastic, where do I send the payment to you all!!??

Last edited by Geoff Poulton; 8th August 2018 at 04:01 PM..
Old 8th August 2018
  #14
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by shosty View Post
I would have to agree with you on this. Cellist David Finckel plays way off the the left, behind his wife, Wu Han, on piano.

Apart from the spot mic on the cello, I wonder where the other mics are placed. The soloist sounds quite centrally placed and not off to the left, and the piano sounds wide and centrally placed too, they both more or less occupy the same area, but not as the video looks. I wonder how missing that was achieved.

Last edited by Geoff Poulton; 8th August 2018 at 06:08 PM.. Reason: missing word - how
Old 8th August 2018
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Geoff Poulton View Post
This is all forming nicely in my mind now. This help has been fantastic, where do I send the payment to you all!!??
We'd just squander the payment on impossibly expensive mics...so just post photos and audio samples from the session here instead !
Old 8th August 2018
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post
a final point about spot miking the violin.....the propagation/radiation diagrams only show the horizontal output, but the vertical is just as significant: the higher you go above the face of the instrument, the more strident it tends to become.

A ribbon mic can certainly mitigate this, but experiment with spot mic height...you may well find that the most rounded sound comes from a mic (or pair) level with the instrument (or a little below or above it, rather than from a bird's eye view looking down) A strident sound rarely conveys much of the body or 'wood' of the instrument, so strive for some of this quality, if you can.
Really good point and true for cello as well.
Old 8th August 2018
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shosty View Post
Really good point and true for cello as well.
Actually the same applies to timpani. Unfortunately, most often, it is impossible to mic them in the (correct) horizontal plane. It is a misconception they should be miked from above - although most often the most practical solution. (source: the very same book as above)
Old 8th August 2018
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yannick View Post
what is actually wrong with the piano occupying almost the entire LR spread, and the violin being almost hard left ?
If the musicians play amazingly well in this position, why not record&play it back this way ?
Violin and piano music usually has a natural tendency towards the violin taking more of a soloist role and the piano taking on more the role of accompaniment, less so than soprano and piano, but somewhat similar.

Having the violin way to one side of a recording can create a stereo image lacking in symmetry.
Old 9th August 2018
  #19
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Originally Posted by Yannick View Post
Actually the same applies to timpani. Unfortunately, most often, it is impossible to mic them in the (correct) horizontal plane. It is a misconception they should be miked from above - although most often the most practical solution. (source: the very same book as above)
Yes I've often wondered whether large percussion like tympani would propagate waveforms at other angles than 90 degrees above the skin.... you can mic piano also from much higher and in line with the plane of the lid and get a good pickup, as if the sound 'runs along' the plane surface.
Old 9th August 2018
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deedeeyeah View Post
imo it's not much of a problem putting an overhead mic on timpanies since one often does not need the full sound but just blend in some attack; even in this position, i'm mostly using hpf's on the way in - but yes, a few spot mics close to the heads or between the shells will give you a way different sound!
+1.

That is about the only place I would put an omni in an orchestra
Old 9th August 2018
  #21
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Originally Posted by Yannick View Post
+1.

That is about the only place I would put an omni in an orchestra
Thank you Didier and Yannick, I'll give this a try on my next orchestral recording...and by extension it could also have application for kick drum perhaps (in a rock or jazz context ) ? Possibly outside either the front or rear skin of a kick drum, to get the attack of the beater ?
Old 9th August 2018
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aracu View Post
Violin and piano music usually has a natural tendency towards the violin taking more of a soloist role and the piano taking on more the role of accompaniment, less so than soprano and piano, but somewhat similar.

Having the violin way to one side of a recording can create a stereo image lacking in symmetry.
That would make some pianists upset!

I think of sonatas, in most cases, as chamber music with equality between the instruments. Some exceptions in the cello rep would be the Arpeggione Sonata by Schubert and the Italian Baroque sonatas for cello by Locatelli and Graziani that have very accompanimental parts for the keyboard with virtuoso cello parts.

In the classical sonatas by Mozart and the early Beethoven sonatas it could be argued that the piano has a bigger role.
Old 9th August 2018
  #23
Gear Maniac
 

It seems easier to get a balance of all of the timp drums if miked from above, and the remainder of the frequency that isn't picked up by the spot mic, spills into the other mics in the vicinity, I guess.

I think the slap of the sticks on the heads is probably caught better on overheads, and so the attack transients are well represented.
Old 9th August 2018
  #24
Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post
a final point about spot miking the violin.....the propagation/radiation diagrams only show the horizontal output, but the vertical is just as significant: the higher you go above the face of the instrument, the more strident it tends to become.
Are the diagrams showing the horizontal plane or the plane perpendicular to the violin (or some other angle)?
Violinists differ in how the hold the instrument, i.e. at what angle from the horizontal, so I am wondering how this affects the radiation pattern.
Old 9th August 2018
  #25
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The horizontal, but it's not an exact science, more of a guide, because the frequencies will spill all around the place. In the perpendicular plane, the back and top of the violin are opposite ends of the spectrum - so to speak.
Old 10th August 2018
  #26
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Originally Posted by wildplum View Post
Are the diagrams showing the horizontal plane or the plane perpendicular to the violin (or some other angle)?
Violinists differ in how the hold the instrument, i.e. at what angle from the horizontal, so I am wondering how this affects the radiation pattern.
Good violinists duck and dart and weave all over the place, so these diagrams would only work for seated players, or those strapped to a Guantanamo waterboard.

Jump into your wayback machine and go ask the Italian masters, the likes of Guarneri and Stradivari had it all figured out to a fine art 300 years ago...using dry tealeaves instead of 3D holographic analysis & frequency-governed excitation transducers.

We've been going backwards ever since I suspect..... the Cremona luthiery mafia really knew their sh*t !

This gives you a tiny hint of the rabbit hole you can go down, if you're of that mind: http://www.pickandfiddle.com/plate_tuning.pdf
Old 10th August 2018
  #27
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Originally Posted by Geoff Poulton View Post
The horizontal, but it's not an exact science, more of a guide, because the frequencies will spill all around the place. In the perpendicular plane, the back and top of the violin are opposite ends of the spectrum - so to speak.
Sounds about right...think of it as a fig 8 mic in reverse, throwing sounds out above and below...with a null around the edge
Old 10th August 2018
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shosty View Post
I think of sonatas, in most cases, as chamber music with equality between the instruments.
That's a good way of thinking about it. In the case of violin and piano, a solo melody in the violin comes closer to sounding
like a single human voice, while the piano can create a wider stereo image in which more notes are played simultaneously.
Old 10th August 2018
  #29
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by aracu View Post
You could position them so that the piano is picked up in the center of a balanced stereo image of itself (as if it were a solo piano recording) with the violin in the center as well, sounding slightly closer. The violin will sound enveloped in the wider (and slightly more distant) image of the piano.
Aracu, this suggestion you made is what I initially had in mind, partly because I can use ribbons in Blumlein crossed Fig8s as a main pair, when it works there's little to beat it. Behind these would be a pair of omnis as hall mics, and a couple of mics for piano in case it is too distant. It would also be possible (but perhaps not necessary) to have a pair on the violin to balance the tonality. It also looks, as it sounds. I haven't yet got my head around making a stereo image with soloist standing to the left just over the right shoulder of the pianist, and listening to lots of recordings with this positioning it doesn't always come off convincingly to my ears. On some recordings the piano can sound disembodied, or not occupying the same space as the violin, but it does look like this is the most favoured place for violinists to stand.

I came across this (blow) after a fair bit of searching, and I can see the logic of this set up and think that a soloist would be really happy if it were suggested. I did want to use fig8 ribbons on the violin (and even on the piano, maybe) so I'm not sure what the position would be with the piano coming in on the rear of those. I can't see what the mic pattern set up is on the video. I wouldn't be able to use a main pair of Blumlein fig8s with this, but it does look very mangeable and logical. Six mic in all.

YouTube

YouTube

The following (below) appears to be a main pair for the violin & piano, with a pair at the tail of the piano. The overall sound is good I think (the violinist's tone is probably responsible for most of that!)
This is the type of positioning which I had in mind initially, with balance achieved by moving the main pair fore & aft. They feel to be occupying the same space, which some recording with violin looking over the right shoulder of the pianist have not done - I like this recording. And I'd get to use Blumlein fit8s!

YouTube

But I won't be demanding anything, just hoping!!

Last edited by Geoff Poulton; 1st September 2018 at 07:36 PM.. Reason: missing words & smelling mistake
Old 10th August 2018
  #30
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when using a pair of mics on the violin and you want use both at the same time, i would strongly recommend using a coincident pair (of your choice)
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