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Jazz - record piano in stereo or not?
Old 25th February 2008
  #1
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Talking Jazz - record piano in stereo or not?

This is a matter of personal preference...I am just wondering what the consensus is. Normally I record piano mono and pan it pretty far left, as the live piano would be (usually with an Earthworks QTC-1 or SM-81).

But what's your take on it? What's your reasoning behind recording in mono or stereo? And if in stereo, do you pan it left and right so it's across the whole stereo image?

I am also including a sample of one of my recordings with the piano to the left.
Attached Files

pianodemo.mp3 (1.71 MB, 6160 views)

Old 25th February 2008
  #2
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springer's Avatar
 

Nice job Corran!
I have done both and recently did one with piano in mono/omni (UMT70S) and it sounded great. I must say that you can spread the group pan more with stereo piano and not get a thinner sound. I find with mono piano the group stereo spread sounds better at around 10 and 2 (60 degrees).
One of the avoided problems with mono piano is having to get enough spread from the 2 piano mics to sound convincing. In the past with stereo piano mics I didn't feel any need to keep any "image" as piano in a live situation sounds like a wall of sound anyway. Best judge is your ears. Whatever sounds best is right - bottom line.
PS - I have had best luck with omnis - what about you...?
Old 25th February 2008
  #3
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I prefer Jazz piano in mono.

That's the way most of the audience would perceive it I guess .
Old 25th February 2008
  #4
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Well, my only omni right now is the QTC-1, which sounds phenomenal to me about in the middle of the strings, about 6 inches off, pointing towards the front of the piano (not that it makes much difference, if it's an omni). However for some things where I can't put the mic there I like a cardioid under the piano right where the arch is. I sometimes use an SDC, sometimes LDC; both seem to work equally as well. However this has a little too much bass response due to the proximity effect, so a high-pass is sometimes helpful.

In a classical setting I got a really cool recording with two ribbon mics on the top and bottom strings and panned to the L + R. I wouldn't mind trying that for jazz on a piano-centric piece, but I haven't had that opportunity yet.
Old 25th February 2008
  #5
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Piano is a good example of a non-point source (monaural) instrument.

Although most people consider that the piano must be monaural at a certain distance, stereo sound is not all about obvious left-to-right imaging. I find that monaural piano recordings sound strange, even distant recordings.

However, in live recording a mono mic on the piano can work fine if there is a little bit of ambient piano in the other mics.

Andy
Old 25th February 2008
  #6
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I prefer mono and panned in a jazz combo.
Old 25th February 2008
  #7
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I definitely prefer stereo piano. You have left/low strings and right/high strings, and I hear them as such, depending where I am in the field. Of course in an audience you don't perceive this. It depends on what you're going for, of course. I personally, I always prefer hearing the low/high strings of a piano -- never panned hard, but there nonetheless.

I like to take a microcosmic view, every once in awhile, like sitting in the drummers throne or in front of the stage where there's a slightly exaggerated image. I'd like to be able to SEE the piano. But that's me.
Old 26th February 2008
  #8
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For me, it really depends on the style of music. For an older style, I may be more likely to go with a single mic, but for newer stuff, I'll use 2 mics. For a bop recording, I'll go for two that are panned with the high at hard left and the low at 1:00 or so to have localization with spread... For a fusion/pop-jazz kind of sound, I'll be more likely to pan all the way across the spectrum.

I'm not somewhere to hear your MP3, so I can't comment based on that..

--Ben
Old 26th February 2008
  #9
I would say it rather depends on the type of material and setting.I have no particular preference but usually I would say it is easier to dislike a piano in stereo rather than the mono.
Old 26th February 2008
  #10
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That's interesting. I always pan the bass hard left and high about 1:00. I guess I'm right again! LOL. Just kidding.
Old 26th February 2008
  #11
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I tend to go high-low for a couple reasons... First of all, when you look at the ensemble, the piano is usually on the left and that means the high strings as you look at it are on the left of the instrument. A fine point of imaging, but it is the way the instrument looks from the house.

Second and more importantly, the melody- especially with improvisation is usually in the right hand, towards the top of the instrument. With that side on the left, it has little to compete with sonically. Means that piano parts- especially the little solos and fills will come out more clearly without having to ride the faders. Basically lets the musicians control the sound more. For me, that allows for a more natural ensemble sound.

--Ben
Old 26th February 2008
  #12
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Wait -- looking at the stage the low strings are on the far LEFT and the right hand is leaning toward center stage, on the right. That's why I have it the way I do. The left hand is playing the bass notes to the far left of the image. Am I thinking this wrong?

I guess it depends on your perspective. I do recording of our jazz group. The pianist usually plays a grand. His back is to the audience or part of his back is to the audience. His left hand faces towards the left, as you look at the stage and his right hand, the high notes are in the direction of the band. Piano is stage RIGHT/audience Left.
Old 26th February 2008
  #13
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I guess it depends on the way the instrument is angled. I'm talking looking at the side of a grand piano. The short strings are on the left... Not from the keyboard (player's perspective). The long strings go the entire length, but the majority of the string is to the right of the high strings.

--Ben
Old 26th February 2008
  #14
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For the most part I like to record the piano with at least two mics. I have added a third mic as much as I have recorded with only one mic. Not much, but it happens.

Like Ben and others, it really does depend on the style of music, but for different reasons.

When I record/mix gospel music with organ I like to pan the piano high hard left and the low at around 1:00ish. The organ is a mirror to the piano with the organ high hard right and the organ low at around 11:00ish.

This concept is not set in stone since I have also done the reverse with regards to jazz and rock mixes. I mix live records audience perspective and studio records drummer's perspective. With live recordings I have been capturing piano as a stereo field, but blend it into the mix tighter panning technique. I tend to pan the left hand around 9:00 to 10:00 and the right hand is panned around 3:00 to 2:00. With studio records I reverse this technique.

I find (with some pianos & room tones) this tighter panning concept sounds much better in mono. I rarely wide pan my piano mics. It really depends on how it sounds in mono. I place my CRM monitors in mono and play with the panning until it sounds best.
I pop it back to stereo and listen to how it sits in the mix.

With that said, I have (at times) blended and pan the two capture mics as one and place the piano accordingly depending on where they fit best in the mix.
Old 26th February 2008
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fifthcircle View Post
I guess it depends on the way the instrument is angled. I'm talking looking at the side of a grand piano. The short strings are on the left... Not from the keyboard (player's perspective). The long strings go the entire length, but the majority of the string is to the right of the high strings.

--Ben
That's interesting. I'm not at all saying I'm right. I'm much less the pro here. But I can't see the long strings on the right. To me the short strings are on the right! LOL. I can't get my head around seeing it the other way 'round.
Old 26th February 2008
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by henryrobinett View Post
That's interesting. I'm not at all saying I'm right. I'm much less the pro here. But I can't see the long strings on the right. To me the short strings are on the right! LOL. I can't get my head around seeing it the other way 'round.
Yeah, but, I mean, with all due respect ... who cares? You're not seeing it, you're listening to it.

I think recording and mixing are two separate questions. The number of mics used are more about capturing fully the instrument's tonal richness than anything else. Yes, it's nice to be able to adjust the balance between "hi" and "lo" mics later on, but the bigger issue is capturing the realism of the instrument without tripping over phase problems. That's easier with a mono recording, but a mid/side approach can work really well, too.

Once you have a nice stereo recording, you can place it anywhere in the stereo spectrum you please, but I personally think, all else being equal, you'd rather have a nice stereo recording and be able to place it in the mix later on, no matter where you eventually decide to place it.

JSL
Old 26th February 2008
  #17
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Well for me, it's like some engineers like to mix drums from the drummers perspective because, I don't know, they like to pretend they're playing the drums in the mixers chair. For me when I listen, part of me is positioned at the piano. And I can't get my head around it being "backwards."

That's all. It's just me. But I'm kind of stuck with this perspective. Not that I can't get unstuck.
Old 26th February 2008
  #18
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Maybe as a musician/composer, I see the piano as the perfect instrument, -- even though I don't play the piano. So the tonal spectrum, for me, works from left, low, to right, high. Once again, I'm certainly not saying I'm right about any of this. As I said, I'm not the pro engineer by any means.
Old 26th February 2008
  #19
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This perspective thing has gotten to me too. I've wanted to try the two mics panned to give a stereo spread but still to the left for awhile, I'm more interested with it now as I see it's not uncommon.

As a side note, I do the drums in hard L/R stereo, just because that's what the clients like 99% of the time for me, but I never really thought about it. I wouldn't mind trying to have those with a stereo spread but to the right of the overall image as well.

Interesting responses!
Old 26th February 2008
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by henryrobinett View Post
That's interesting. I'm not at all saying I'm right. I'm much less the pro here. But I can't see the long strings on the right. To me the short strings are on the right! LOL. I can't get my head around seeing it the other way 'round.
Stand in the curve with the lid up and look... High strings on the left, low go all the way across, but the majority is on the right. Audience versus performer prospective. heh

Took 15 years of lesson on piano, but still think about the performance from the audience point of view.

Ok... I'm done.

--Ben
Old 26th February 2008
  #21
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No, no! I thought about this and I can see you're point. And by the time the piano curves around, the long strings are probably on the right, closer to the center stage anyway, in addition to the strings going across the piano board over to the right.

I mean I see your point. I do. But for me the left hand are the low notes and the right the high. Low to high. Left to right. Even in the audience I adjust myself mentally/visually so I hear it this way! Strange.
Old 26th February 2008
  #22
All piano's have some stereo spread - how much depends on the size of the instrument as well as the relative distance of the listener

If you have a big grand piano, say a 9-footer, there will be definite localization of most the low frequency sound coming from the foot (the right side if you are standing in front of the open lid) of the instrument. Generally the stereo image is a little lopsided in the nearfield since the attacks on the hammers come from the left side. Also, since the lid is closer to the low strings, there will generally be more reflected sound on the lows than on the high strings from the audience perspective.

Mono recordings of piano usually sound thin to me. This is probably because of acoustic phase cancellation from the direct sound from the hammers and strings combining with the reflected sound from the lid at the mic diaphragm. With two microphones, not only are you able to accurately portray the stereo spread of the instrument, but you can also randomize the effect of these acoustic cancellations, giving a somewhat fuller sound even in mono.

If you are recording with a main stereo mic and mixing spot mic's in, you can sometimes get away with using only one microphone for the piano spot. However, in a studio setting, you can use this mono spot technique as an effect - if you are going for the "Rudy Van Gelder" type of sound, and/or most of the older jazz recordings, a mono mic on piano is the way to go.
Old 26th February 2008
  #23
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One thing I'm really interested in trying is setting up a 'main' mic to get a good balance over the piano, and another mic spaced somewhere off to the right in stereo. I think it would be nifty to have a stereo track where the piano actually was naturally balanced to the left (or right, of course) of the track. Then do the same for drums, so that the natural balance was off to the side somewhat.

I have a sense that with some work that could be a very natural and interesting perspective.

Has anyone tried this? Obviously it's similar to ambient mic'ing, but with a specific purpose ahead of time to put the instrument in a stereo location by way of mic placement.
Old 27th February 2008
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Corran View Post
This perspective thing has gotten to me too. I've wanted to try the two mics panned to give a stereo spread but still to the left for awhile, I'm more interested with it now as I see it's not uncommon.
Clients like what you tell them to like, first and foremost.

I would urge everyone to force themselves out of this left-right way of thinking, which has everything to do with the way digital pianos sound coming out of the L/R jacks and nothing to do with a real piano. Real pianos are huge, rich, complex sound sources, with much of the sound coming off the entire sound board or reflecting off the lid, not simply coming from the strings -- which, by the way, are HUGE, and range all over the length of the piano, and overlap one another!

As a real sound source, a piano is nothing like a left-to-right spectrum of notes, and the more you think of it that way, the more you're missing the real nature of the instrument from a listening perspective. Better you should simply think of it as a large, complex instrument that has sounds ripe for caputring at many points -- like a bassoon, or a cello, or for that matter like an acoustic guitar. Just bigger. Do you think of bassoon notes as being placed physically up and down the instrument in a linear fashion? Of course not, that would be ridiculous -- and ultimately seeing a piano in that way doesn't make any more sense than that.

Try to pretend you know nothing about the instrument, it's being brought into your studio for the first time. Don't even look at the keyboard -- because why would you, since it's only the controller? -- look at the strings stretched over the soundboard. Appreciate how big and complex and non-linear its shape is as a source. And ask yourself this simple question: How do I capture all the sound that's coming off this huge thing?

JSL
Old 27th February 2008
  #25
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Well I'd probably just put a mic in the crook facing inwards, or maybe two.

If the mics are panned than I think a stereo spread will be evident, most likely high notes left and low notes right. It's not that the keyboard is setup any particular way, but that the physical size of the piano makes it have some type of image. Frankly even a bassoon pales in comparison in the size department. Furthermore musically the notes DO come up in a somewhat linear fashion...not much but some. Any woodwind player (and I am one) will tell you each note vents from a different hole or set of holes.

Though far away everything has a certain point that it seems to eminate from. That's my reasoning for a mono piano track. I just think it would be neat to have a small stereo image to the left.

I think the point is where you would put the stereo spread in relation to everything else, since the piano shouldn't dominate the entire image.

Anyway perspective is a funny thing. Sometimes I accidentally pan things backwards because I am a musician myself (flute/piccolo) and am used to hearing it from the playing perspective (for example, brass on the left in an orchestra rather than right).
Old 27th February 2008
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Corran View Post
This is a matter of personal preference...I am just wondering what the consensus is. Normally I record piano mono and pan it pretty far left, as the live piano would be (usually with an Earthworks QTC-1 or SM-81).

But what's your take on it? What's your reasoning behind recording in mono or stereo? And if in stereo, do you pan it left and right so it's across the whole stereo image?

I am also including a sample of one of my recordings with the piano to the left.
I like to try to make the recording sound as close to a live concert experience as possible. This usually means mono piano. Since I don't use isolation, the leakage from the piano into other mics helps the imaging.

If you must use isolation, I like ORTIF pair outside the lid. I hate the low note-left, high note -right type panning that was so popular in the early 80s. At least I hate it for jazz. A piano NEVER sounds like that in a jazz band unless YOU are the piano player or your sitting on the pianists shoulders. That also goes for the far L-R drum panning too. With that said, those techniques sound kinda cool on a Paul Simon or James Taylor record. But not for acoustic jazz.

Now, to address the sample recording above.
1) I'm not into the bass-direct sound, but if the bass player is an "amp jockey", what are ya gonna do?
2) DI or not, the bass is too loud. Also, I noticed the bass was on the right. I prefer centre.
3) the drums seem to be panned out a bit too much. Either that or the drummer had a 3 metre "wing span"
I don't mean to sound like a schmuck (no comments from Henry Robinett), but these are just some things I noticed.
Old 27th February 2008
  #27
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Hey there, thanks for the comments. First off the bass is NOT DI. I don't do DI. It's an Oktava ML-52 (modded) on his amp. It sounds a little wonky because someone messed with his normal settings and the mids are turned all the way up or something. Oh and he was somewhat to the right of the stage, so I panned a little. Your right about the drums, they are recorded with an NT-4 stereo mic and panned hard L/R. That's how they wanted it. I actually like it personally. I tried making the drums panned to the right but it just didn't work for me.

Also the sample was mainly for the piano, just a little thing to show the piano to the left in mono.
Old 27th February 2008
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Corran View Post
Hey there, thanks for the comments. First off the bass is NOT DI. I don't do DI. It's an Oktava ML-52 (modded) on his amp. It sounds a little wonky because someone messed with his normal settings and the mids are turned all the way up or something. Oh and he was somewhat to the right of the stage, so I panned a little. Your right about the drums, they are recorded with an NT-4 stereo mic and panned hard L/R. That's how they wanted it. I actually like it personally. I tried making the drums panned to the right but it just didn't work for me.

Also the sample was mainly for the piano, just a little thing to show the piano to the left in mono.
Oh, no DI, well micing an amp is almost the same thing. Why didn't you mic the bass? Don't tell me, they wanted that too, right?

Well, I suppose you have to do what the client wants.

The piano sounded good to me anyway.
Old 27th February 2008
  #29
ESL
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piano - 2 mics vs. 1

I second using MS on piano - but only in quieter situations that allow for a bit of space.
Using an omni as a mid has worked on half-stick.

For situations that call for emphasizing the hammers, I usually go with a pair of 414s or DPA 4012s or 4003s pretty much directly above the impact point.

When the lid has to be closed or almost closed, I usually go with 2-3 omnis (DPA 4061).

When I can pre-plan the mix (usually only in no-PA situations that can rely a main stereo pickup for everyone), I find a single subcardioid spot does the trick (usually to help the lower strings). In larger spaces, a figure 8 spot is nice for sticking a drummer or a nearby horn player in the null.

I've never panned the instrument across the entire stereo image. It's just not my preference - nor are 15 foot wide drumkits...

Predictably, I also prefer mixing according to an audience member's perspective.
Old 28th February 2008
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ESL View Post

Predictably, I also prefer mixing according to an audience member's perspective.
Yes, I think that is best for jazz, classical, Latin and other types of acoustic music. Naturally, there are many ways of doing it. I always wanted to try M/S but the right opportunity hasn't come up yet.
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