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Advice on Home Recording of an Acoustic Piano

November 10th, 2010
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Here’s a question and answer about home piano recording from a friend on Youtube, which I thought might be useful to others.

Question:

Hey Geoff

How are you doing? Hope all is well in your part of the world. Things here are good! I am writing to ask your advice on something – if you have the time, please could you help me out with this? Would really appreciate it.

Basically I am doing some recordings at home, – for my YouTube, but also for myself. I have made an album of original music which I put up on iTunes etc. It’s okay, but the sound quality is just not very professional, and this is because I have a Mac, and a digital piano (some rubbish Yamaha DGX thing) and basically I record via audio cable, using Garageband. Up until now it’s been fine. But I wanted to take my recordings to the next level!

I have been listening to your efforts quite a lot, because I love your playing. And all of your recordings are super super quality. So, I was wondering, might you have any advice for me as to what I might do to improve my set-up?

I have sort of guessed that I really ought to go the home recording route, i.e. get a couple of microphones, and do it that way, rather than via audio cable. Am I right?

Thing is, I am on something of a budget so that is a consideration. I want to do an album of covers next, and my friend suggested to me that I just go to a recording studio. But they are very expensive in London, and it seems it would make more sense for me to buy the stuff for home use, since I am going to make a lot of use of it.

Sorry for all the waffle, and no worries if you do not have time to reply. But if you had any ideas for me I’d be very grateful. What I wanted to know centrally was, I guess:

a) do I need microphones, and if so, are there any you’d recommend? Is one enough, or must it be two, etc.?

b) do I need a proper piano, or can I get a good quality sound with just a digital/electronic machine, like what I use now?

c) any other info you could share!

Thanks so much for reading this, and best wishes to you
W.

Home recording of an acoustic piano using two SM-57 mics.

Home recording of an acoustic piano using two SM-57 mics.

Answer:

Hi W.,
no problem… here’s some free advice 🙂

I find acoustic pianos always sound better than electric pianos, especially if they are well tuned. There will be no benefit to using external microphones unless you get an acoustic piano… the current way you are doing it is the best that you can do for an electric piano.

For micing my acoustic piano, I open the top and place two mics close to the sound board, to the left and right of center. It’s important to be equal distance from the sound board or else you will get strange stereo phase problems. Pan the left mic all the way to the left and the right mic all the way to the right. I find that the SM-57 mic (made by Shure) is really worth the money you will spend – they are quite affordable considering that they are also used in professional studios. You can always buy a cheaper mic but you’ll likely get a poorer quality recording.

You can also just buy one mic and record in mono, but I find stereo adds another dimension to the sound and is better for making into CD’s.

Regarding mic position, the best way to find a good place to put the mic is to use headphones and try playing keys at various volumes throughout the range. Keep making little adjustments to the positions until you hit the “sweet spot”. Also make sure that the gain isn’t set too high when you play loud or else you will get annoying pops due to clipping.

Check out some tutorials on home recording, I’m sure you can pick up some more tips too.

For an audio interface, you will need some way to plug in the mics into your mac. There are various kinds (I have a MOTU 8-Pre which has fabulous sound and 8 inputs, but this might be overkill for what you need). I’ve also used smaller units made by M-Audio that have only two inputs but excellent sound.

I usually like to apply some sort of Dynamics Compression to the audio. This partly flattens out the dynamic range, and makes the sound clearer and more vibrant. In Logic Pro there are some compressor tools that I play around with, but I am still figuring out how to do this. A good book on mastering audio is called “Mastering Audio” by Bob Katz.

Ok there’s some ideas…. good luck!
Geoff

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Geoff Peters performs An Afternoon in Paris (jazz) on solo piano

May 24th, 2010
2,202 views No comments

A couple weeks ago I made a video of myself performing the jazz standard An Afternoon in Paris by John Lewis.

I performed solo piano on my upright acoustic Petrof piano. It’s available below or on Youtube.

Hope you enjoy it!

other links:

  • Listen to different versions of this song at Grooveshark. I especially like the renditions by Sonny Rollins and Cedar Walton.
  • My jazz band in Vancouver, the Geoff Peters Trio, has a new CD which is available for free listening on our website.

2,202 views

Jam session recording: Geoff Peters and Gustavo Lacerda

April 3rd, 2010
2,130 views No comments

I had a music jam today with my friend Gustavo. He is multi-talented and plays many instruments. Today he brought along his violin.

You can grab the Mp3’s we made here, or use the players below!


Minor Swing
(folk music style swing tune with violin and piano)

Upbeat Evil Castle
(violin, synth (i)pad, synth bass, Latin drum samples)

Please note that Upbeat Evil Castle has been agreed on by the composers Gustavo and Geoff to allow Geoff to use the song in his videos on Geoffmobile.com and Youtube.com/geoffmobile.

Tetris Theme played on Violin with piano, and some Gypsy songs improvized.


2,130 views

Giant Steps (Coltrane) piano solo by Geoff Peters

April 3rd, 2010
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Last night I recorded myself performing the jazz standard Giant Steps on the piano. In this video I give a 1 minute introduction to the song and then perform it. If you’re interested in the audio only, you can grab the MP3 from here or use the audio player above.


2,587 views

Geoff Peters Trio performing at Mexx Boutique (video recordings)

March 26th, 2010
2,902 views No comments

My band, the Geoff Peters Trio, performed at the Mexx Boutique in Pacific Centre during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

We made a video recording of one of our sets. To listen, please visit the Playlist on Youtube, or use the player below.

Here is a list of the songs we performed, (mostly jazz standards) with links to the videos:

2,902 views

My Foolish Heart (jazz video) – Gio Escueta and Geoff Peters

January 28th, 2010
1,746 views No comments

Last week, vocalist Gio Escueta and I performed at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in downtown Vancouver BC Canada.

We made a video of one of the songs, My Foolish Heart by Ned Washington and Victor Young. It’s available on Youtube or by using the player below. Hope you enjoy!

1,746 views

Ocean Apart – original composition by Geoff Peters (piano)

December 27th, 2009
1,854 views No comments

Last night I made a video recording of myself performing an original jazz bebop tune on the piano. It’s called Ocean Apart and I wrote it last summer while taking a composition class with New York jazz pianist Misha Piatigorsky.

You can view the video on Youtube, Blip.tv, or use the player below.

The MP3 recording of this performance is available for free here.

1,854 views

Live gig recording: Julian N. and Geoff Peters (alto sax and piano jazz duet)

November 4th, 2009
8,516 views No comments

I played piano at a wedding with my friend Julian N., a saxophonist and composer. Julian is a student at Humber College in Toronto. You can view his myspace page by clicking here.

Here is a track listing with links to the individual videos:

If you’d like to download MP3’s of the concert (free) you can get them from here.

With Julian’s permission I used my minidisc unit to record the audio from our performance. There is quite a bit of background noise from the wedding guests’ conversation, but in the recordings you can hear both of us quite clearly.

I also set up my Sony Camcorder in the corner and video-taped our performance too. There was very low light, so you can barely make us out in the video, but it gives more context to the audio to be able to see us perform too.

At this wedding, we performed a selection of mainstream jazz standards in a duo style. Probably my biggest inspiration for the saxophone-piano duo format is the legendary combination of Stan Getz (saxophone) and Kenny Barron (piano). Another inspiration for rhythmic ideas has been the mighty pianist Chick Corea and his duets with the one and only voice artist Bobby Mcferrin (such as their killer performance of Autumn Leaves).

So without further ado, here’s our complete performance (except for the last song we played, Confirmation by Charlie Parker, where we got interrupted by some DJ music).

Hope you enjoy! I hope that these performances will give you some ideas or inspiration for your own journeys in jazz and music in general.

Further listening: I performed one of Julian’s original compositions with the college band at the Phil Dwyer Academy of Music and Culinary Arts (PDAMCA) last August.

8,516 views

New Composition – Wild Thing (by Geoff Peters)

October 24th, 2009
2,753 views 1 comment



Today I wrote a new song: it’s called “Wild Thing” and is inspired by the movie Where the Wild Things Are. Click here to download the song or feel free to use the player above to listen.

To watch me perform the song, check out this Ear Training Video we made, where I explain how to play the Minor 7th interval (a key part of this song!). The performance of Wild Thing is at the end of the video.

The ear training video on intervals is part of EarPractice.com, a website that I created with my friend Marcus Emmanuel Barnes.

2,753 views

New Composition: “Me N Petrof” by Geoff Peters

October 3rd, 2009
2,449 views 1 comment

My friend Marcus was over for a visit today and he encouraged me to write a song dedicated to the new “love” in my life, my Petrof acoustic piano.

So I wrote a simple folk ballad which I call “Me N Petrof“. It is similar to a Brad Mehldau song I vaguely remember listening to, as well as the American folk song Shenandoah which I played in high school band, quite a few years ago!

I made a rather hasty recording of it, just to get the idea cemented in my mind, and I wrote out a lead sheet on a piece of music notation paper.

Feel free to use the player above to listen to the song, or you can download the MP3 here.

My new Petrof Piano

My new Petrof Piano

The Petrof piano brand is from the Czech Republic. Petrof pianos have been admired and enjoyed by many amazing musicians throughout the years, including jazz greats Keith Jarrett and Count Basie and classical pianists such as Sviatoslav Richter.

I purchased my piano from Yonatan Torn in Vancouver. Yonatan is a master Steinway piano tuner and technician in the Vancouver area who also imports, rebuilds, and sells pianos (mostly European pianos). You can find out more about his piano tuning and restoration services, and view the pianos currently for sale at his website.

2,449 views