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Recording Piano Music

Nowadays, there are various technologies to produce and release own's music. Over the last decade, improvements in computer processing power have meant that it is possible to do this solely from a laptop or desktop computer, using programs such as Apple's Logic Pro to record and edit music. The vast majority of musicians now independently use their own recording equipment for their own material - recording oneself no longer means using a Walkman and casette tape, or doing a video recorder and then getting the sound off that. Recording has moved on! This has meant, too, that the role of the traditional recording studio has fallen (although not completely) while the number of home studio set-ups have increased.

Recording yourself playing a piano piece can done in many ways. Some people prefer simply to plug a digital piano into a laptop with music editing software, and then record it in a digital format that is subsequently edited. This has some advantages in that background noise is completely eliminated, as the sound from the digital piano is input straight into the computer or laptop - which means you do not have to tell everyone in the household, "Hush! I'm recording now!" or vent your frustration at passing vehicles that beep their horns at the crucial climactic moment of your opus. There are, however, some disadvantages though. Some people feel that the lack of acoustic resonance, caused by echoes off natural objects, is missing in a direct output-input recording. The sound can hence seem a little "tinny" and metallic.

It is possible to add ambient resonance to a recorded piece of music; this largely depends on your recording software. Some come already in pre-set formats, such as "Room", "Studio", or "Hall", where the delay and amplitude (size) of the echo varies. If you use the "Room" setting to a recorded sound, for example, the rounded sound produced by echoes will occur more quickly and in a greater size, because this is how it would be in a small room. There is more ambient resonance and occurs with less delay. The "Hall" setting may result in a slower build-up of smaller-sized frequencies; in a large hall, the echo is slightly longer and dispersed more.

Some may find the fiddling and adjustments of computer recording equipment to be cumbersome and un-natural, preferring to capture the natural resonance of the piano directly. And if your piano is an acoustic one, you cannot plug it into a laptop (although some higher pianos have the options of being used acoustically and digitally).

With a basic recording program, and some microphones, you can create a functional recording set-up easily. The benefit of recording acoustically is that it leaves you free to concentrate on the performance, instead of trying to fix the recording too much at a later stage. There is little editing to be done afterwards, because your recording options are limited to begin with - but the limitations can be a useful filter.

If you are considering the above method, investing in some microphones will give you a better, rounded sound, instead of merely relying on one microphone to capture the whole essence of your piano performance.

Microphones fall into two main types: dynamic and condensor, although there are other more specific ones that fulfil advanced functions, such as ribbon microphones, valve microphones and PZMs. Dynamic microphones capture higher sound pressure levels than condensors, and are good for capturing loud levels and attacks. Combining them with condensor microphones, which are more sensitive and capture the lower and top ends of the frequency spectrum, would allow you to capture a more blended sound.

When recording a piano using more than one microphone, you need to be aware of the siting of the microphones. Incorrect siting can result in phase problems - this is when the sound reaches the microphones at different times, which may cause the sounds to seem a little thinned out. Rather than getting the fullness of the sound, you get them slightly separated and sounding hollow on their own.

When recording using a stereo and a condensor microphone, a commonly-followed rule in the recording industry is to set up the condensor three times away from the source as the dynamic microphone. This seems to give an optimal result - the dynamic microphone captures the "kick" and the percussiveness of the keys while being complemented by the "mid-range" sounds captured by the condensors.

But that is not to say that you cannot record using two dynamic microphones or two condensor microphones. It all depends on what you are recording. If you were playing a piece of music that featured notes at the higher spectrum of the keyboard, you might want to use two condensor microphones. A fast, loud rhythmic piece might record better with two dynamic microphones.

If you are using two similar microphones, a common method of recording is by using co-incident pairs. This is where the microphone heads are sited over each other, while the main body are at angles of anything between 90 and 180 degrees. And while the mic heads are above each other, you may want to vary the space between them to capture more depth in sound.

When it comes to recording piano music, you might also want to bear in mind the composer you are trying to record. The music of someone like composer and pianist Frederic Chopin is going to require a "brighter" capture of the tune and the harmonies are slightly muted, whereas the music of someone like Bach which is contrapuntal in nature might require a different kind of capture.

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