How to Record Digital Piano

How to Record Digital Piano
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If you have an interest in recording yourself or starting a home studio, you will find that knowing how to record digital piano is a vital step, as keyboard instruments are one of the most popular instruments used to make music. Creating sound with digital pianos and synthesizers is quite common, and their sound can make your song more powerful and rich than the sounds created using plug-ins and software instruments.

This love for digital pianos means that knowing how to capture their sound is useful, even if you just want to record your practice sessions to review at a later stage. How you approach the recording sessions depends on the digital piano and the setup that you have, especially with regards to where your sound is coming from.

The most popular methods of recording a digital piano are:

  • Record an amplifier through a microphone
  • Directly through a USB or MIDI
  • Directly through the pianos line outputs

If you are interested in recording a digital piano, read on to find which method is best for you and what the difference is between the various options.

Recording the Digital Piano Directly

Connecting your digital piano directly through the output is one of the easiest and cleanest ways of recording the sound. This can be done in a variety of ways:

  • 1/4 inch jacks
  • MIDI
  • USB

If you are using a sound effect that is coming from a plug-in within a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), you can record it through MIDI using the USB on modern MIDI keyboards. If you have an older keyboard, you may find that there is an MIDI output that you can use.

The MIDI signal controls what sound and notes the software plug-in plays when you press a key, as well as any other controls you have programmed. The difference with using MIDI is that the sound is created inside the computer rather than on the digital piano itself.

The most common way to record digital piano is by using the keyboard’s line-out connection which is usually 1/4 inch jack outputs. You can plug the keyboard straight into the mixing desk or audio interface so you can record the piano directly to your DAW. Recording a clean signal means you can add plug-ins and effects later on if you want.

Most digital pianos have stereo outputs, so you can decide whether to record on a stereo track or on two mono tracks with one track panned hard right and the other panned hard left. Recording using a stereo track mimics the way you hear an acoustic piano when it is played, with the lower notes spreading more to the left and the higher notes more to the right.

An additional consideration is the output levels that the digital piano can generate without distorting. Some pianos have a low output level, which is called the consumer level. This can be a problem when trying to set a suitable recording level without distorting or clipping the sound.

To counteract the low levels, you can plug your digital piano into a DI box, which boosts the signal of your keyboard to be line-level, which is the level needed by mixing desks and audio interfaces.

Keyboard Amplifiers

While they both amplify sound, a keyboard amplifier is different to a guitar amplifier. A keyboard amplifier produces a wider range of frequencies due to the high and low notes that are produced by a digital piano. A keyboard amplifier is much like a cross between a bass amplifier and a guitar amplifier.

A keyboard amplifier is designed to reduce distortion and keep clipping to a minimum, mainly because digital pianos are normally recorded cleanly, so you do not want noise on your track. If you are looking for a more gritty, distorted sound, you can run the keyboard through a guitar pedal or use a plug-in while you record or afterwards.

The best way to include natural distortion to a digital piano sound is by using a tube amplifier. When you turn the volume up too much on a tube amplifier, the circuitry overloads and generates an overdrive sound.

Digital pianos also have small onboard speakers which allow you to hear what you are playing as you record. It is important to note that these speakers are great for practicing and keeping track of what you are recording, but they are not suitable to record with these speakers.

Microphones

If you decide to use an amplifier when you record digital piano, then both a dynamic and a condenser microphone can be used. The process is very similar to the way in which you would record an electric guitar.

If the keyboard sound that you are using is quite dirty or you are using a distortion or overdrive effect, then a dynamic microphone will properly capture these rugged sounds. Microphones such as the Shure SM57 and SM58 are made specifically for this purpose.

While you may like the sound of your digital piano with distortion or overdrive, you should still record a clean take of the song, just in case you change your mind. Most of the time, you will record your digital piano with bright, clean, crisp sound with lots of high-frequencies which are outputted at a normal volume. When recording a clean take through an amplifier, a condenser microphone is perfect.

Final Thoughts

As you can see from the above methods, there are a variety of ways that you can record digital piano. It is quite unlikely that you will have a keyboard amplifier in your home studio, so recording with the direct outputs of the keyboard will be the most common way you will record your piano sound.

Even if you do have a dedicated keyboard amplifier, it is still advised that you record a clean take and if you can, record a direct feed. If your levels are too low, consider purchasing a DI box to get clean, loud sound.

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