Piano is one of the most common instruments you can find in pop and in producing country music. It is also commonly found in ballads and adult contemporary music.
In this short guide, you will know how to properly mix a piano and apply panning/EQ/reverb techniques. The main objective is to let the piano tracks shine without causing any trouble with the rest of the instruments such as guitar and vocals.
This needs careful listening and adjustments of the most commonly used effects in audio mixing which are:
EQ Tips on mixing piano
Piano is a wide range sounding instrument that spans from very low bass to very high frequencies. In most piano pieces used in country and pop music, it can be found somewhere in the middle frequencies.
If the piano is being used as an accompaniment, it can harder to mix that piano with vocals together and these two occupy the same frequency spectrum.
If you are planning to produce a song with piano, it would be much better to use chords than an arpeggio accompaniment. Chords are easier to deal with in the mix because the sound is played together. This is quite a common technique “Let it be” by Beatles.
To EQ the piano for best results:
a.) Cut -6dB 2000Hz or 3000Hz Q=1.4 (this will reduce frequency masking problems with the vocal and guitar frequencies)
You can cut up to -9dB if you find out that the piano piece is making the vocals unclear in the mix.
These EQ settings are not permanent for all piano mixing scenarios. They only serve as a starting guide in the EQ settings. It would be highly advisable to use a parametric EQ to find the “sweet spot” of any musical instruments.
b.) Apply a low shelf (cut) at 200Hz (this roll-off /attenuate all the frequencies below 200Hz while passing all piano frequencies above 200Hz)
The overall objective of this setting is to prevent the low piano bass frequencies from masking bass guitar and kick drum frequencies. So if you have a bass guitar and kick drums in your mix, this is an important setting.
This 200Hz can be adjusted between 100Hz and 250Hz depending on the piano track. Cutting much higher than 200Hz removes a lot of bass in the piano; which can be detrimental to the track especially if the piano has a lot of bass.
Otherwise if the mix consists of only a piano and vocals (from start to finish), then this is not necessary because you need the bass from the piano to support the song.
c.) Boost +2dB 6000Hz Q=1.0 – this EQ setting will add more gloss/shine to the piano tracks particularly in the intro and piano solo sections.
But if the entire piece of music is a piano solo (such as classical piano music pieces); there is no need to apply any EQ. If you find some tonal quality problems with a solo piano, do not fix it with EQ instead fix it during the recording of the solo piano. A lot of factors can influence the sound of the piano during recording:
1.) The size of the live room where the piano has been recorded. Larger rooms add more reverb. Smaller rooms have warmer sound.
2.) Microphone placement on the piano. Even specific microphone models can have a big impact on the sound of the recording.
3.) Acoustic room treatment of the room where the piano has been recorded. For example, if you place the piano at the corner of the room, it will tend to have more “bass” sound than if the piano would be recorded in the center of the room.
You can read the following articles below relating to room treatment and how it would influence the sound: