Best way to tune a flat piano recording

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Best way to tune a flat piano recording

Post by wearashirt »

Hi everybody,

I record pianos acoustically, however the grand piano I use is flat by 0.11-13 cents. I simply use the transpose box that's alongside other clip functions. My problem is that the transposed piano recording sound "warps". It sort of sounds like a Wah that's at the far end. The Wah sound is there whether in mid-side, spaced pair, perpendicular closed pair outside the lid or above the hammers.

I use two affordable large diaphragm condenser mics that have the usual 3 polar patterns.

Is there a more advanced way of transposing/tuning a piano recording that minimizes undesirable effects such as the "warping" sound?

Is there a mic'ing technique that withstands tranposing better? (though I think I've mentioned everything).


There are other undesirable sounds ,such as the hammer hits sound unnatural (like the went in slow mo?).

Pro-wise, the pianos sit nicely in a full, multi-instrument mix. The high mids are enhanced in a non-phasey way, leaving just a little need for a 2k or 3k boost.

Since recording piano is so laborious, I haven't sufficiently tried all mic'ing methods and have settled on mid-side facing the curvature with aa half open lid.
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Re: Best way to tune a flat piano recording

Post by RichardT »

I don’t think you can do this without affecting the sound noticeably, unfortunately. Mic positions won’t affect the outcome.

Some instruments withstand transposition better than others. Pianos take it badly!
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Re: Best way to tune a flat piano recording

Post by Hugh Robjohns »

The simple harmonic structure and sustained tones with smooth decays of a piano make it excellent at exposing artefacts from pitch-shift/transposition algorithms.

Running the original recording at a slightly faster speed may give a better sounding result... But surely the obvious solution is to tune your other instruments down to the piano.
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Re: Best way to tune a flat piano recording

Post by TheLegit »

Have you tried Melodyne at all it can tune polyphonic recordings:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dv-HNa85YIk
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Re: Best way to tune a flat piano recording

Post by Tim Gillett »

wearashirt wrote:Hi everybody,

I record pianos acoustically, however the grand piano I use is flat by 0.11-13 cents...

I believe one semitone represents 100 cents. So 0.13 cents is a very small pitch difference. I'm not sure it would even be noticed. If it was significant, tuning the piano up to standard pitch could be done as part of tuning the piano I guess. Edit: Wiki says a 1 cent difference is too small to be perceived by listening. Are you sure it is 0.11 to 0.13 cents?
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Re: Best way to tune a flat piano recording

Post by The Elf »

I'm with Tim on this. That's a tiny amount of pitch shift and should be almost inaudible, unless something truly strange or erroneous is going on.

That said, if possible, I'd simply shift the playback speed, rather than using any 'clever' shift/stretch process.
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Re: Best way to tune a flat piano recording

Post by RichardT »

Tim Gillett wrote:
wearashirt wrote:Hi everybody,

I record pianos acoustically, however the grand piano I use is flat by 0.11-13 cents...

I believe one semitone represents 100 cents. So 0.13 cents is a very small pitch difference. I'm not sure it would even be noticed. If it was significant, tuning the piano up to standard pitch could be done as part of tuning the piano I guess. Edit: Wiki says a 1 cent difference is too small to be perceived by listening. Are you sure it is 0.11 to 0.13 cents?


I assumed the OP meant 11 to 13 cents. 0.11 cents is inaudible even to experienced piano tuners, as wiki says.
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Re: Best way to tune a flat piano recording

Post by wearashirt »

Indeed, I meant to say 11 cents. I'm just used to typing 0.11 or 0.13, in the dialog box.

When I think about it, I tend to veer away from close micing, as with it I end up having to transpose on the higher end of the 0.11-0.15 range. Whereas airy mic'ing can get away with less pitch shifting.

Tuning down is also an option, just like in the jazz records of old (e.g., At Last by Etta James). But...

I will try a free trial of Melodyne. I wonder if they have a fundamentally different pitch shifting program aside from the unique feature of separating pitches?

Aren't there professional recordings that have had this problem?

Are there radio-broadcasted pop songs that are off by 10-15 cents?
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Re: Best way to tune a flat piano recording

Post by The Elf »

wearashirt wrote:Indeed, I meant to say 11 cents. I'm just used to typing 0.11 or 0.13, in the dialog box.


I wasn't even referring to the 0.11 figure. 11 cents is tiny enough that you shouldn't be hearing the effects of tuning correction without something being amiss.

And yes, I've corrected by much more than this on commercial recordings and you would never know. I normally use Cubase's standard pitch-related processes, but on occasions I will use Melodyne; either is fine.

Do you have a before/after example to show us?
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Re: Best way to tune a flat piano recording

Post by wearashirt »

The Elf wrote:
wearashirt wrote:Indeed, I meant to say 11 cents. I'm just used to typing 0.11 or 0.13, in the dialog box.


I wasn't even referring to the 0.11 figure. 11 cents is tiny enough that you shouldn't be hearing the effects of tuning correction without something being amiss.

And yes, I've corrected by much more than this on commercial recordings and you would never know. I normally use Cubase's standard pitch-related processes, but on occasions I will use Melodyne; either is fine.

Do you have a before/after example to show us?


Oh gosh, yes it's there and its terrible. I'll export an example in a bit.

The piano tuner says he can't bring it up to concert pitch as he's afraid something would give, So he set it to -10 cents. He would use a tuning fork and say, "see, it's not so bad!"

But it's really off. When I track piano, I have to do the converse and down-tune the backing track (separately from drums).
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Re: Best way to tune a flat piano recording

Post by The Red Bladder »

This has to be the most ridiculous discussion ever to grace the pages of the SOS forum!

wearashirt wrote:Aren't there professional recordings that have had this problem?


No, of course not. We have a secret weapon. We call ours Glyn.

Glyn is a piano tuner. We call him up and the piano gets tuned to perfection. And it stays in tune throughout the recording because it is a decent piano.

10 cents and something will give??? Is the frame made out of cheese?

Set the room humidity to 55% and it will probably make up the most of that 10 cents - the tuner can do the rest.

P.S. This whole discussion reminds me of something that happened to Chris Nolan on the set of one of the batman movies. He asked for a hat stand to be removed from a room set and the VFX supervisor turned to his assistant and said "Make a note of that! Remove the hat stand in post-production!"

"No!" said Nolan. "Just pick up and move the f*cking thing!"
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Re: Best way to tune a flat piano recording

Post by Folderol »

Hmmm.
When I was a kid we had an ancient wooden framed upright piano, and this could definitely not be tuned to modern concert pitch. It had been built for C=256 cps (old money) which is about 30 cents lower. It had a lovely tone {sigh}
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Re: Best way to tune a flat piano recording

Post by RoadieChauffeur »

Hugh Robjohns wrote:But surely the obvious solution is to tune your other instruments down to the piano.


^This every time. I thought it was second nature to any ensemble to tune to the piano (as that's the one that can't be changed on the fly). And then everyone reminds themselves to be grateful it's not a 300 year old organ...

But Looking back at the thread, I don't think we have any information on what you are actually recording apart from the piano. What are the other instruments - are they real or software instruments? Are you recording a group together or recording each instrument separately? What's the style?

And coming to that, what are you meaning by concert pitch anyway? I assume A440, but that's an arbitrary choice. 11 cents is only a few Hz anyway, and probably within the natural range of tunings you'd get in your average group of performers anyway. (and probably best not to start a discussion on temperament...)

Generally, remember that the important thing is that everything sounds good to people's ears, and not some magical numbers your computer is telling you.
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Re: Best way to tune a flat piano recording

Post by James Perrett »

If the piano is being recorded on its own then simply adjusting the speed of the recording will be the best way to achieve this. If it is an overdub then just slow down the backing track when recording the piano and then speed it back up again when the piano overdubs are finished.
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