The piano is one of the most beautiful instruments ever created.
Its unique timbre and characteristics blend together perfectly with a wide range of musical genres, making it one of the most widely used instruments. Unfortunately, the pianos naturally rich timbre can lead to mixing problems.
Also, as with any other instrument, the piano you choose to use in your productions can be lacking in certain parts of the frequency spectrum, making the piano sound weak in your mix.
In this article, I will be going over how to mix and layer your pianos for a more professional sounding mix.
Layering & Processing Your Pianos
To create a more complex and professional sounding piano, we are going to layer this instrument. By layering, you will be able to get the characteristics of two different pianos, blend them together, and have them create a more timbrally exciting and powerful sound.
When layering pianos, It is best to choose two different layers. Each layer will occupy a specific part of the frequency range to create this complex sound.
The two piano layers that work well together are a piano that has more low and mid range frequencies and one that has more high end character. The reason we choose these layers is because of how the frequency range is perceived by the human ear.
We have a more low-mid frequency dominant layer to give the piano its perceived weight and power. Then we add in a high layer to give the sound more interest. High frequencies are what give the sound its character, so adding in this layer to blend in with a part of the high end of the low-mid piano creates a very rich sound.
So in your DAW load up two different pianos, one low mid frequency piano and one high frequency piano.
Next, we are going to EQ the two layers.
Pianos are very timbrally rich and even though these pianos will have a slightly different frequency composition, there will be overlapping frequencies in these two pianos that need to be EQ’d.
On the low-mid frequency piano, load up an EQ. We are going to apply three different EQ cuts to this piano.
The first cut is going to be a low cut filter that will roll of the low frequencies at 100 Hz. All the frequencies below 100 Hz will only take away headroom from our mix and add mud, so we remove them.
The next EQ cut will be in the 250-500 Hz range. This frequency range can add quite a bit of mud to your track especially when layered, so we will use a notch EQ to remove one or two decibels in this frequency range. You will have to use your ears to decide what frequencies in your specific piano are causing mud in this range.
Finally, we are going to add a high shelf filter around 6 kHz at around – 2 to -3 db. This high shelf filter is going to tame some of the high frequencies to allow room for our high end piano layer to shine through without causing any mud.
Now that we have EQ’d the low-mid frequency piano, we are going to EQ our high frequency piano.
We are again going to apply three different EQ cuts.
The first cut is going to be a low cut filter that will extend all the way to 250 Hz. Since we already have our other layer occupying the low-mid frequency range, we don’t want the lower frequencies in the high piano layer to conflict, so we remove them.
Next we are going to apply a notch EQ that removes the 300 – 500 Hz range with a -1 to -3 dB cut. Again, we will have this frequency range taken care of in our other layer, so we don’t want to muddy up the mix.
Lastly, we will add a high shelf filter around 6 kHz and boost between 1 to 3 decibels. This adds a little extra brightest to the sound to give it a lift in the mix.
Now that we have added in our two layers and EQ’d them, it is time to add the finishing touches. Group the two pianos together in your DAW and place your favorite reverb plugin on the group. It is important to make sure that there is no reverb on either of your piano layers as this can cause issues in the mix. We just want to have one reverb on the group of our pianos.
Adjust the dry wet control and decay time to taste.
By layering two different pianos together, applying simple processing to the individual layers and groups of layers, you will be able to create a rich and complex piano sound.
The next time you are looking to create a memorable piano to add to your musical productions try using the technique outlined above.
Pro Tip: If you want to learn how to mix in your guitars, check out this article!
Daniel is a caffeine-dependent entrepreneur, music producer, sound design junkie, and world traveler crazy about teaching modern electronic music production through his site SoundShock.