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Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
#2289516 06/14/14 02:38 AM
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My teacher and another teacher are holding their semi-annual combined student recital this Sunday. It was supposed to be at a local music store that has a piano and room to set up enough chairs, but somehow it's now not available. Because it appears my living room is sufficiently large to handle everybody, I offered to have it at my house and so it is. I had the piano tuned this week in anticipation so everything is all ready to go. Though, that's assuming I can rustle up enough chairs, it occurs to me as I'm typing this... Darn, I need folding chairs. And I need to find my coffee pot. Urgh.

Anyhoo, seating and refreshment matters notwithstanding, my reason for posting is that I'd like to record the recital for the parents (of which I am one! I am playing but my daughter is also playing.) I have a nice DSLR camera that records HD video, and a Zoom H4n which I know can be set up to play nicely with my camera by serving as high quality audio input.

I've had this Zoom for a while and just never really got around to figuring out how to make it work well. I'll have some time tomorrow to play around with it and see what sounds good, but this sounds like something someone else has already basically figured out so I'd rather not reinvent the wheel here.

What's a good Zoom setup for a plain vanilla living room recital? Use auto levels? Where should I stick the Zoom? Anybody have specific experience hooking up a Zoom to a Canon DSLR? It's a mid-sized grand piano running about six feet. A bit of a noisy room, about 20x16ft, and has 8ft ceilings.


Last edited by TwoSnowflakes; 06/14/14 06:53 AM. Reason: Heartless slam on Coldplay and Nickelback.
Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2289545 06/14/14 07:20 AM
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In my experience from recording an organ recital here a few years ago, and doing some test recordings of myself, it is best to set the Zoom to high bit rate and to wav file - when it is set to mp3 there can be some unusual artifacts in the sound (but maybe I am not setting it correctly?).

I would have it some distance from the piano and test some to be sure the sensitivity isn't set to high.

When the wav is done one can convert to mp3 with the free Audacity software and raise the volume level for the whole if needed - also with that same software.

The Zoom might need a memory card.

And I wouldn't place it lower toward the floor than the top of the piano frame.

Unfortunately I don't know anything about hooking up a Zoom to the Canon.

I hope this helps!

Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2289592 06/14/14 10:51 AM
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Since you say the room is quite noisy you'll want to place the H4n very close to the piano. Here's the setup I use. The H4n sits on a tripod in the curve of the piano with the mic about 4" from the edge. I set the record level to 60 which seems to work well for my repertoire...not too many extreme fortissimos. You'll have to experiment to see what setting gives you the best dynamic range without clipping. As for synching with a camera, I have no clue.
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Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2289593 06/14/14 10:51 AM
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Don't use auto levels. Set the levels yourself. (Auto levels assume a constant volume - like a band in a club or someone giving a speech. For classical music, auto levels fail miserably.)

I'd also recommend keeping the audio and video separate, and combine them later in your video editing software. This way you keep the quality of the original recording. When you use the H4n as an external microphone, the recording quality can be a bit limited by the camera.

For the Zoom, set it to record WAV at 48/16 or 48/24. The most important thing is microphone placement. I'd suggest placing the Zoom 6-10 feet away from the piano and about 5-7 feet high. (The sound from a piano tends to bloom out and up.

All this assumes a perfect world, and your living room setup may require something different, but this should be a good place to start.


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Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
Kreisler #2289637 06/14/14 01:23 PM
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I second placing the microphones several feet away, not right close-up and almost sticking into the bowels like jazzyprof suggests - that's the way many jazz piano recordings are made but classical recordings prefer a more realistic distance, not up-in-your-face. (I have a few jazz piano recordings on CD, and frankly, I couldn't tolerate them for long: they sound like my head is right inside the piano).

I made a (video) recording for a magazine website last year where the producer placed the microphones almost exactly as in the photo above, i.e. almost right above the piano cabinet - and unfortunately, the Yamaha CF6 sounded like a jazz piano (and no, I wasn't playing jazz.....), very dry and clear, but also very artificial-sounding and abrasive in ff.

I believe the video and the sound recording were later synched manually by the recording engineer in post-production.


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Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2289659 06/14/14 03:17 PM
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To some degree the room acoustics will effect the quality of the recording, whether it's a "live" room with lots of hard surfaces (hardwood floors, glass, etc.) or relatively "dead" because of an abundance of stuffed furniture, thick carpeting and heavy draperies, or something in between.

While what others have said may help as starting points, the best results will undoubtedly come from experimenting; find out what works best for your piano in your room with different positioning of the sound equipment. A small change in position of the recording equipment can make a big difference in the results.

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Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2289812 06/14/14 08:17 PM
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Ok, thanks, all!

I've experimented around and I've got the camera with the Zoom as audio input set up about 6-7 feet to the side of the open lid of the piano, giving a good view of the keyboard for the players. The line in to the camera was sufficient for it to start automatically using the external mic without me having to change any settings, so that was about as easy as it could possibly be.

I'm still fudging around with the levels in the Zoom. I may take Kreisler's advice and keep the Zoom audio track separate from the video because it does make sense, it's just that I am just not sure I feel like having to take the time to mix the two later.

Now my biggest problem is seating.

On a slightly related note, I spent most of today picking out a new piano. As I was about to take a last lap through my favorites just to make sure I remembered what I liked about each, a whole different recital was gearing up--what I thought were two recently-arrived customers were really two teachers and soon thereafter, what appeared to be several of their students materialized. The teachers told me that the recital was due to start in 45 minutes and the students needed to practice so I would now need to be done test driving pianos in the main showroom, thankyouverymuchgoodbye.

I wandered back to the only piano candidate that wasn't in the main showroom and I apologized to the salesperson for having interrupted the preparations for the recital in the main showroom; I hadn't noticed it taking shape. But then the salesperson asked, "wait, WHO told you to stop playing?"

"The two teachers holding the recital upstairs."

"Oh, no, that's was NOT the agreement. They were specifically told that customers can use the showroom right up to the start of the recital."

With that, he said he was going upstairs to explain the rules to them, and that they should be the ones to clear off of any piano I want to play. Well, they were using the very piano I wanted to first check out so the last thing I was going to do was kick them off and then play for a hostile audience that was getting bigger by the minute.

I just said I'd finish my notes on the one piano downstairs that I liked and he could yell at them but only AFTER I'd left, pllleeeeeeaaaase!

On the other hand, right up until my piano shopping met a bit of an abrupt end, it had been a blissful day.

Piano shopping is just so much fun.

Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2289872 06/15/14 12:11 AM
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Not sure what is meant by keeping the video and audio separate. Both are captured simultaneously by the DSLR whether using the audio from the internal mics or fed from the H4n. No doubt the H4n has better mics than any DSLR and can record in 24 wav format. I find X/Y mic configurations lacks directness and intimacy. Not ideal for piano, in my opinion. There's just too much room ambience. Try a placement 2 to 3 feet from the edge, six inches above and parallel to the soundboard.


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Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2290019 06/15/14 08:38 AM
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Now I'm really curious about this new piano you're choosing. Usually people post a whole long saga about that over in the Piano Forum. Maybe it deserves a separate thread, even though it sounds as if you don't need advice. Forum members love to shop vicariously.


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Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
opus88 #2290032 06/15/14 09:39 AM
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I've found that external mice on cameras tend to lose some quality. The 3.5mm jacks are noisy and the cameras can't always capture a clean 48/16 stereo sound.

Keeping the audio on the H4n gives you a cleaner sound, allows you more freedom in microphone placement, and you can easily sync the audio with the video later in iMovie or Screenflow. (Not sure about Windows editing packages, but my guess is it's similar.) I use the audio from the Zoom and delete the audio from the camera.

Of course, this may be more quality than what the OP needs. If the hassle of syncing the audio later outweighs the need for quality and the hassle of tethering the camera and microphone together in the room, then it might be preferable to feed the audio to the camera at the source.

Originally Posted by opus88
Not sure what is meant by keeping the video and audio separate. Both are captured simultaneously by the DSLR whether using the audio from the internal mics or fed from the H4n. No doubt the H4n has better mics than any DSLR and can record in 24 wav format. I find X/Y mic configurations lacks directness and intimacy. Not ideal for piano, in my opinion. There's just too much room ambience. Try a placement 2 to 3 feet from the edge, six inches above and parallel to the soundboard.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2290103 06/15/14 01:46 PM
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1- DON'T use auto levels; ever, never (pianos will be mezzo forte and fortes will be mezzo forte too)

2- DON'T place near the piano (unidirectional mics will boom the bass too much)

3- DON'T trust DSLR's AD convertors. Record audio and video SEPERATELY. (if audio quality is important)

4- DON'T normalize after recording if you know exactly what the software is doing.

Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
Kreisler #2290253 06/16/14 12:21 AM
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Originally Posted by Kreisler
I've found that external mice on cameras tend to lose some quality. The 3.5mm jacks are noisy and the cameras can't always capture a clean 48/16 stereo sound.

Keeping the audio on the H4n gives you a cleaner sound, allows you more freedom in microphone placement, and you can easily sync the audio with the video later in iMovie or Screenflow. (Not sure about Windows editing packages, but my guess is it's similar.) I use the audio from the Zoom and delete the audio from the camera.

Of course, this may be more quality than what the OP needs. If the hassle of syncing the audio later outweighs the need for quality and the hassle of tethering the camera and microphone together in the room, then it might be preferable to feed the audio to the camera at the source.

Originally Posted by opus88
Not sure what is meant by keeping the video and audio separate. Both are captured simultaneously by the DSLR whether using the audio from the internal mics or fed from the H4n. No doubt the H4n has better mics than any DSLR and can record in 24 wav format. I find X/Y mic configurations lacks directness and intimacy. Not ideal for piano, in my opinion. There's just too much room ambience. Try a placement 2 to 3 feet from the edge, six inches above and parallel to the soundboard.


Certainly if one is motivated the recombination of video with audio from an H4n wav file will give you the best results, in their setup. Since the op only mentions the use of a DSLR the result is limited to the quality of its built-in analog to digital converters. If one is not satisfied with the results the natural progression would be to external ADC's like those from Focusrite or RMB.

I agree about the 3.5 mm jacks. Possibly the worst connector yet for audio. Usually attached to cheap cables. If you tap on those cables you can hear all kinds of noise being pick up.

Once I finish playing with my Focusrite Forte for ripping vinyl I will start using it for recording. Or at least experiment with how to better record a piano.


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Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2290420 06/16/14 10:05 AM
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I now have my OWN setup suggestion!

Make sure whomever is attending your recital doesn't wonder what the Zoom is and helpfully relocate it to the floor behind the leg of the piano to get it out of the way.

All the same, it recorded.

It was a good recital! My mother even came. My teacher and I played the first and fourth Grieg Norwegian dances and it was fine! Entertaining, even if it wasn't really recital ready; we'd only managed to find a grand total of 20 minutes playing these pieces together before performing them. We'd have worked the issues out with more time, but the audience enjoyed it as-is and it was a fun way to end the recital.

I'll put up the recording on sound cloud as soon as I can figure out how to generate separate audio clips in Audacity. And you guys can hear my own piano, freshly tuned! smile

Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2290431 06/16/14 10:20 AM
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More suggestions: If you are hosting a recital at your house and have made a big fresh berry and juice punch with sorbet for the kids who performed, when everybody is gone and it's just you and two exhausted teachers cleaning up, it's very easy to add a splash of rum to the ol' glass at that point. smile

And what do two teachers do after a glass of delicious fresh berry and sorbet punch with a generous splash of rum? They go to the piano, naturally, and argue over baroque ornamentation.

Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2290472 06/16/14 12:01 PM
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Fastest way to split things in audacity:

Select the song.

Choose "Export selection" from the file menu.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2290500 06/16/14 01:20 PM
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Hmm, when I did that, it asked me for a conversion format and I didn't want to inadvertently compress things so I canceled out of that. I will try it again. Obviously at some point I have to compress, but I didn't want to do that before I understood what I was doing.


Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2290538 06/16/14 02:16 PM
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Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2290545 06/16/14 02:33 PM
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Originally Posted by TwoSnowflakes


Well, many might find this kind of sound nice and tempting at first listen.
But, I don't.

Move your Zoom AWAY from the piano next time you record.

Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2290548 06/16/14 02:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Hakki
Move your Zoom AWAY from the piano next time you record.


Ha, I didn't get a choice. Someone took my Zoom and put it under the piano on the floor behind the leg to helpfully "get it out of the way."


Re: Recital recording with Zoom H4n, setup suggestions.
TwoSnowflakes #2290549 06/16/14 02:42 PM
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How cute, though, is this little piece by Vandall?

The two teachers always perform a little four hand piece for the kids after the recital.

For reference, my teacher is the treble.

https://soundcloud.com/opusinprogressu/vandalltoccatafortwo

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