How to record digital piano and keyboard, part 2: Recording with Audacity

Now that your digital piano or electronic keyboard is connected to the computer, we can record something.

Setting up the volumes

Go into the Volume Control Panel and enable recording for your chosen input (either Line In or Mic In).

Windows Volume Control Panel

If you are connecting Line Out to Line In, move the volume slider all the way up. Set the volume knob on your instrument about halfway.

You’ll have to experiment a little with these volume settings to get the best results. Remember that a piano has a large dynamic range, so make sure that the volume is low enough that loud playing will not distort the sound. (You will hear nasty cracks in the recording if it does.)

If you are using Mic In, set the volume in the Volume Control Panel very low. Also turn the volume knob on your piano way down. You’ll probably hear almost no sound coming out of your piano, but if you listen through your computer speakers (or a headphone) the sound will be loud enough.

NOTE: You want to record as loudly as possible, without causing any distortion. If the sound is too loud, the computer cannot fit it into the available range and the sound will “clip”. That is not very pleasant to listen to. If the volume is too soft, however, the quality of the signal will suffer. Personally, I make sure the input level stays below -3 dB.

The Volume Control Panel is slightly confusing. It has two modes: playback and recording. In the playback mode (the default) you can mute or unmute your audio devices for playing music. In the recording mode, you can select which audio device will be used for recording. The panel shows either the volume sliders for playback or the sliders for recording, but not both at the same time.

How do you switch? Select Properties from the menu and then choose the mode you want. The Properties screen also lets you hide audio devices, so if your Mic In or Line In do not show up in the Volume Control Panel, you have to enable them here. Not very intuitive, but that’s how it works.

NOTE: Make sure Line In or Mic In is the only selected input in the recording volume panel. Most soundcards will let you select only one input, but there are also soundcards that can record from multiple sources at the same time. In that case, de-select all the inputs that you are not recording from, to prevent them from picking up background noise.

Listening to yourself

Not all digital pianos have built-in speakers, and you may be using your Line Out connectors for that already, so to record from Line Out you need to disconnect your speakers. On other digitals, plugging a cable into Line Out or Phones Out may mute the onboard speakers.

Obviously, you still need a way to listen to what you are playing.

If you’re not using Phones Out, you can listen through the headphones on your instrument.

You can also listen to the sound on the computer. For this, you need to enable Line In (or Mic In) for playback using the Volume Control Panel. Now any sound that comes in will be sent directly to the computer’s speakers. If your computer doesn’t have speakers, plug in some headphones.

Put the volume at a level you find comfortable. This volume level is different from the one that is used for recording, so it doesn’t matter how loud or soft you put it.

WARNING: If your instrument also has a Line In, you may be tempted to connect the computer’s audio back to the piano so you can hear yourself on the piano’s onboard speakers. This is potentially dangerous, because it can result in electrical feedback that may damage the speakers. See your manual for more info.

Recording

If you don’t have a good audio editing program already, I recommend that you use Audacity to make your recordings. It’s free and very powerful. Make sure you use the latest version available; at the time of writing this is “1.3 (beta)”. Even though it says “beta”, this version works just fine.

Start up Audacity and it will look something like this:

Audacity main screen

At the top of the screen you can verify that either Line In or Mic In is selected (you can also change it here). When you’re ready, press Record (the button with the red dot). This will create a new track. Play something on your piano and it should appear in the track. When you’re done, click Stop. Click the zoom buttons in the top-right corner to view your entire recording (shortcut key: Ctrl+F).

TIP: When you record audio, it is important that the incoming data stream is not interrupted by anything. If it is, you’ll get cracks and pops in the recording, and you don’t want that. Audacity isn’t the only program running on Windows; in fact, there are dozens of programs running in the background.

Before you begin recording, first close all other programs, especially email and messaging programs. Preferably disconnect your machine from the internet altogether. The fewer programs are running, the less Windows will interrupt the recording and the better the result will be.

After recording, the Audacity screen should look like this:

Audacity screen after recording

A new track has been added and it contains two waveforms, one on top (the left stereo channel) and one at the bottom (the right stereo channel).

If you see only one waveform, you have recorded in mono. That is probably not what you want, so you have to tell Audacity how many channels you’ll be using for the recording. Go to the Audio I/O section in the Preferences, and set the number of recording channels to “2 (Stereo)”.

Next time, we’ll talk about several post-processing steps that you can apply to your recording in order to make it sound better.

Read more articles on Piano Clues:

Basic Theory


Chords and Harmony


The Circle of Fifths


Arrangement, Improvisation and Composition


Reading Music and Sheet Music


How to Record Piano


Software and Virtual Instruments


Scales and Exercises


Digital Pianos


Links and Other Stuff


Comments

  1. Fahim says:

    Hey, I tried this software to capture my Casio Full key CTK 810 keyboard. But wasn’t able to capture anything.. I plugged my USB cable from the keyboard to my PC’s USB.. any suggestion?

    tnx..

  2. admin says:

    Hi Fahim,

    The USB cable is for recording MIDI and as far as I know, Audacity cannot do that.

    For recording MIDI, see this article.

  3. Wendy says:

    HI
    I am looking for software that will allow me to “see” the notes I press and tell me what they are when I am doing this .Perferably seeing a key board on the screen of my laptop.
    I have a weighted Casio Px720 piano.
    Is this possible ?
    Thank you

    • admin says:

      Sure, it’s possible. You need a MIDI connection and some software. See the articles on recording MIDI for more information. Most programs that can record MIDI can also show you the names of the notes.

  4. linda says:

    Hi,

    I followed your instructions and connected the piano to the laptop and recorded using audacity but the ‘noise’ was so v bad. Is this due to the laptop sound card or cables( had to have them custom made as the jacks are all different)? The laptop sound is very normal when I stream utube songst etc…

    How do I fix it if at all possible?

    I also connected using the midi cabel interface which I bought from Yamaha but the red dot prog didn’t seem to work for me. It didn’t record anything.

    If I wanted to record my piano piece and save it as MP3 so that I can send it to someone via email, which is the best option?

    thanks so much!!!
    suki

  5. dANEIl rAYs says:

    hi i followed everything but i still hear some noise under it and at the same time the reocrding the notes seems to be more deep example playing higher notes after the recording they seems lower notes whats wrong??? thnkx anyway ang congratulations for the great job u’re doing bless xx

  6. dANEIl rAYs says:

    ooow and also it becomes more slow than the way i played it :-(

    • admin says:

      If playing back the recording is lower and slower than when you recorded it, then you’re playing it back at a different bitrate. You probably recorded it at 48000 Hz (or 48 kHz) and are playing it back at 44100 Hz (or 44.1 kHz). Check the settings of your soundcard and your recording program to see what you need to adjust.

  7. aliza says:

    i tried recording piano with phone out..i can’t hear myself while recording but only after i play it on the computer….what can i do to liten to my self while playing…there are no plugin for headphone on the piano , i tried on the computer but it didn’t wrok..

    • admin says:

      Aliza: listen to the output of the computer by plugging headphones or speakers into the computer. You do need to enable output in the program you use to record audio, though.

  8. Julie says:

    Can you tell me how I record my digital piano by usb (MIDI) cord? I thought I had it but discovered that it’s recording my voice as well. Can I record the piano without the external noise?

  9. brenda Murray says:

    I followed the directions. I made sure that the volume on my piano and the computer were low but the sound is really distorted. What am I doing wrong?

  10. sonny says:

    I have a stable midi connection between my piano and computer and the sound is coming out of the amp that the piano is plugged into. there is always static noise coming thru it and it also gets in the recording.

  11. Jim Robbins says:

    Hi guys,

    I’m recording solo piano from my Roland KF 90 keyboard, into an Alesis 4 channel USB mixer, into my laptop with Audacity Beta.
    All my mixer levels seem to be safe — I’ve even recorded at varying levels, but same distortion occurs.

    I’m getting a high pitched mono tone, and distortion.

    I’m pretty sure my laptop battery is dead or dying; but I’m using it with the AC power adapter.

    Here’s the sample. http://robbinswritings.squarespace.com/storage/piano%20sample-distortion%20problem.wav

    I’m stumped.
    Jim

    • Matthijs says:

      Jim, I don’t hear any high pitched mono tones. There is some static on the recording, but other than that it sounds fine to me.

  12. Austin says:

    Hey i need help! When i try to listen to it it sounds terrible. Its all wish-washy and sounds like its in an echo chamber. Also their is like a 2 second delay from when i strike the key to when it comes out of my computer speakers… My Laptop is a Toshiba satellite A665. Also i think my speakers blew out or something. i hit a key and no sound comes out, but i can hear fine with my headphones on.

  13. Martin says:

    Thank you, i’ve found this article very useful! M

  14. william doran says:

    I find this page very interesting , and intend to check it out with practice.
    Initially , it would have helped if there were some answers were posted to the various problems – but who am I …. ???

  15. Dani says:

    I have plugged a USB cable into the computer from my Casio-2200 keyboard. I can’t seem to record the correct thing, because when I record, I can hear my voice, and it isn’t very clear.

    I would also like to point out I am only twelve, so I have little idea over how it works.

  16. Luis Cunha says:

    Greetings,

    “You can also listen to the sound on the computer. For this, you need to enable Line In (or Mic In) for playback using the Volume Control Panel”

    In Windows Vista, how’s this done? (I’m not beeing able ear the sound “live”, only after I’ve recorded it)

    Thank you

  17. Kitali says:

    Hello!
    I’m looking for a 61 keys keyboard (moderate for home use) with possibility to record through USB flash stick directly from keyboard when playing.

    Thank you

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