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More than most acoustic instruments, the piano is really capable of a huge dynamic range, and that means that it usually needs at least a little bit of compression to keep the sound steady in the mix. An acoustic piano is inherently a lot more dynamic than a synthesizer or an organ or even an electric piano, so it has to be treated differently as a result. In this video, I will show you how to set the controls to keep those dynamics in check. Usually the more wild the peaks, the higher the compression ratio that you'll need ,and the fewer the peaks, the lower the compression ratio.
In this case, we're talking about an acoustic piano that's by itself. It's a solo acoustic piano. It's not something that's working in the track. And this is a lot more difficult than something that is with other instruments. The reason why is since it's kind of naked by itself, you can hear any compression artifacts, so you have to be very careful about how you compress, so you don't hear it. In this example, you're going to see that from verse to verse, there is a big dynamic difference, in that the second verse is played a lot harder, so it's a little less dynamic, but it's also a lot louder. So we're going to have to control it from verse to verse.
So let's listen without a compressor just so you can hear the difference. (music playing) Now you can hear there are certain notes that are really lot louder than the other ones, and there are some that are a whole lot softer, and that's why we want to use a compressor, so it evens those peaks and valleys out.
So let's go to our normal Pro Tools Compressor that we've been using all along. This is just the generic native compressor that comes with it. Let's listen! Again, what we're going to do is we're going to take our attack time and we're going to make it as long as possible, and our release time, we're going to make it as short as possible and start from there. (music playing) What we're going to do is we're going to back the attack off until it begins to affect the attack portion of the piano sound. As soon as it begins to dull, then we know we've gone too far.
(music playing) Now, we've gone way far there, and you can hear it even introduces an element of distortion, and of course, that's something that we don't want, most of the time anyway. So I'm going to back that off again. And just about when we hear it begin to dull, that's when we're going to stop right there, and even back off a little. (music playing) Now, what we're going to do is we're going to take our release and we're going to shorten it a little bit.
In this case, since we're not playing with other instruments, the release can actually be a little longer than we'd normally have it. What we'd usually do is we'd make sure the attack and release were timed to the track. And in this case, we can actually be a little looser with the attack and release times. See, the attack time, not so much, because again, it affects the brightness of the track, but the release time, definitely. As soon as we hear breathe, then we know we've shortened it up too much, but usually it can sound pretty good with a longer release--just a bare acoustic piano by itself in a solo mode.
(music playing) Now, what we're going to do is we're going to listen and bypass the way it was before. (music playing) Now let's listen with the compressor. (music playing) Now, what's happening here is that as soon as the compressor kicks in, we can hear it.
So that's why we're going to use the Knee parameter, and what the Knee does is it allows the compressor to gradually kick in, rather than doing it very abruptly, so it smoothes out that sound when it initially begins to work. Let's listen. (music playing) Let's bypass it and have a listen.
(music playing) And let's adjust the gain a little bit so it's even with the mix. Again, we never use compression. What ends up happening is that it will actually decrease the peak so it sounds like it's a little quieter than it was without the compression. (music playing) So you can hear how even that is.
The peaks we've decreased a little bit, and the softer notes have been raised a little bit, which is what a compressor does. So now it's a lot more even. Now, this will work great in a track with the rhythm section. By itself it might not be as good, and you actually might want those dynamic changes with the solo acoustic piano. But this is what we do if we're going to use this in a track with the rhythm section to control the dynamics, something that we don't have to do so much with the solo piano. So to sum it up, in order to compress the piano, you start with the attack and release time and you set it so it breathes with the track or it breathes with the way it's being played.
Then you adjust the threshold and the ratio controls, get the right amount of compression. The more peaks the piano has, the higher the ratio will need to be. Remember that the more compression used, the less realistic the piano sound--you can really hear the compressor rather than the piano.
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