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).
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.
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:
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:
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.
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