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Let’s assume your pianist is a seasoned pro, or you’re a programming wizard. Our piano keys and chords primarily sit on the 5th and 6th octave, but can decrease to the 2nd and 3rd much bass-ier octaves, and/or go as high as the 7th octave.
I know we’re talking about equalizing vocals with piano, but we need to start somewhere; with the range of keys the piano is hitting, the signal is affecting frequency ranges. Therefore, because of the range of frequencies the piano affects, we will start here.
Another aspect we must assume is we are working with a simple 7-band equalizer. There are many bands, but in this example, we’re using a simple stock eq. Either way, whichever equalizer you’re using, the same should apply.
First, we must consider these questions: Is this ballet with no percussion? Is this a full symphonic track saturated with percussion? Or is this a hip-hop or rap track with heavy 808 bass? Let’s run through 2 scenarios; Piano Ballet with Vocals, and then Heavy Bass Track with Piano and Vocals
Scenario 1: Piano Ballet No Percussion with Vocals
Step 1: Equalizing The Piano
If you remember the ranges in which the piano touches and is being played, the octaves are very broad which can be pretty different from instruments like the guitar. In this particular instance, I’m going to go to the 1st band of my eq, located on the low range of the eq. My stock eq has its 1st band sit around 63 Hz.
I would adjust this band’s frequency even lower; to the lowest point of the eq at 20 Hz. At 20 Hz, I would decrease the band by -3 db to -8 db. How much to decrease is up to you, but this will decrease the low-end noise in the piano track. -3 db to -8 db would suffice, but more than -8 db will significantly decrease the lows of the track.
Since we have no percussion, the low end of the piano would be nice to not completely eliminate it. Once the low end has been brought down, I would do the same on the completely opposite side of the eq, the high end. I would mark the 7th highest band sitting and slide that band to the highest of frequency ranges at 20 kHz.
Once sitting in the highest range, I would reduce this band by a few db. This will reduce the harsh highs that may occur.
One thing to keep in mind: too much reduction at 20 Hz and 20 kHz will cause your piano to sound very confined. Be tactful and make light adjustments. Start with very little changes, a db or two at a time, and gradually make your way down until you find a sound you like, without making the instrument sound confined.
We’re going to come back and make a couple more changes to the piano portion of this article later, but for now we’re done.
Step 2: Equalizing The Vocals
Depending on the male or female vocals, and whether or not the vocals are being panned, equalizing vocals can be broad. In this case, we’re going to assume we’ve got a female and male vocalist so we get the full dynamic range.
At our first band, with 63 Hz representing our lows, I would bring that band down very low, close to the floor of the eq. To that low point, this will eliminate the lows entirely, which is a suitable choice with vocals. Typically, voices don’t touch this range enough for your ears to grasp; your drums and bass-ier instruments are here, or in this instance piano bass.
Again, reduce the low band of the eq to the floor. This is to make sure we’re not getting phase cancellation with the lows of the piano and lows of the vocals.
On our 7th band, representing the highs of the frequency range, I would take that band somewhere around 14 kHz. I would then reduce the highest band at 14k, around -6 db to -10 db. Again, this is to reduce the striking highs of the vocals.
You could increase the mids and upper-mids by a db or 2 if you’d like, but be careful not to overdo it. Increase the frequencies at 1k and 2k by a couple db if you’d like. Again, be cautious that your vocals don’t distort if eq’d too high. Bring the mids up by 2 db and the upper-mids up by 1.5 db. The vocals will have a nice eq at this point.
And now…back to the piano!
Step 3: Follow Up Equalization on Piano
Now we go back to the piano. Remember where we boosted the mid and upper-mid band on the vocal? We can probably adjust those same bands, but here, we bring them down equally as much as we brought the vocals up. I would turn each one of the bands down by a couple of db.
This will allow for the vocals to sit above the piano in these ranges, and that should about do it. Of course, how many db and where exactly the frequency band, is totally up to you and different genres will have different requirements. If you follow these exact steps, this will undoubtedly give you a nice eq of vocals and piano.
Scenario 2: Piano Ballet with Hip-Hop or Rap Percussion
Remember we said we’d discuss two scenarios? The last scenario is, if we had a hip hop or rap track with piano, or low percussion in general. In this case, we would follow the same steps, but on our piano, instead of taking our first band all the way to 20 Hz and turning it down there, we would roll that low band off at 60 to 100 Hz (turned down all the way), and perhaps even higher, depending on where your kick and/or 808 are sitting.
Find the frequency of your kick and/or 808 and turn the piano low band down at a higher frequency point. Eliminate and reduce the db as low as the eq lows of your piano, so we give room for the bass of the drums to sit instead.
Good luck. You’ve got this!