It can be difficult to EQ piano considering the base frequencies of its notes ranges extends from roughly 16Hz to 8000 Hz.
Fun fact, by the way, the standard for tuning defines the frequency of the note “A” above middle see to be 440Hz.
Tuners use this standard accepted setting to base and define the tunings of all other notes around it.
This makes keyboards ideal for tuning by ear because the tuning of its notes is never off.
By getting back on how to EQ piano, with a huge frequency range to work with depending on the range of the notes used in the performance you’re EQing, it can be tricky.
The timbre of your piano can vary widely depending on the type of piano whether it’s real or a virtual instrument.
Follow these tips on how to EQ piano to get a rich tone and plenty of clarity out of the recorded performance.
Here is a quick cheatsheet for the best piano EQ settings, followed by a breakdown of each section covered:
EQ Piano Settings
75Hz – High Pass
There’s an unpleasant rumble typically below 75Hz which comes from the lowest notes. Besides the fact that they add nothing to your mix, they interfere with your kick and any sub bass sounds.
Wear a pair of headphones which have a good low end and solo a high pass filter on the lowest end of the piano. You should be using a somewhat aggressive curve here like I’m using with the 36dB/Octave and a level Q right at 1. This should make the high pass look like a slightly rounded cliff.
Now play the part of the piano track when the lowest notes are playing and begin sweeping from the bottom, left to right, until you start to hear the musicality of the lowest notes, then roll it back a few Hz.
75Hz is a good place to start, but it might be higher for your recording.
75Hz-200Hz – Boost for Fullness
This is a good place to give warmth to the piano via EQ. Solo and sweep around the 75Hz to 200Hz area to find the center that gives the piano that body that sounds best.
Boost roughly 6dB with a wide enough Q to get a good sampling otherwise you won’t be able to make an informed decision.
A Q between 2 and 4 should be wide enough to give you an effective sample size to work with.
You can then sweep until you find the fullness you’re looking for down here.
(EQ Piano in the Context of the Mix)
Before we go any further, I should mention that you need to make these changes with the context of the mix in mind.
You can get that warmth from a piano with a boost in the 75Hz-200Hz range, but a lot of other instruments get their warmth from the same place.
In a busier mix, there’s simply not room for everything, so a cut here can create clarity to save room for the prioritized instruments like a kick drum, bass, or even vocals.
Alternatively, if you’ve got more of a vocal with a piano accompaniment focused mix, you can be more aggressive with these boosts as it’s a much sparser mix.
300Hz-600Hz – Cut Boxiness
Here you want to sweep around to find the frequencies which aren’t contributing to the sound.
When testing my sample, I found that at around 380Hz in particular there was a boxy “waaaa” kind of sound. A/B testing it before and after the cut made the piano sound a lot cleaner as it placed a greater emphasis on the lower warmth and the higher presence.
2kHz-6kHz – Sweep for Presence Vs. Tinniness
There are no across the board rules for piano EQ in the upper mid range frequencies.
Sometimes a small boost can give you the presence you’re looking for, sometimes you can cut out a little tinniness and make room for other instruments there.
Once again you need to defer to the rest of the mix.
In this example I found a pocket of tinniness I felt I could do without around 2.5kHz and made a small cut. Your mileage may vary depending again on the type of piano you’re EQing.
9kHz-11kHz – Boost for Transient (Optional)
You’ll get a bit of that hammer hitting string transient sound with a boost in the 9K-11K range.
This is completely optional, but worth noting it’s there if you want the piano to cut through a bit more. It’s the same idea as boosting around 7K-8K on a snare drum to get that first transient crack of stick on drum, albeit a bit higher up.
Best Piano EQ Settings
So there you go, the best techniques on how to EQ piano.
A quick overview of the best piano EQ settings again:
- High pass around 75Hz with an aggressive curve to remove unwanted rumbling.
- Boost around 125Hz to get some warmth in your piano. Alternatively you might want to cut here in a busier mix to make room for kick, bass, vocals, and other more important instruments which draw warmth from the same area.
- Sweep between 300Hz and 600Hz generally to find an area of boxiness which the piano sounds better without to cut. Great way to cut mud.
- Try boosting or cutting areas as you sweep between 2K and 6K to add presence or remove tinniness. This will depend on your piano timbre.
- Consider boosting 9K to 11K slightly to get more of the percussive hammer on string sound to help the piano cut through the mix.
And one last time: your mileage may vary with whatever timbre your piano is giving you, and more importantly, always EQ your piano within the context of the mix.
Busier mixes will generally require more cuts whereas if the piano is taking priority, more boosts are in order. A prime example of this would be a vocal with a piano as the sole or primary accompaniment (think Adele).
More tips for mixing piano in general upcoming (I’ll link here once it’s up)!