How is a piano recorded?

What prompted this question is this afternoon's activity: going to the mall, an obligatory task of being a husband, we entered through Nordstrom. As the habit of Nordstrom is, they usually have a pianist play a baby grand near their escalators in the middle of the store. So while my better half was browsing, my son and I watched the pianist.
From a certain distance, I certainly couldn't localize where the lower register or the upper register or anything in between was, the piano sounded as a whole, singular unit. However, that's not the case in many recordings, at least what I have: the piano is spread wide b/w l & r speakers. Is this the result of close-miking the piano? I wonder why the rec engrs don't make it more like real live, but I have no experience or skill or any background in recording so I don't know. What are the considerations for close miking like this?
Check out The Silverman Concert at (See:

It documents a concert given by Robert Silverman on piano & recorded by John Atkinson of Stereophile. It gives you more information on recording the project than you'll be able to process. You might search the site for other piano projects recorded by John Atkinson of Robert Silverman, also. I would imagine other recordings of solo piano use similar techniques.
It all depends on the acoustics of the venue, the type of music, whether there are other instruments and the desired sound. There's no one size fits all technique. Making a instrument sound "real" is a totally subjective criteria which may or may not be appropriate for a particular recording.
The piano recordings that don't sound real usually are miked much too close, often under the lid of the piano. A more realistic sound can be obtained by placing the mikes some distance from the piano and aimed towards the lid.
IME the piano in real life sounds the way you describe. I can only suppose that piano recordings which place you so that you hear low notes at one side and highs at the other have been miked and mixed that way because that's what the producer thought we expected to hear.
Thanks Beavis. I'll take a look.
I was standing about 6-8 ft away from the piano, and it certainly sounded as a monolithic unit, no 'L to R piano soundstaging' as in many recordings. BTW, it sounded great!
Most solo-piano recordings are done with the lid off and with the microfones either facing the pianist or his/her back. That's why we get upper frequencies on one side and lower frequencies on the other side of the soundstage. I own very few solo-piano recordings, but one I can recommend and which has some but not lots of the above-described 'stereoness', is by Mieczyslaw Horszowski (whew!), Nonesuch 9 79160-2, named something like 'Mozart/Chopin/Debussy/Beethoven'. It contains 2 Chopin nocturnes, o. 15 #2 (my fave) and o. 27 #2, plus Debussy's Children's Corner plus Beethoven's Piano Sonata #2, o. 2 #2. It was recorded digitally by Max Wilcox, usually NOT one of my favorite balance engineers, but this time he got it right, IMO. The piano has a VERY nice tonality and presence that sounds quite real at correct levels without being too forward.

I believe the CD is out of print--at least I couldn't find it among other Horszowski recordings at Tower--but I recently found 2 copies on Amazon.
I guess I'm outing myself as an "audiophile" but this talk about a live musical instrument reminds me of a story about a turntable... :)

Someone I worked with was demonstrating a certain high-end turntable to a difficult customer who didn't think it would make a beneficial difference. The customer brought in his table and some Brubeck records. When the 'good' table was played, the customer began shaking his head "no, no, no. The sound is no good, it sounds like you closed the lid of the piano."
My friend picked up the customer's record jacket and said "during this phase of Brubeck's career he always played with the lid closed, as you can see in this photo."
The customer quickly made his purchase and went home to rediscover the rest of his collection!
(At least, that's the way I remember it...) :)
In a nutshell-usually poorly. They are tough to get right.
We all wish that records/cd's sounded as you describe-as a whole unit- but most don't.
A few years back I co-funded a recording by a small jazz band featuring a friend - Richard Todd - who is a noted French Horn player. In watching the recording sessions, it was apparent that getting the piano right was going to be the biggest problem. When the set-up was finally complete, the band played its first tune and we had a great sounding take. However, when we listened to playback of the performance, the piano BENCH was squeaking throughout. Suffice it to say that it's very, very tough to get this right.
Firstly ou should understand how a piano produces it's sound. All the strings are connected, by tension, to the sound-board. The sound-board is like a big diaphram witch amplifies the string's vibrations. The sound-board projects the sound (if it's a grand) up against the lid and down towards the floor. You don't 'mic' the strings but rather the sound-board. I found that by placing the mic or mics 2 meters away from the 'sound-board' makes for the best recording. I also would never place a mic inside the piano cabinet or near the strings. This is wrong as you get a peak in the frequency were the mic sits - say for instance its near a middle A flat.
There are several ways to mic a piano and it all depends on what you want the results to sound like. I do a lot of recording for a live radio broadcast and for various artists and will vary my recording tech. depending on the results I desire.

The problem with recording solo piano in a realistic manner is that it can lack impact and not hold the listener's interst, especially if there are vocals. Getting the soundstage right with vocals and piano is very difficult, so in order to create a soundstage that holds the listener's attention a lot of engineers create a 10 foot wide sound stage with the lower register extending stage left and the upper, stage right.

This, of course, makes for interesting runs but can be a bit annoying for those that want an audience perspective rather than an artist.

So in short, there is no right or wrong way but rather multiple ways that can shape the results you want.

My favorite way is to use one pair of close mics ORTF mics, starting around middle C, slightly turned at around 40 degree angled back on the lower register and forward on the higher. I then place two split omni's, spaced around 5-6 feet in front of the paino and then post mix to my liking.
I am a simpleton in this crowd - generally just interested in hearing good stuff without a lot of concern about the technicals. But I recommend the cd Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock Duets. I have found that the recording produces the whole, integrated sound you describe, but there is a l-r separation for the pianos themselves, a very good recreation of the back and forth of two masters.