If you play the piano, this article is written to help you with audio gear recommendations. At the end of this article, we'll also provide some guidance on video gear, as the piano is more challenging from a video perspective - especially for online music lessons - than other instruments.
Please note that if you already have a microphone and audio interface that you use for home recording of your piano with your computer, you can very likely just use the gear you already own with our free JamKazam application. In this case, check out our system requirements, and then follow the steps in these help articles to set up the gear you already have to work with our app.
If you don't already have this kind of gear, or aren't sure, then following are some recommendations for different levels of expense and quality gear that you can choose, listed from least expensive to most expensive.
Built-In Microphone & Headphone Jack On Your Computer (Free)Most computers today have a built-in microphone and 3.5mm headphone jack. The cheapest and easiest way to get started is simply to use what you already have built into your computer. You can use headphones or earbuds plugged into the headphone jack, and use the built-in microphone to capture your piano's sound, and also to chat with other musicians in online sessions. Note that you'll definitely need to use headphones vs. the speakers built into your computer. If you don't use headphones, you'll get a really nasty screeching feedback loop because JamKazam doesn't use echo cancellation technology like Skype. This is one of many differences that enable JamKazam to process audio better and much faster than voice chat apps like Skype.
The big advantage of using the mic and headphone jack built into your computer is price. It's free. There are two disadvantages. One disadvantage is audio quality, as the built-in microphone won't do as good a job capturing your piano audio as a better audio interface and microphone would. The other disadvantage is that your built-in sound gear will typically process the audio more slowly than a dedicated audio interface, which will create more latency in your online session, making it more challenging to play live in sync with other musicians.
All of this said, this is a decent way to get started easily and free, and you can always upgrade to something that costs money when you decide it's worth the investment to do so.
Samson Meteorite ($39.99) or Audio-Technica ATR2500 ($59.99) USB MicrophonesThe next step up in quality and price is to use a USB microphone. This is a microphone that plugs into a USB port on your computer. When you use one of these products, the USB microphone captures the audio from your piano as well as your voice chat, and you can plug a pair of headphones or earbuds into the headphone mini jack on your computer to hear yourself and other musicians in your sessions.
Our favorite two USB microphones are the Samson Meteorite USB Condenser Microphone and the Audio-Technica ATR2500-USB Cardioid Condenser USB Microphone (both pictured below).
The Meteorite costs $39.99, and it is super compact, really tiny, and highly portable. The ATR2500 is larger and a bit more typical as a microphone, and costs $59.99.
In our testing, we've found that using the Samson Meteorite for audio processing results in about 8 milliseconds of audio processing latency on Mac OS X systems, and about 19 milliseconds of audio processing latency on Windows systems. Using the Audio-Technica ATR2500 for audio processing results in about 16 milliseconds of audio processing latency on Mac OS X systems, and about 12 milliseconds of audio processing latency on Windows systems.
Behringer UM2 + XLR Cable + GLS ES57 Microphone + Mic Stand ($89.99)The Behringer UM2 (pictured below) delivers a pretty amazing combination of low price, high audio quality, good feature set, and fast audio processing performance.
For just $29.99, you get an audio interface that connects to your computer via a USB cable, and gives you 1 combination XLR-1/4" input port, plus a 1/4" input port, headphone jack, and optional phantom power. We see this interface regularly available for $29.99 at certain Internet storefronts. To find this pricing, we'd recommend simply searching "Behringer UM2" on Google, and checking the Google Shopping results, as pricing on this interface is much more variable than the other products listed in this article. In our testing, we've found that using the Behringer UM2 for audio processing results in about 8 milliseconds of audio processing latency on both Mac OS X and Windows computer systems.
If you get this interface, as a pianist you will also need a good microphone. For a great price/performance instrument mic, we recommend the GLS Audio Instrument Microphone ES-57 & Mic Clip (pictured below).
This mic is just $29.99. It's a high-quality imitation of the standard Shure SM57 instrumental mic. The Shure mic is an industry standard, but it costs $99.99. For $70 less, the GLS mic is really close to the same quality. If you prefer to spend more, you can use this link to the Shure SM57-LC Cardioid Dynamic Microphone.
To connect this microphone to the UM2 audio interface, you'll also need an XLR cable. You can pick one of these cables up for less than $10. For example, the Your Cable Store XLR 3 Pin Microphone Cable (6 feet) (pictured below).
The one other accessory you'll need with this gear configuration is a microphone stand to position and hold the microphone at a point where it will capture both the piano audio and your voice chat (or singing). For a mic stand, we'd recommend the Samson MK-10 Microphone Boom Stand, which costs $19.99.
In terms of placement of the mic, we'd recommend something like the image below, where you place the mic using the mic stand in a spot where it will capture both the piano audio, as well as the voice of the pianist for either chatting or singing.
One key thing to be aware of in terms of mic placement is that the ES57 instrumental mic is a directional mic, so it is optimized to capture audio coming at it from the front of the mic. If you position the mic pointed at your face (as in the image above), it will screen out a good deal of the piano audio that is coming from behind. This can be a good thing (so you don't have to shout into the mic), or a bad thing (if it is positioned in such a way that it cuts out too much of the piano audio). You can play with the positioning of the mic to move it further back into the piano to pick up more of the piano sound, or out more toward the pianist's mouth to pick up less of the piano sound - to find a good balance between the levels of the piano sound and the pianist's voice.
Please also note that if want to go even higher end, you can use two microphones - one just for the piano, and a second one for your voice. If you would like help/advice in terms of setting this up, please post a request for assistance using this link.
Positioning Your Webcam (or Webcams) for Video
Most instruments are very simple for capturing video while playing. You can just use the webcam built into your computer and sit or stand in front of your computer/webcam, while the webcam transmits video of you and your instrument to others in your online session.
But if you're playing the piano, it can be a bit more complicated figuring out where to position your computer and its webcam, so that you can see others in your session, and so that they can see your hands and the keyboard - especially for a teacher in an online lesson.
The simplest and most effective position we've seen is pictured below.
This gives a good view of the musician's hands and the keyboard from the side, while allowing the musician to see others in the session.
If you want to take this up to another level, the JamKazam application allows for the use of multiple webcams - although it transmits from only one at a time. So you can also purchase an external webcam that connects to your computer via a USB cable, and then position that webcam above your piano, pointed down at your hands and the keyboard, which can deliver the kind of view shown below.
Then using the JamKazam application, you can switch views at any time during a session between the side view (using the built-in webcam) and the top-down view (using the external webcam).