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Starting down the home recording road


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Looking for the most general advice here, including just recommendations to other websites.


I've decided I want to make a good recording of myself, playing my baby grand piano at home (in a living room). The quality doesn't need to be pristine necessarily, but I do want it to pass as "CD quality" to the casual listener, if possible.


Right now, I have no decent mikes, equipment or any software. My experience recording myself is limited to using a ZOOM, and playing around with Audacity. So I am starting from rock-bottom in knowledge.


Aside from just recording the acoustic piano, I think it is also possible - down the road - that I will want to make a piano/guitar recording (more for the purpose of a demo). And who knows, perhaps one day I'll actually become more ambitious and seek to record other instruments.


With all that in mind, can anyone point me to resources I should look at to get me started? Or even better, feel free to recommend specific mikes, equipment and programs. I want tools as simple as possible, without giving up necessary functionality.


I'm looking to learn both about hardware and software.



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Hi Cedar


Be warned - home recording is a slippery slope I've been sliding down for 10 years now.


Probably the most cost-effective way you can get started is to:


1. Get the program Reaper - very powerful (written by the guy who wrote WinAmp, and Gnutella). about $60, but rivals programs costing 10X more. Also extremely helfpfull forum, almost as good as this one :)





2. For your application of recording a solo acoustic piano, get a good stereo mic, that way you don't have to worry too much about mic alignment. I have a Rode NT4, very happy with it.



3. Get a Reasonable interface that works well with your computer - there are many options, I'm sure people will chime in here. Anything that costs >$200 would probably sound fine.


4. Get some room treatment - compressed fiberglass wrapped in some kind of material - you can make it yourself, or buy premade units. They can really help eliminate some mud in your recordings.


OK, that's what I'd do if I was you - and be prepared for your new addiction...

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Be warned - home recording is a slippery slope


was my first thought also when I read the thread title. Keep your cup of patience around, you will need to drink from it regularly. This is not meant to discourage you, just fair warning that at first nothing goes as well as you want typically. Have fun with it and keep us posted on how it goes. :thu:

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Yeah, I appreciate the "slippery slope" warnings, and realize this may become an expensive, time-consuming -- if not endless - project. But I'm in no rush either and hopefully going into this with eyes open.


I like to think that, doing this at home with an infinite amount of time to record and re-record until I'm at least relatively content with the music itself, I'll end up with a product I can proudly call my own. If that takes years, so be it. Recently, I've become somewhat disenchanted with the endless chase for jazz gigs and I think this project will keep me motivated to keep refining the music (and doing more composing).


Either that or I'll go insane. Willing to take my chances now.

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One other comment- nowadays it doesn't matter if you use a Mac or PC, most recording software, except for Logic, runs on both platforms.


If you have a relatively recent iPad, you could even use that - there are some tremendously powerful programs like Auria that seem to be as good as anything. Plus, iPad software is is lot cheaper, in general.

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Using Reaper (or any capable+ DAW) in a living room may not be logistically or ergonomically feasible. Much easier and flexible to bring the recording gear to the instrument instead of the other way around. I would recommend one of the portable 2-8 track recorders (Zoom, Tascam, Sony etc) and transferring the data to a DAW after laying down your initial track(s). You'll have to check out which one has the features you want and most important (imo) which has the interface that's to your liking. Obviously you want to easily hit record, "rewind" (when you screw up) and have good quality sound into the device.


Also think about how you're going to monitor; small active speakers through a small mixer perhaps or maybe headphones are sufficient?

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My home studio is 100% OTB. During the last eight years everybody has been going ITB and dumping their hardware, which I scooped up for pennies on the dollar. Back then software didn't sound that good, and I still don't think it does. No softsynths, no plugins, no DAW. I won't deny that software has its advantages, I just prefer hardware.


I stare at a computer screen all day for my day job and I want my eyes relieved from that outside of work. I also like not having to replace software every time the computer OS goes obsolete.


No need to turn this into an endless OTB vs ITB thread. Either way, the home recording studio can be a money pit.

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I am going to take an outlier tack on this and just mention: "CD quality to the casual listener" recordings of acoustic piano are really pretty difficult to pull off at home, and even in some nice project studios. Mic placement is a bitch, and the trial and error period for getting the sound you want--room vs close vs inside-close-vs-soundboard-close vs hammers vs "bloom" vs decay vs nice even hi/lo continuity, etc, is potentially a momentum-killer up front. Also, what a listener will accept in terms of intonation and other issues in a live setting, they will hear as distracting on a recording.


I'd personally tell someone who was just starting down the road, to use a DP (dry) and add some soft reverb afterward. If you want to get really fancy, you can even record "silence" in your living room, with one (stereo) mic in the middle of the room and one (mono is fine) inside the piano, and drop it behind your DP tracks to "place" them somewhere.


Audacity is free, and pretty robust. There are things that annoy me about it, but it's a feature-packed way to get your hands dirty recording, editing and mixing. For that matter, so can GarageBand be, so long as you turn quantizing off on the edit menu.


I use ProTools, but that's just because I'm old and used to it. I've used Digital Performer and Logic--all iterations of the same program, with some related strengths and weaknesses depending on your ultimate goals. For bounce-off to hand-em-out CD's, any of these--even GarageBand--can do fine. Everyone's "favorite" track off my last full-studio CD was a demo I did in GarageBand, of which I could never come up with a better take, even in the fancy studio I did the rest of the cuts in.


Seconding the Rode recommendation--some of the nicest mics I've end up with are Rode. I run them through a Sebatron pre-amp, making an all-Australian audio path for no good reason. Studio Projects also makes disproportionately good (if inconsistent) mics for the price.








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Wow, I have the opposite reaction to most of the posters here.


Use your Zoom, and start with a pair of decent mics. You don't need a DAW to record acoustic piano.



"I keep wanting to like it's sound, but every demo seems to demonstrate that it has the earth-shaking punch and peerless sonics of the Roland Gaia. " - Tusker


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You are going find appreciation for true recording engineers very fast. Recording is a 1000 times more that sticking a mic in front of something and hitting a red button. The greats learned by assisting other greats and had great mics, pre's and out board fx like eqs at hand. Mic placement is EVERYTHING and not having a great teacher is a big disavantage. Miking acoustic pianos is a particular challenge. I not trying to discourage you , just trying to get your mind in the right place to start your long journey.

The artist formerly known


              Jr Deluxe 

 That was my guitar name.

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Be warned - home recording is a slippery slope


was my first thought also when I read the thread title. Keep your cup of patience around, you will need to drink from it regularly. This is not meant to discourage you, just fair warning that at first nothing goes as well as you want typically. Have fun with it and keep us posted on how it goes. :thu:

Indeed. d2dc3c0130be27f634ceb60511e9f92e.jpg

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I am going to take an outlier tack on this and just mention: "CD quality to the casual listener" recordings of acoustic piano are really pretty difficult to pull off at home,


Exactly what I thought when reading the original post. You can get pretty far with a few decent mics, free software, a laptop and a simple interface (or the Zoom, why not), recording most instruments in your living room.


Except for drums. And piano. These instruments really need some acoustics to sound good and the mic placement can be really tricky. Recording a baby grand in such an environment... well, be prepared to be disappointed.


Not saying that you shouldn't try it, you may be a natural born recording engineer. But if you want to focus on your music and nailing a great performance, maybe a digital piano makes more sense.

Rock bottom bass

Fakebook Pro Sheet Music Reader - at every gig!

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If you're playing live and just need to capture it I would suggest a Zoom H4N



In one shot you get a decent stereo pair of mics that can record to a variety of audio file formats, including the 16bit / 44.1k quality wav which is the CD quality you're referring to (although it can also do higher bit depth and sample rate). It's a no muss no fuss solution as is. At most you'd want to add a boom stand to place it where you can get the best sound. I like it over my head - player perspective, but you can also get it into position for a side, ambient room, above the strings or under the sound board. Experiment.


You'd then take your captured performances, which are recorded to SD cards (same type you use in a camera or video recorder) over to your PC where you can edit them using a free app like Audacity (which your familiar with), or an inexpensive DAW like Reaper as suggested above.


The H4N also has XLR Mic pres for if/when you ever need additional mics or you are hot to try out a different/better stereo Mic than the one included. It can also multi track if you add a singer, sax, whatever later or live. The question will come up so I'll answer it, yes the H4N sounds a lot better than the H1 or H2.


My feeling is the learning curve is low and the results very good. I don't think you need more.


The alternative is an audio interface (a lot of guys like the Focusrite models - something like a 2i2) custom picking your Mic(s) (I'd suggest a Rode NT4) and learning to use Reaper - although Audacity can capture as well. The H4N can use the NT4 as well.




Yamaha CP88, Casio PX-560

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Cedar, just start cheap. You probably have a laptop. Audacity is free. Get a basic interface and borrow a couple of basic stage mics that everybody has like the venerable Shure SM57's and two mic stands and just start playing. Then listen. That will give you some idea but most importantly a point of reference. You might think the bass is muddy or the treble is shrill or whatever. You can zone in on that with different mic's and preamps. Play with mic placement, hear the differences. Maybe borrow some better mics at first, try them and listen.


If you're not totally discouraged at that point then start looking at the Rode's and most importantly, a good mic preamp. The best ones can cost 5K, good ones 2K and decent ones $500. It's the preamp that makes or breaks a good mic.


You have listened to the best recordings of piano done by the best engineers in the best studios using thousands of dollars of of the best equipment your whole life. You will not approach that sound in your living room. You will be disappointed but it's still a worthwhile effort just don't jump out there and spend a couple of grand right now. Start small and cheap first and you might be surprised. There was a song posted on a recording forum years ago by a band laughingly called the SM57's. It demonstrated just how good you can make a recording sound using that basic 40 year old stage mic. I still have a bag of those that I bought used for about $50 each years ago. People still use them now, you see them hanging in front of guitar cabs all the time.



Hammond SK1, Mojo 61, Kurzweil PC3, Korg Pa3x, Roland FA06, Band in a Box, Real Band, Studio One, too much stuff...
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I have a friend making nice recordings with nothing but a Zoom H6-everything is built into it. Using one requires experimenting with the placement of it to achieve a good balance, but this might be a viable option, and way less expensive than all the stuff I've invested in over the years(mac computer, MOTU Digital Performer software, mics, stands, eqs, etc..)
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If your primary goal is to have a nice recording of you playing the piano, the simplest path is to use a better digital piano. Most of them sound brilliant when simply plugged in to any reasonable interface and recorded.


I have a number of pieces recorded that way, mostly just things that have come into my head that I wanted to save before they left. Most of them would pass the "CD quality to the average listener" test.


And with minimal recording effort. A bit of post-processing (reverb, etc.) and you end up with an amazing product. Except for my lame playing, that is.


If, on the other hand, your goal is to learn all the difficult nuances associated with recording an acoustic piano using microphones, then by all means have at it!

Want to make your band better?  Check out "A Guide To Starting (Or Improving!) Your Own Local Band"


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If your primary goal is to have a nice recording of you playing the piano, the simplest path is to use a better digital piano. Most of them sound brilliant when simply plugged in to any reasonable interface and recorded.

This sums up my experience.


About ten years ago, I went down the exact path the OP wants to take. I have a Kawai 650 grand in a room with decent sound treatment and, at the time, was recording it with a Zoom H2.


I won't bore everyone with the details, but I was never satisfied with the results. I could hear defects in my piano that I had never heard while playing. (Poor damper regulation ...) I'm afraid that you will not be happy with recording your baby grand regardless of your gear and technique. The short scale of a baby grand just can't compete with a full grand.


Please reconsider using a digital hardware or software instrument. You'll save yourself a lot pain and money.

Casio PX-5S, Korg Kronos 61, Omnisphere 2, Ableton Live, LaunchKey 25, 2M cables
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I am open-minded about every option, from using a Zoom, to using a DP or spending significant sums.


My strong preference is to be playing on my baby grand. I have a CP4, and I do not feel that I can express myself nearly as well on it. But perhaps that's just a matter of practice.


I have an H2 Zoom now. I've only used it to record band rehearsals, and never really took it seriously for these purposes. Guess I'll experiment with that before doing anything else.


Anyone have an opinion whether there is a more advanced Zoom that I should consider?


edit: just noticed the recommendation for the Zoom H4N. I'll check that one out.

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As someone whos been in the professional recording business (flashpointrecording.com Austin TX), producing, mixing and recording for more years than I care to count here are a couple of thoughts in no specific order.


What Ive written below relates to both the H4N and the H2 that you own.


If you can swing it the Zoom H4N ($159)




is THE machine to do eggsackly what you want do make some decent recordings that you will be proud to play for anyone.


BTW -- It looks like the H4N is being replaced by the H4NSP for $200 Id save the bread and go with the old standby H4N and buy the accessories suggested, below, with the money you save.


In this overly long answer to your problem, youll find ideas and techniques for improving you recording technique. Im less familiar with the H2 but I see no reason why you cant get some decent playback from that machine.


If you order the H4N Zoom also order the Zoom MA2 mic stand adapter; they are about $8.00. The adapter screws into the bottom side tripod mount on the H2, H4, H4n or Q3, recorder, and allows you mount the Zoom on a standard (SM58/SM57 etc) mic clip. Another handy H4N accy is the RC4 remote for $24 which the above outfit sells.



If you decide to remain with the H2 you still MUST have the MA2 adapter they are sold all over the internet.


Before you start spending a ton of bread on stuff (expensive mics, mic pres, compressors, channel strips, software, room treatement etc) that you may not need for your application, lets first make some decent recordings with what you currently own (H2 in your case) this will give you a better idea of what you need in order to fill the holes so to speak.




You already have a recorder which is an excellent start; you will also need a decent mic stand with a boom and SM58 style clip at the end; this stand/boom/clip will let you precisely position your recorder and mics if you have a shock mount clip all the better (I recmnd the Audio Technica AT 8410A, not eggsackly cheap; $50, but very worth it).


A shock mount provides mechanical isolation and can do wonders for getting clean input and avoiding low end rumble and some sonic dirt.


Id also consider putting a couple of layers of carpet under the mic stand base el cheapo bath mats with their rubberized bottoms are a decent choice. You might also need some weight to put on the base to keep the stand/boom/recorder from tipping over once you extend the boom out.


And, while you are at it, make sure the piano peddle assembly, dznt squeak, rattle, bump or fart. Do what you can to remedy noises from it. Get the piano tuned if it hznt been.




These step by step instructions refer to the menu items on a H4N; your H2 is slightly different, but it has most of these choices.


Use your H2 manual and set/adjust the parameters to what I tell you here.


On the H2 Select Mic Pattern Rear 120 degrees. Set the Mic sensitivity switch to M (for starters).


On the H4N: Go into the INPUT menu and begin with these setting: Level: OFF (this is the automatic recording input level; you want it OFF as you will be setting your own recording level); MONO MIX: OFF; MS MATRIX: OFF (this is a super super cool feature and for now we will keep it OFF when you progress to more adventuresome recording techniques you can explore the fun of the Mid Side Matrix or as some wise guys in the biz prefer..MS?, maybe stereo anyway OFF for now). PHANTOM: OFF (for now well come back to that one). PLUG-IN: OFF; LO CUT: (you have two choices MIC or INPUT) select MIC and set it to OFF (we will revisit this choice once you have some decent recordings). COMP LIMIT: select MIC and OFF (again something you can come back to); MONITOR: OFF (this controls the little speaker on the unit and you do not want it on); 1/2 LINK: ON.




Go into the REC menu and select: REC FORMAT: 44.1/24 note: for these test recordings you can also select 44.1/16 as some home computer stuff wont play back or understand 24 bit recordings. NOTE: I prefer to not get into a format/bit-rate battle/discussion within this thread.. mp3s vs 44.1 vs 48 vs 88.2 vs 96 I just want to start someone on the path of making CD quality recordings they would be happy to play for anyone.




In the MODE menu select STEREO




The XY mics on the Zoom have a slick adjustable recording spread which can be set by rotating the capsules. You can set them to either 90 degrees or 120 degrees. For now pick which ever number seems lucky; just make sure they are both identical. Once you make some recordings try some at 90 degrees and see what differences you hearif any.




Your H2 has front facing mics, aka: side address. The front side of the machine is narrow @ 90 degrees and the rear side is wider at 120 degrees. Start with the 120, rear side.


MIC PLACEMENT AND TEST RECORDINGS and yes there is no menu for this.


Put some fresh batteries into the Zoom and then screw Zoom MA2 adapter it into the bottom of the recorder and attach it to your boom and power it up. Makes sure the MIC Button, on the front of the machine is RED.


Press the REC button on the front of the recorder and it should go blinking RED, Record Ready, and set a starting level (H4N) of 40 using the REC LEVEL toggle. On the H2 set sensitivity to M and you will use the REW and FF buttons to further refine and adjust input level.


Open the piano lid.


Position the H4N recorder (still attached to the boom/stand) so the front LCD of the Zoom faces you and the XY mics point DOWN towards the harp.




as previously stated, the H2 uses a side address configuration


this means the recorder must be parallel to the strings. If you have the nose of the H2 pointing at the strings you will record the wall (or the lid) prbly not what you want to do; but it would be fun to experiment with awkward positioning once you get acquainted with how your piano and room sounds.


Set the Zoom mics two or so feet above the strings, or where ever you think is appropriate, and more or less in the middle of the harp. You will most likely revisit this placement once you start listening back.


Keep the machine in blinking Record Ready mode and start playing. Look at the levels.


This is harder to do on the H2 as the LCD will be pointing toward the ceiling/lid perhaps a mirror taped to the lid can help or a friend looking at the levels as you play can tell you whats doing.


For now, you want to peak at about -6.


Once you have a level set, (H2 FF / REW to adjust levels), press Play which puts you solid Red and into Record mode.

Listen back on decent headphones or high quality earbuds (do such things even exist? but I digress).


What do you hear?


Besides your playing ability, this initial mic positioning and level setting is 99% of it before you start buying additional audio gear.


If the music too echoeee, you might want to get less room and move the mics closer to the piano. Or if the sound, is too harsh, and your input levels are not aggressive, try moving the mics away from the harp and a little more into the room. The beauty of this simple Zoom/Mic arrangement is two fold.


First you can quickly evaluate what is and what is not happening.


Second the single point source XY mic arrangement, used by both the H4 and H2, avoids nasty phase cancellations.


If the sound is too boomy, go into the INPUT menu and add some LO CUT, there are a couple of choices; listen and experiment.

Youll still get plenty of low end from the piano even with a low cut engaged and it can do a lot to clean up your sound.


If there are a lot of hard surfaces causing a bunch of weird reflections, blankets can help. Its always easier to make a bright room dark, in terms of tone, than trying to make a dead room sound big and lively.


You should also check out how the piano records, lid closed and then with lid off.


Your ears are the best tools for deciding what you need to do.


You can also change the sound dramatically by playing to the room.


Think of you and the piano as a speaker, and the room as the speaker box. Find a dynamic level that seems natural and gets the room to reinforce your dynamics.


Does moving any furniture around change things for better or worse? I dont think having a baby grand as opposed a nine footer will matter that much, as a nine footer might be too much for the size of the room you are in when it comes to recording.


Once you have a basic sound you can live with, go into the INPUT menu and experiment with adding compression. This depends a lot on your style and what kind of dynamics you are going for. Your best bet is to play around and see if you can hear any differences with and without comp settings.


The most vivid results will occur when you play around with mic positioning.


Take notes, use tape and spike the floor and see what you come up with. Dont worry if the orientation or positioning you end up with looks weird ie: somewhat away from the piano and over by a window. Your ears are your best tools.


Transfer the files from your H2/H4 sd card to Audacity and burn a CD. Evaluate that CD in various situations and listening environments.


If you feel you are moving in a positive direction where you have a feel for mic placement and level setting I would 100% recmnd getting the H4N and eventually some small diaphragm condenser mics. Youll be able to plug those mics into the XLR connectors on the H4N and the preamps on the H4N are surprisingly good.


When using external mics, Id stick with the XY single point source configuration, especially to start with, however there is no harm in experimenting with a spaced pair setup; you will run into phase problems the 3:1 rule often helps minimize those cancellations if the mics are 1 foot from the source, they should be 3 feet apart from each other.


In conclusionthis has gotten a lot longer than I expected it to.


I applaud you for attempting this recording challenge. Dont give up. Keep it simple. The H4N with its built in XY mics could be all you need. Ive used that machine for location movie recording and that unit continues to blow my mind. Keep this in mind, a piano is tricky to record, but with a little perseverance you can get some decent living room results without spending a ton of bread.


If you decide the recording game is for you and you have a handle on what things sound like when you move the mics around, and what compression sounds like and what it can and cannot do, and want to move up gearwise; two of the best purchases you can make, besides microphones are high quality mic pres (in my mind, often even more important than the microphone) and decent AD/DA converters.


Think of the mic pre as your microscope taking the microphones delicate, tiny, (& hopefully) high quality signal, and enlarging it up flawlessly.


The analog/digital/analog converters develop that signal and transform it into something a computer understands that with an end result that sounds realistic and smooth.


Along with a well built and maintained instrument, and a talented player, converters and mic pres are big part in getting punch, clarity and richness in the sound. In closing keep it simple to start this journey. Use your ears, move the mics and adjust (and buy stuff) as needed.


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I haven't yet read every post, so excuse me if I re-say something. I am retired and spending roughly 4-6 hrs a day at the piano. Doing whatever I like to do at the time. It's my sandbox.


I know little about recording. I decided I want to record sounds in the air. No midi. So I have accumulated 2 AKG 414's, a BLUE Baby Bottle, a Shure SM81. And recently a Sennheiser E945 for live and hopefully recording. I'm hoping that the E945's requiring close positioning will cut out the piano sound I'm recording. My piano is a (Clavinova line) Modus F01. It sounds like a real piano that's completely in tune - to my ears. Only problem is there is a physical clicking noise from the key movement. So I figure I'd need to turn up the piano volume and move the mics back.


Anyway, I'm in a similar boat. I am taking a few audio classes at my local community college. Learning about dB's and such. I'm going thru this to get to the Sound Recording I class at which you use a real studio.


All I hope to accomplish, is what the OP said he wants to do.


BTW OP, I play a lot of jazz piano. But I'm not in the local jazz dudes clique. But something dropped into my lap from a 30 year old contact. An assisted facility gig. Playing to 80 and 90 somethings. They like a lot of the old standards. Food for thought.


Sorry to have run on a bit. But I felt I was in a similar boat as the OP.

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I know little about recording. I decided I want to record sounds in the air. No midi.

Since you have a digital instrument, it would be much easier and sound better to record an analog output rather than mic'ing it.

Casio PX-5S, Korg Kronos 61, Omnisphere 2, Ableton Live, LaunchKey 25, 2M cables
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When you're ready to go crazy, you can really dig into how DAWs, EQ, compression, etc. etc. work by taking this course. It's free, but you can pay a reasonable fee to get a little more from it. A few of us have taken it and think it's great. Coursera offers it regularly so if you miss this one, you can take it next time around.



"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck


"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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