Thursday, May 21, 2015

How do I produce my piano videos?

I am often asked how I produce my YouTube piano videos (on my channel PSearPianist), so here is a description of how I am doing it just now.  I have used different procedures in the past, and may do in the future, but this works for me at the moment.

I film my performances on an Olympus LS-20M linear PCM recorder - basically a sophisticated stereo recorder with a fairly basic video camera attached - which sits on a Manfrotti tripod about six feet from the piano. 

I record the video at 640x480, 30fps - not HD but good enough I hope for the sort of video I make, which is really about the music.  The sound is recorded in MP3 at 320kbps, the best quality available on the camera.  I could certainly work in HD, but that would raise issues of computer processing power and bandwidth availability for uploading.

On most videos I play from digitized scores which are viewed on my 22" LG picture frame-style monitor (attached to a laptop by an extra-long VGA cable).  I view the scores on Foxit Reader 7, a Windows program which allows dual page display, and also allows you to choose which page shows up on the left-hand side.  I turn the pages with an AirTurn pedal set operated by Bluetooth.  Getting the connection right can be fiddly (as the computer operates on Xubuntu Linux and gives no choice of Bluetooth manager software), but would probably be more straightforward with a Windows setup.  I sometimes use paper scores (mainly for music that is still in copyright, for which I have the music), and edit out the page turns.

I do two or three takes (at least) of each piece.  Usually the final video is based on the last, with the odd patches from earlier takes, and I may repeat passages within a take if needed.  I am surprised by how often I think I have done a perfect recording, only to find that an important note is inaudible on playback - which is why multiple takes are valuable.

I then attach the camera by USB to the laptop and edit the footage using the excellent free Kdenlive video editing software.  This does everything needed: the cutting and pasting using thumbnails of the audio, adding opening and closing title sequences, and overlaying images and section titles on the footage.  I also usually put a 0.2 second fade at the end of each piece to eliminate the creaking of my piano stool or noise of the pedal coming off!  If you are on Windows, VideoPad is a good alternative (a freeware version is available from ), and this is also available in an Android version.  I render my videos in QVGA widescreen 29.97fps, saving them in MP4 format with MP3 audio at a fixed video bitrate of 4000 and an audio bitrate of 192 (the highest available on the program)

As soon as the video is made and saved to file, I upload it to YouTube as 'Private' so I can store it until I want to release it by making it 'Public', at which point I add the description etc.  I learned to do this the hard way - I lost one or two videos when a hard drive failed!

You can actually set up Kdenlive with a bootable Linux operating system on a USB flash drive.  I have tried to do this for some time, but only recently succeeded, owing the the number of elements needed in a system to make Kdenlive work.  Here's how I did it, but I am sure there are many different routes:

1 - get a USB drive with at least 8Gb of storage.
2 - download the PuppEX Linux Live CD (as an ISO) from here:
2 - download and run the Yumi Multiboot USB Creator available from here: (Windows program - but Linux versions are available) with the USB drive connected.
3 - Use YUMI to install PuppEX from the ISO to the USB drive (it will fall under the 'Other' category, as it doesn't appear in the list of supported operating systems - and you should use Syslinux).  Then shutdown your computer.
4 - Turn the computer on with the USB drive still in, and set your computer to boot first from USB if it doesn't already do that (you do this from the BIOS).
5 -  You will see the Multiboot menu.  Choose PuppEX from the 'Other Linux' distributions menu and then run it and set it up to your liking.
6 -  Run the Puppy Package Manager, on which you will find Kdenlive in the lists of available packages (I think you will need to install Kdenlive and also the Kdenlive data package).
7. - That's it - you can then use the USB drive with any modern computer set to allow booting from USB, which could be useful if you are making videos 'on the road'.

I hope that will be helpful - and would welcome any suggestions for better ways of achieving the same result with modest hardware and bandwidth requirements.


  1. My dream is to have a proper A3 tablet to do this but a cheap monitor might do the trick for a couple of years, at least to try out a lot of my digitized music without printing it all.

    Do you show your music with 2pp up or just one? I can't tell from the angle of the display.

  2. I also thought of using Chromecast or similar to beam the PDF from my laptop or tablet to the display. I'd like to minimise cables running from the monitor as much as possible.