10

I want to learn playing the piano. Between my schedule and the expensive labour around here, it seems I'll be better off buying a used instrument and learning on my own, rather than starting with courses. But as I don't know if I will stick with it forever, I don't want to pay the price of a new instrument.

I found a classified ad for somebody selling a Yamaha YDP-143 in the vicinity, and plan to go there, and if it seems good, buy it. The question: since I am a complete beginner and cannot even play the simplest melody, how do I know that this piano is good?

I am not so much worried about finding out whether this model will fit my needs, all information I could find said that this is a great beginner's instrument and I guess I can't get more than that before I have formed my own preferences. The problem is that, as I am buying from a private person, there is no way to return it. So the question is about making sure that this one instrument has no defects which will ruin my joy learning. Without the ability to play a tune, which functions should I test, and how?

  • I'd test electric keyboards in the store the same way, regardless of whether they're used or new. I once found a keyboard in a store that failed my tests and couldn't play all the right notes of the Imperial March (specifically one of the G's). – Dekkadeci Jan 5 at 16:20
  • We received an old Clavinova. Everything sounded good but the keys were coming back up too slowly after having pressed them. We had a technician change some parts (some kind of foam if I remember correctly) and it seems to be much easier and pleasant to play now. – Eric Duminil Jan 5 at 21:24
  • Download and peruse the manual beforehand, usually comes with some useful tips regarding transport, handling and troubleshooting. – frostschutz Jan 6 at 0:47
5

Try all these with a basic piano sound to begin.

Play every single key and make sure it sounds. After that, use the pedal all the way to the right and make sure the sound sustains when you lift your finger from a key. Try holding the pedal down while you press 20-30 keys, one after the other, and see if any pitches "drop" from the sustained sound. They should not. The other two pedals are not as useful to beginners.

If you want to use headphones with the piano, make sure the jack works. Bring headphones (you will likely need a small-to-large adapter for the jack.) Make sure the music stand on the piano works.

Make sure the speakers are good. Make sure the display is clear. Have the seller demonstrate choosing different sounds and the metronome.

What features this digital piano has will be different than others. It is not likely you will be able to test all the features and sounds, but if it passes these tests, you are good to go as a beginner.

That being said, it is impossible to know how long the piano will last, and it will not be under warranty. Technology has improved quite a bit, but there is a limit to the memory life of these things. I had a digital piano that was almost 20 years old when all of a sudden certain notes below middle C just stopped working.

  • Very nice, I wouldn't have thought of some of these. In this case, I am not worried about longevity, this particular piano is only 2 years old, so it shouldn't have circuits burning out yet. As for the rest, that's exactly what I was looking for: knowing which features are essential for me to be able to learn properly, and how to find out if they work. – rumtscho Jan 5 at 13:54
  • Wait, what's the polyphony of the Yamaha YDP-143? If it's something like 16 or lower, your first test will eventually have notes dropping from the overall sound. – Dekkadeci Jan 5 at 15:54
  • 2
    The description I read said 192-note polyphony, which is overkill. – Heather S. Jan 5 at 16:37
  • @HeatherS. What if I wanted to play every key on an 88-key keyboard on a voice that sustains past the end of the input, then quickly switch to a different voice and hit every key again? Can't have any notes dropping out prematurely, then, can we? (incidentally, that was the reason listed in the manual for one of my keyboards for its 90-something note polyphony on a 70-something key keyboard). – user45266 Jan 8 at 23:41
  • @user45266, if that's someone's goal, that would need to be tested before purchase of a used instrument. I don't think that would be a goal for most learning beginning piano, but that's just me. – Heather S. Jan 9 at 2:12
4

If it's "just a piano" & little else...

  • Assuming the seller plays, at least a bit - get them to play something & listen for any signs of amp distortion or speaker buzz at a good volume. This would be harder for a non-player to test as hitting huge bunches of random notes isn't going to be kind on the ears ;)

  • Check each & every note, bottom to top; play gently then harder & harder & make sure the volume increase between hard & soft sounds similar.

  • Check that at least the right pedal does what you expect, sustains. Press it & tap a note, then several - they should all ring on until you release the pedal. The left pedal, or left & middle if it's a 3-pedal device, might be harder to figure out for a non-player [may also be software reassignable & you may not even need them in the first couple of years of playing.]

  • 1
    What "else" could it be? I read comparisons to the higher end models of that line and for example the YDP 183 has features which a review discussed as useful for composing your own music, is it this what you had in mind? – rumtscho Jan 5 at 13:34
  • [I used to work for Yamaha R&D many many years ago, but I've completely lost track of the model designations since] I only just looked up the YDP - it does seem to be 'just' a piano. Many home keyboards try to be all things to all people; some have accompaniment styles & 200 different sound choices, from violin to drum-kit. This doesn't seem to be one of those, it just wants to be "a piano"... & if a piano is what you want, then 'just a piano' is the type to aim for; no money has been 'wasted' on things irrelevant to a pianist, so the sound & keyboard action ought to be first-rate. – Tetsujin Jan 5 at 13:39
  • 2
    Wow, cool that you worked for Yamaha. I didn't know about that dichotomy, and yes, I want to use it as a piano - if I wanted to play the violin, I would buy a violin :) I guess there are electronic musicians who would appreciate all kinds of effects bound to a single keyboard, but I am really looking for a less pricey, lower-maintenance version of the real stringed piano. So thank you for the nice response. – rumtscho Jan 5 at 13:51
  • @Tetsujin, maybe you should say "things irrelevant to just a pianist." There are many pianists, myself included, that sometimes want to make use of other aspects that digital pianos can provide because we are doing other things as well, like writing music. – Heather S. Jan 5 at 13:55
  • Just to confirm: the Yamaha YDP-143 is velocity-sensitive, correct? – Dekkadeci Jan 5 at 15:52
3

The other answers covered much of the tests I would have made (I typically test by playing actual music), but I'd like to emphasize this test:

Check each and every note from bottom to top. Play them individually in order from bottom to top, successive notes being next to each other (so if there is a black note between two white ones, play the black one after the left white one and before the right white one). The pitch should rise by a somewhat minor amount each time. If the pitch remains the same or lowers between notes, the keyboard has failed this test. The pitch rising too high between notes also fails this test, but I'll have to leave it to you to figure out what a whole tone (the smallest interval between adjacent notes that makes this test fail) sounds like.

Also make sure that notes--or, heaven forbid, the whole keyboard--don't drop out when certain sounds (e.g. organ) are selected. (The drum kit sounds are in another boat and don't play pitched sounds, though.)

If the keyboard has a demo function, use it. I'd smell a rat if the demo function doesn't work.

  • What exactly do you mean by "The pitch should rise by a somewhat minor amount each time"? – user45266 Jan 9 at 3:07
  • @user45266 - While ideally I mean that the pitch should rise by a semitone between adjacent notes, given that the OP "cannot even play the simplest melody", I cannot assume a high enough music literacy to recognize intervals by ear. – Dekkadeci Jan 9 at 5:58
  • Noted. That's a good suggestion. +1 – user45266 Jan 9 at 15:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.