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Topic Options
#2015610 - 01/16/13 04:22 PM How do you try out a piano when you can't play?
RosieP Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/13/13
Posts: 18
Hi everyone,

I am a newbie here. I have just started my search for a grand piano having decided that our old upright has seen better days. My young son is taking lessons and I am an adult beginner. The thought of looking for a new piano is exciting, but it is also quite terrifying. Besides the choice out there (which I had no idea existed until I joined this forum and read Piano Buyer), there is also the dilemma of testing pianos. As a relative beginner, the thought of playing pianos in the presence of the very experienced sales staff and other customers brings me out in a cold sweat!

Can someone please give me some simple strategies for trying out pianos without looking (and feeling like) a complete dumbo.

Many thanks - this forum has been so useful for me so far in my search.


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#2015613 - 01/16/13 04:25 PM Re: How do you try out a piano when you can't play? [Re: RosieP]
BDB Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 24766
Loc: Oakland
A chromatic scale all the way across the range of the piano tells me most of what I need to know to evaluate a piano. I play it as evenly as possible, listening and feeling for notes that stand out in any way.
Semipro Tech

#2015619 - 01/16/13 04:34 PM Re: How do you try out a piano when you can't play? [Re: RosieP]
Minnesota Marty Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014

Registered: 05/15/12
Posts: 7439
Loc: Rochester MN
Hi - Welcome to Piano World!

Don't worry about being embarrassed by your skills. Your money is a good as anyone's. I would think that the first thing to do is get recommendations from your son's teacher. That will send you in an organized direction. Some teachers will even help shop. Do you have any friends who are more advanced and could offer some help?

You could also let your son play, stand back, and find out what appeals to you. Many stores have decent pianists on the staff and can demonstrate the pianos for you.
Marty in Minnesota

It's much easier to bash a Steinway than it is to play one.

#2015623 - 01/16/13 04:39 PM Re: How do you try out a piano when you can't play? [Re: RosieP]
mabraman Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/24/12
Posts: 540
Loc: Valencia, Spain
Most sellers can play very well, or at least some employee can, usually.
Another way to do it is to get the help of some friend who can play, or even your teacher. I went to the store with some relative who plays and has experience. Anyway, I didn't choose the one he liked the most.
But if you don't feel you have enough level or just are too shy, you'll have to rely on someone.

(sorry, redundant post, we wrote at the same time smile )

Edited by mabraman (01/16/13 04:41 PM)
Learning piano from scratch since September, 2012.
Kawai ES7.Kawai K-200

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#2015624 - 01/16/13 04:40 PM Re: How do you try out a piano when you can't play? [Re: RosieP]
bennevis Online   content
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 8966
If your son has a teacher, why not ask him/her to play the pianos for you to help you decide? Especially as he'll probably be playing more than you if you don't plan on having lessons yourself.

In my experience, good pianists going into a piano showroom is like a child going into a confectionery shop and being invited to help themselves......
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

#2015632 - 01/16/13 04:58 PM Re: How do you try out a piano when you can't play? [Re: RosieP]
RosieP Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/13/13
Posts: 18
Thanks to all for great advice (I knew I'd come to the right place). We will probably need to travel some distance for our piano purchase and stay overnight, so I don't think taking the teacher will work, but that's a great idea.

I like the idea of playing the chromatic scale (even I can manage that!). It will at least give me a feel for the piano. Then maybe I can listen to some of the staff members play.

Thanks again.

#2015635 - 01/16/13 05:02 PM Re: How do you try out a piano when you can't play? [Re: RosieP]
Rickster Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/25/06
Posts: 10894
Loc: Georgia, USA
The last time I visited a real piano store, I played what little I knew how to play... the salesman complemented me on my playing and that is when I knew he was not telling me the truth... grin

I agree that the chromatic scales are fine to start... maybe a few basic chords, if you can play them (usually every 1-3-5 note for the root chord). It’s also a good idea to listen to someone else play the piano you are interested in, but ultimately, you are the one to be satisfied with the tone and touch.

Good luck, and keep us informed!

Piano enthusiast and amateur musician: "Treat others the way you would like to be treated". Yamaha C7. YouTube Channel

#2015825 - 01/16/13 10:43 PM Re: How do you try out a piano when you can't play? [Re: RosieP]
musicpassion Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 1684
Loc: California, USA
As some others already said, ask your son's teacher first.

I usually enjoy shopping with my students.
Pianist and Piano Teacher

#2015841 - 01/16/13 11:16 PM Re: How do you try out a piano when you can't play? [Re: RosieP]
RealPlayer Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/03
Posts: 2528
Loc: NYC
Hi, Prestonscan. Playing a chromatic scale is ONE of the things I do when looking at an unfamiliar piano, but it's only a start. There are a number of things that might be hard to evaluate if you don't have enough playing experience.

If it's too far for your piano teacher, see if you can enlist someone in the city where the piano shop is. Maybe search the list of Piano World members to find a pianist who lives in that general area. (If you were in New York, I could help you.)

Best of luck.


#2015847 - 01/16/13 11:36 PM Re: How do you try out a piano when you can't play? [Re: RosieP]
TunerJeff Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/22/11
Posts: 534
Loc: Oregon Coast
Dear Rosie,

When you play that chromatic scale up the piano...play each note twice! Not just a single keystroke. Ding-ding! Twice, or even three times, quickly and smoothly.

That lets you know if the piano will repeat, and play properly. It may also give you a better sense of how it 'feels' under your fingers. Some pianos have lighter actions, some heavier, and it is a good idea to get a sense of how it 'plays' in your hands.

I always try to get my customers (who are finally listening to the tuner who says; 'Get a better piano!') to purchase the best piano that they can..because it may be there for the next 30 years! And...I'll be the one tuning it. ;>)

As this is an upgrade for you, too; look at studio or full uprights, at least 45" tall or better, to get the best sound from the piano. Smaller pianos, such as spinets, simply don't offer the same rich tone and control at the keyboard.

Of course; it is never as simple as buying the biggest! But, I think you get the idea. Good quality, new or less than 20 years old, and as tall as your budget will allow.

For grands; much the same. Longer piano means longer strings and better tone. The smallest grand pianos, at under 5-ft, are mostly too small to provide a good tonal quality. There are quite a few that manage well at under 6-ft, in the 5'3" range to 5'10", but keep in mind that length is always important to the sound that reaches your ears.

When using the store staff as your 'player', try to have them play the same piece or snatch of songs on each piano. That will make it easier for you to hear differences between them! Do ask their advice on tone and 'playability', whether they prefer this or that piano, and why. It may help you understand the differences between the pianos, and good salespeople (...there are many out there!) will try to help fit you to the best piano for your needs and budget.

Play many!
...and have fun, too. ;>)
I am,
Jeffrey T. Hickey, RPT
Oregon Coast Piano Services

#2015901 - 01/17/13 03:08 AM Re: How do you try out a piano when you can't play? [Re: RosieP]
JohnSprung Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/11
Posts: 3960
Loc: Reseda, California
Since you're looking for a grand, and you want to give the impression that you know what you're doing, here's the trick: Bring a piece of light string about 5 ft. long. Go under the piano and find the longest stretch of the underside of the soundboard that you can. Thread the string over the large wood beams of the frame, and stretch it tight against the bottom of the sound board. Look at the middle of the string, there should be a gap of about 1/8" - 1/4". Less than that, and the board has lost its crown, which is big trouble.

Of course on a relatively new piano, you're not likely to find that problem. But the average salesperson won't have a clue what you're doing, and will be impressed with your expert knowledge. By doing something that's a legitimate test rather than making something up, you're covered in case someone at the store does have a clue.... ;-)

Next, ask to wash your hands before you play the piano, because of course you got dirty under there. If they won't let you, you've got your excuse for not playing. ;-)
-- J.S.

Knabe Grand # 10927
Yamaha CP33
Kawai FS690

#2015906 - 01/17/13 03:28 AM Re: How do you try out a piano when you can't play? [Re: RosieP]
ju5t1n-h Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/13/12
Posts: 179
Loc: Vancouver, British Columbia
hey, I see you're in BC. If you're in vancouver I can help out, I also know a couple places that can give a good deal laugh
Essex EUP-123S

#2015981 - 01/17/13 08:00 AM Re: How do you try out a piano when you can't play? [Re: RosieP]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 15404
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Don't forget to have your son play too. People don't really expect children to whip out a Beethoven sonata, and since he will be one of the people playing it at home it's good if he gets to test it out.

Another thing you can do in addition to the chromatic scale is play only a few bars of a more popular classical piece. Pick the first few measures generally, because they will most likely be easiest. Ask your teacher if she can teach you a few recognizable beginnings to pieces for this purpose. Recognizable is good for you because if you know how it should sound that will make it much simpler to learn, as I'm guessing your reading skills are probably not quite there yet, so this will mostly be taught by ear with the aid of the sheet music to guide you. Your teacher will know best what you could do, but here are some suggestions:

- Minuet in G from Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook, just the first 4-8 measures, good for feeling how scales are on the piano
- Beethoven Waldstein Sonata - first movement, first 4 measures, great for trying out the bass notes and feeling the repetition of the keys, and for playing chords
- Beethoven Fur Elise - I think everyone can play at least a few bars of this, good for testing out the damper pedal

Again, I'm sure your teacher will have some great ideas to help you with this. Even if you do play, do ask the salesperson if they can play for you or get someone who can. When you are playing sometimes it's difficult to really hear it, so you want to do both play and listen.
private piano/voice teacher FT

#2016128 - 01/17/13 12:57 PM Re: How do you try out a piano when you can't play? [Re: RosieP]
Steven Y. A. Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/14/13
Posts: 292
Loc: Toronto
quote from

How to Test a Piano


1) To test sustain - play notes in three main sections of the keyboard and let it sound as long as possible. Check the sustain rate and notice any changes in the quality of sound as it decays. A piano is said to be "singing" if the sustain rate is long. In this test, comparing two or more pianos at the same time will help.

• Bass section should be full and deep, not tubby and dead.

• Tenor (mid) section will sound similar in most pianos, although some will project more while others will be more warm or quieter.

• Treble section should be bell-like and clear, not tinny and weak. Usually in this section the sustain rate is obviously noticeable.

2) To test the performance of a soundboard - press the right pedal. Play a chord as loud as possible in the bass section, then the tenor (mid) section and finally, the upper treble section. Do the chords tend to merge over time? In this test, you want their tones to remain separate in it's section.

3) Listen for how the piano combine in harmony. Get someone who can play the piano (a friend or a teacher) and listen to the sound. Try as many pianos as possible including the most expensive piano. Notice the changes in the sound of each piano. Does it "sing" or notes seem to disappear or sound loud, as if two instruments were being played.


1) Press down the right pedal. Play the far left key as soft as possible. The softer (without misses) you can play the notes, the better the action.

2) Play a chord of three to four tones and see if you can achieve a good control over the volume. If you can't, the touch may be too light.

3) Repetition test - Try play the same note over and over at a steady rhythm. Notice how quickly the keys rises back. In general, you want one which plays quickly while the touch shouldn't be too light. Action that is light, provides poor feedback from the piano back to the player. In fact, most advanced musicians like to feel a touch that is heavy for better dynamic levels control.

Dynamic (Volume) Control

1) Can you play the entire scale with control, both soft and loud and many shades in between? This is because many pianos today can only play loud and louder, but not soft and softer. On the other hand, this is obvious the weakness on smaller pianos (< 114cm) when trying to play loud.

Have fun exploring and choose what you prefer.

#2016211 - 01/17/13 03:47 PM Re: How do you try out a piano when you can't play? [Re: RosieP]
RosieP Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/13/13
Posts: 18
Wow! There is some fantastic advice here. Thank you so much to everyone who has given me some ideas. I feel a lot more confident now about stepping into the store and trying some pianos. I hope my post helped other scaredy cats like me!

I am doing lots of research right now and I am thinking that new would be a good way to go for us. I am planning a visit in March to try out some pianos, so that gives me time to practice a few things. I will let you know how it goes.

Once again thank you all!


#2016739 - 01/18/13 01:42 PM Re: How do you try out a piano when you can't play? [Re: RosieP]
floydthebarber71 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/07/12
Posts: 178
Loc: South Africa
I don't understand. Just tell the sales staff that you are looking to learn. Why would they expect you to play piano concerti? I told a sales person I was looking for a piano to start learning, and he outlined most of what Steven listed in his post for me to look out for when trying it for myself. In my case, I was looking at digital and the guy gave me a pair of headphones to use as well.

Just relax wink You're not going out for a performance..

Self-taught renegade - Kawai CL-36


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