Who needs a manual?

Patrick Sanwikarja
2 min readApr 10, 2022

If a product needs an instruction, it’s not intuitive. At least that’s what designers like to say. “Nobody reads manuals, the product should explain itself!” But is that really true? Take musical instruments.

A while ago, we temporarily had a piano in the house. When a friend didn’t have room in her house for it, we offered to stall it in our living room. My daughter liked practicing on it with the Simply Piano app. But then our friend moved to a bigger apartment, and so the piano left our living room again. I had been thinking about getting an electronic keyboard ever since, because I really liked having piano keys in the house. So a few weeks ago, when one of our neighbors wanted to give away an old electronic synthesizer for free, I immediately responded.

So now we have a Yamaha Portasound PSS-560. It’s one of those things with — besides piano keys — a lot of buttons, switches and sliders, with labels like “BASS/CHORD VOICE”, “SYNCHRO START” and “SPECTRUM”.

The problem is, I have no musical talent whatsoever. I don’t know how to play the piano, let alone a synthesizer. All I can do is randomly hit the keys. I figured out how to emulate sounds of different instruments, because those buttons were pretty self-explanatory: “VIOLIN”, “FLUTE”, “PIANO”, et cetera. But as for the other features: I had no idea how to use them. All I could do was just try out a button and see what happens. Not a very efficient way to learn how a synthesizer works.

But then I figured: maybe I can find the user manual online. And sure enough, thanks to the wonders of the internet and Google, I quickly found a pdf of the original manual. This weekend I took some time to walk through the pages and understand what each button does. I didn’t expect it, but the user manual actually did a good job of explaining everything. So now I know what the “CUSTOM DRUMMER” feature does, and how the “DIGITAL SYNTHESIZER” works.

Does that mean I can play the keyboard now? By no means. My musical talent is still as good as zero. But knowing how the keyboard works does make it easier, and more inviting to play around with it. Sometimes you do need a user manual. All I need now is a piano teacher.

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