Yamaha Playcards

<-- Back to the Electronic Home Keyboards pageYamaha Playcard

The Yamaha Playcard system is a method of storing music information, rather like modern-day MIDI files, on a magnetic stripe along the edge of a large (a little smaller than A4-sized) card. The card is swiped through a slot on compatible Yamaha keyboards, which read the music data from the magnetic stripe into RAM ready for playback.

The format first appeared around 1982, probably just before the Casio ROM Pack feature appeared, but seemed to disappear only two years later, while Casio's system was still alive into the early 1990s. Several Playcard-compatible keyboard models were made, but far fewer than there were Casio models supporting ROM Packs; the Playcard format seemed to have been much more short-lived. The Playcard technology was never licensed to any other manufacturer.

As well as just listening to the music, Playcard keyboards had various training modes to teach you to play the tunes, using flashing LEDs above each key to guide you - very similar to the Casio ROM Pack training modes.

The orchestration of the Playcard music is also very similar to that of the Casio system, consisting of a monophonic melody channel and a so-called "obbligato" channel (providing a counter-melody or harmony), both of which play simultaneously with the keyboard's built-in rhythm and auto-accompaniment, with programmed chord changes, fill-ins etc. This makes Playcard music sound very much like Casio ROM Pack music.

Playcards can be double sided, with two magnetic stripes, one on each side of the card. After the first side is swiped, the keyboard's indicator light flashes rapidly to show that the other side should now be swiped to load the remainder of the tune into memory. This permits longer tunes to be stored in RAM than will fit on a single magnetic stripe. In case you were wondering, it does not matter which of the two sides is swiped first; the keyboard sorts this out internally and the tune always plays correctly. If you only swipe one side and fail to swipe the other side, the keyboard does nothing (it behaves as if no card has been swiped). While I have some Playcards that are physically double-sided, each side of these cards is scanned and played separately as if it were a separate card. The only Playcards I know of that actually use the "double-sided" feature are Japanese cards sold only in Japan.  

Unlike the Casio system, there was no recordable equivalent of the Playcard - they were a read-only medium.

Playcards are quite fragile and can easily be damaged physically, or by exposure to magentic fields, rendering them unreadable. They should be kept well away from loudspeakers, mobile phones and other sources of magnetic fields. Unlike Casio's ROM Pack system which seems very robust, I have come across a few Playcards that are either unreliable or simply don't work at all.

What Keyboards support Playcards?

The following Yamaha keyboard models are known to support Playcards: PC-50, PC-100, PC-1000, PCS-30, PCS-500 and PCR-800. The CN-1000 and MR-1 organs also support Playcards. There may be others as well.

Only the PC-100 is relatively common, and appears quite frequently on eBay. Other models seem quite rare and only crop up on eBay very occasionally - another indicator that the Playcard system may not have been as successful as the rival Casio system, even though it probably came out first.

The Playcard system should not be confused with similarly-named systems found on other Yamaha keyboards. See Other Keyboard Media for details.

Playcard Reader for MSX Computer System

Yamaha also made a Playcard system for the MSX computer. This consisted of a Program cartridge, to which a separate Playcard Reader module was connected via a short wire. When used with a standard MSX computer, the MSX's internal AY-3-891x three-channel sound chip was used to play the Playcard music, offering only the melody, obbligato and bass channels.

The basic "Playcard Set" contained only the
UPA-01 Program cartridge and CR-01 Playcard Reader, but an optional FM Sound Synthesizer unit could be added, which would give a fully-orchestrated 5-channel performance, similar to that given by a keyboard. Yamaha's own CX5M MSX computer (and later derivatives) contained a built-in FM Synthesizer unit which worked in the same way.

It was also possible to add the optional YK-01 Keyboard to the system, which enabled the usual set of Playcard training modes, exactly as found on stand-alone keyboards, and also turned the MSX system into a full-featured manual keyboard, complete with auto accompaniment. These apparently used a proprietary interface to connect to the Synthesizer Unit, and standard MIDI keyboards could not be used.

The system allows a number of Playcards to be scanned and stored in RAM, then played sequentially as a kind of Playcard Jukebox - something that is not possible with stand-alone keyboards. An MSX with 16KB can store two tunes at once, while a 32KB model can store an additional 16 tunes, so a total of 18 tunes can be stored. This suggests that each Playcard holds up to 1KB of music data.

The MSX Playcard Set is very scarce. If you do find one on eBay you will need a fat wallet.

Although Casio did make several MSX computers, I know of no similar system for reading ROM Packs on the MSX, or any other computer system. 

What Playcards were available?

The set supplied with the PC-100 contains 12 cards: 9 to 5 (Morning Train), Do-Re-Mi, Edelweiss, Aloha Oe, Greensleeves, Cielito Lindo, Summertime, Night Fever, When the Saints go Marching In, Killing Me Softly With His Song, I Could have Danced All Night, Take the "A" Train.

The PCS-30 was also supplied with 12 cards: Do-Re-Mi, Edelweiss, Aloha Oe, Green Sleeves, Nocturne Op.9-2, Summertime, When The Saints Go Marching In, I Could Have Danced All Night, Take The 'A' Train, Memory, We're All Alone and Aquarela Do Brazil. These were housed in a green cardboard sleeve, and although many of the titles are the same as those supplied with the PC-100, the musical arrangements are quite different.

Some (later?) PCS-30 keyboards were supplied with a reduced set of only 6 cards: Do-Re-Mi, Edelweiss, Summertime, When the Saints Go Marching In, I Could Have Danced All Night and Memory. These came in a blue cardboard sleeve rather than a green one, but the six cards are identical to those from the set of 12.

The keyboards were also supplied with a Head Cleaning card, which had a strip of fabric in place of the magnetic tape. It seems unlikely that the head would ever become dirty enough to require this, though.

Additional Playcards were sold in sets of six, and at least 40 such sets were made, plus at least three "Step-By-Step Learning" sets.

One of my sets of Playcards still has its original price sticker attached; it sold for £4.95 in Fox's Music Centre in Nottingham, UK - a shop which still exists at the time of writing.

Some examples are listed below. I have also seen a reference to a set entitled "Popular Hits 6" on eBay, but I am not sure whether this was a typo or not, so this set may or may not have existed. If you can fill in any missing information, please let me know. (Please note that I do not own all of the Playcard sets on this list):

Ref. No. Set Title Tunes Comments
17-541Playcard 1: The Best of The BeatlesLet It Be
Here, There and Everywhere
Hey Jude
The Long And Winding Road
Lady Madonna
17-542Playcard 2: Abba SongsDancing Queen
One Of Us
That's Me
Summer Night City
The Winner Takes It All
17-543Playcard 3: The Best of Richard ClaydermanBallade Pour Adeline
Lyphard Melodie
Concerto Pour Une Jeune Fille Nommee "Je T'aime"
Souvenirs D'enfance
Voyage a Venise
Serenade de L'etoile
17-544Playcard 4: The Screen ThemesStar Trek
Love Story
Moon River
Theme from The Godfather
Ready To Take A Chance Again
A Time For Us
17-545Playcard 5: Great Standards 1Night And Day
Days of Wine and Roses
As Time Goes By
Softly As In A Morning Sunrise
'Round Midnight
The Summer Knows (Theme from Summer of '42)
17-546Playcard 6: Great Standards 2Ebb Tide
Over The Rainbow
The Shadow Of Your Smile
Singin' In The Rain
Somewhere My Love
It Was A Good Time
17-547Playcard 7: Popular Hits 1Arthur's Theme
Antonio's Song
Upside Down
Can't Smile Without You
Good-Bye Girl
17-548Playcard 8: Latin Favorites 1La Cucaracha
La Chapanecas
Maria Elena
Aquarela Do Brasil
Besame Mucho
La Paloma
17-549Playcard 9: Latin Favorites 2El Reloj
La Bamba
Quien Sara
La Cumparasita
El Choclo
17-550Playcard 10: Favorite Disney SongsSomeday My Price Will Come
It's A Small World
Feed The Birds
Chim Chim Cheree
Mickey Mouse March
When You Wish Upon A Star
17-551Playcard 11: Easy Classics 1On The Beautiful Blue Danube
Dance Of The Hours
Symphony No. 40, G min, K550
Swan Lake
Cradle Song
17-552Playcard 12: Popular Hits 2Bette Davis Eyes
You Needed Me
Feel Like Makin' Love
I Write The Songs
17-553Playcard 13: Popular Hits 3Don't Cry Out Loud
Making Love
Modern Girl
Shadows In The Moonlight
Woman In Love
17-554Playcard 14: Popular Hits 4Endless Love
For Your Eyes Only
This Masquerade
Just The Way You Are
Private Eyes
17-555Playcard 15: Great Standards 3In The Mood
Fly Me To The Moon
This Guy's In Love With You
By The Time I Get To Phoenix
17-556Playcard 16: Easy Classics 2Ode to Joy
The Waves of the Danube
Air From Orchestral Suite No. 3
Plume in the Summer Wind
Slavonic March
17-557Playcard 17: Christmas Songs 1Silent Night
Jingle Bells
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town
Joy To The World
O Come All Ye Faithful
17-558Playcard 18: The Best of John DenverBack Home Again
Follow Me
Leaving On A Jet Plane
Rocky Mountain High
Sunshine On My Shoulders
Take Me Home (Country Roads)
17-559Playcard 19: The Best of Paul McCartneyBand On The Run
Ebony and Ivory
Listen To What The Man Said
My Love
Silly Love Songs
17-560Playcard 20: Jazz StandardsTenderly
Body And Soul
My Funny Valentine
I Left My Heart In San Francisco
You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To
Les Feuilles Mortes (Autumn Leaves)
17-561Playcard 21: Christmas Songs 2The Christmas Song
Frosty The Snowman
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Here Comes Santa Claus
Les Anges Dans Nos Campagne
O Tannenbaum
17-562Playcard 22: Great Standards 4Sunny
Love Is Blue
The Third Man Theme
Try To Remember
17-563Playcard 23: The Best of Elvis PresleyAll Shook Up
Can't Help Falling In Love
Crying in the Chapel
I Want You, I Need You, I Love You
Jailhouse Rock
Love Me Tender
17-564Playcard 24: The Best of The Beach Boys 1California Girls
Fun, Fun, Fun
Good Vibrations
Help Me Rhonda
I Get Around
Wouldn't It Be Nice
17-565Playcard 25: The Best of The CarpentersI Won't Last Another Day Without You
Only Yesterday
Rainy Days and Mondays
Top Of The World
We've Only Just Begun
Yesterday Once More
17-566Playcard 26: Broadway Musical 1 (My Fair Lady)Get Me To The Church On Time
The Rain in Spain
I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face
On The Street Where You Live
With A Little Bit Of Luck
Wouldn't It Be Lovely
17-567Playcard 27: Broadway Musical 2 (Annie)Easy Street
I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here
It's The Hard-Knock Life
You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile
17-568Playcard 28: The Best of Barry ManilowCopacabana
Even Now
I Made It Through The Rain
Weekend in New England
When I Wanted You
17-569Playcard 29: The Best of Billy JoelDon't Ask Me Why
It's Still Rock and Roll To Me
My Life
Piano Man
She's Always A Woman
17-570Playcard 30: Mixed Pops 1The Dock Of The Bay
Give Me The Night
I Am A Woman
I Go To Rio
An Old Fashioned Love Song
17-571Playcard 31: Sing Along FavoritesBrother John
Auld Lang Syne
Happy Birthday To You
You Are My Sunshine
Michael, Row The Boat Ashore
Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home
17-572Playcard 32: Gospel 1Peace In The Valley
Turn Your Radio On
Wings of a Dove
How Great Thou Art
Whither Thou Goest
17-573Playcard 33: Country & Western 1Nobody Likes Sad Songs
Release Me
Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town
Little Green Apples
Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue
17-574Playcard 34: The Best of Hank WilliamsCold, Cold Heart
I Saw The Light
I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry
Hey, Good Lookin'
You Win Again
Your Cheatin' Heart
17-575Playcard 35: Swing Time 1Honeysuckle Rose
I'm Beginning To See The Light
It's Only A Paper Moon
All Of Me
You Turned The Tables On Me
17-576Playcard 36: Hawaiian Favorites 1Now Is The Hour
The Hawaiian Wedding Song
Sleepy Lagoon
Pearly Shells
Tiny Bubbles
Quiet Village
17-577Playcard 37: Country & Western 2Any Time
Bouquet of Roses
Candy Kisses
I Really Don't Want to Know
Green Green Grass of Home
17-578Playcard 38: Polka 1Lichtensteiner Polka
There Is A Tavern In The Town
Pennsylvania Polka
Peanuts Polka
Beer Barrel Polka
Village Tavern Polka
17-579Playcard 39: Female Vocalist's [sic] Hits 1Blessed Are The Believers / Anne Murray
Deja Vu / Dionne Warwick
Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress) / Helen Reddy
Somebody's Knockin' / Terry Gibbs
What Kind Of Fool / Barbra Streisand
My Heart Belongs To Me / Barbra Streisand
17-581Playcard 41: Screen Themes 2Far From Over
Star Trek III - the Search for Spock
Terms of Endearment
The Summer Knows
Up Where We Belong
Thanks to Susan Herrera for the information about this set.
17-583Playcard 43: Children's SongsDer Fuchs
Sur Le Pont d'Avignon
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
Swanee River
Yankee Doodle
Camptown Races
17-584Playcard 44: Popular Standards 2Autumn In New York
It's Only a Paper Moon
Someone To Watch Over Me
Stella by Starlight
Wives and Lovers
17-614Easy PlaycardChim Chim Cheree
Little Brown Jug
Moon River
When The Saints Go Marchin' In
Dancing Queen
Londonderry Air
17-674Step-By-Step Learning Playcard 1Exercise 1 - Up and Down
Exercise 2 - Skip
Exercise 3 - For Both Hands 1
Exercise 4 - For Both Hands 2
Exercise 5 - Short Scale
Exercise 6 - A Melody
Each card is double-sided, but the sides are used independently.
17-675Step-By-Step Learning Playcard 2Exercise 1 / Finger Drill
Exercise 2 / Waltz
Exercise 3 / London Bridge
Exercise 4 / Michael Row the Boat
Exercise 5 / Jingle Bells
Exercise 6 / Ode to Joy
Auto Bass Chord System Guide
Set apparently contains seven cards: six exercise cards, and an Auto Bass Chord System Guide card.

Thanks to Susan Herrera for the additional information on this set.
17-688Step-By-Step Learning Playcard 3Exercise 1 / Daisy's Waltz
Exercise 2 / Long Long Ago
Exercise 3 / Ghost Samba
Exercise 4 / The Covered Wagon is Coming
Exercise 5 / Walking Cat Blues
Exercise 6 / Gavotte
Thanks to Susan Herrera for the additional information on this set.
17-691Deutsche StimmungsliederSchützenliesl
Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins
Ja, mir san mit'n Radl da
So ein Tag, so wunderschön wie heute
Eviva España
Probably available only in Germany.
Thanks to Sascha Heiland for the information.
34-100Yamaha PCS-30 Lesson and Learning Pack [Japanese]Step 1 - How to Use Your Fingers
Step 2 - Melody Parade
Step 3 - Little Brown Jug
Step 4 - Sazaesan
Step 5 - Do-Re-Mi
Step 6 - Lover's Concerto
Step 7 - Sound of Music
Step 8 - Shiretoko Ryojyou
Step 9 - Namida no Request
Step 10 - Iihi Tabidachi
Step 11 - Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
Step 12 - Sweet Memory
12 single-sided Playcards and a head-cleaning card in a booklet. Probably supplied with the PCS-30 Keyboard in Japan.
34-051Playcard 51: [Japanese]no Bara no Echiyudo
Second Love
Kohaku Iro no Omoide
Koibito mo Nureru Machikado
Long Distance Call
Packaged in a booklet.
Set title unknown.
34-010Playcard 10: Popular 3 [Japanese]Ballade Pour Adeline
Souvenirs D'enfance
Music Box Dancer
13 Jours En France
------Matsuda Seiko [Japanese]Garasu no Ringo
Sweet Memories
Rock'n Rouge
Jikan no Kuni no Alice
Tengoku no Kiss
Hitomi Ha Diamond
6 Matsuda Seiko songs.
Original set title unknown.