When I was a toddler, my parents introduced me to music with an inexpensive plastic recorder. Later came a second-hand violin and the tireless efforts of my school choir teacher. It was a lot of fun, although I found it so difficult to learn the violin in the âtraditionalâ way. All I could produce for centuries was a horrible squeak.
I have enjoyed music ever since, and fortunately my two children seem to have inherited the same passion. Today there is a technological trick to make them play music, a trick that gives them the different sounds that an orchestra of instruments can produce: smartphones and tablets.
Therefore, my 2 year old and 4 year old are your part time examiners this week.
The first obvious candidate is Apple’s $ 5 GarageBand app for iPad and iPhone. It is powerful and can provide rich music output. You can also record your playing, and there are lessons for playing guitar and so on. But it is complex and probably better suited for older children. My two toddlers love the realistic drum section for the racket they can make, but it takes a lot of supervision to keep them from activating a menu feature they can’t use on their own.
A simpler app that you might like to try is the free iOS Music Sparkles app, which has a cartoon interface with big buttons for kids’ fingers. The xylophone and drums section is free, but you have to pay (through the app) to unlock an assortment of other instruments, including saxophone and panpipes. The playable cartoon instruments sound great and it is possible to have simple backing music from drums, piano and other instruments. There is even a section that has interactive music notation with vocals singing the musical scale. If you are a music expert you might doubt its educational value, but it is definitely a fun way to introduce kids to the idea of ââmaking music. My only complaint is that it’s easy (and tempting) for kids to tap on “locked” instruments that you need to buy before playing.
Even simpler is the $ 1 Keys Kids Play iPad and iPhone app, which is even more cartoony – backing tracks are activated by tapping on a picture of a sleeping animal, for example. It’s very cute and my 2 year old loved the animal aspect of it. Both children enjoyed the range of sounds they could produce and they loved the eerie alien segment, where tapping parts of a UFO activates a multitude of eerie musical sounds and percussion noises.
A more “correct” music app, aimed at older children, is Go Go Xylo (free on iOS), which focuses on a tapable xylophone. This app has a few full built-in songs, as well as vocals if you want, and highlights the corresponding musical notes and xylophone bars as the songs play. If you can explain what’s going on, it’s a good way to get kids used to the idea of ââwritten music. There is also a beautifully animated segment of the app which has interactive instruments, like horns and a zipper whistle. When children tap an instrument, they hear a sample of its sounds and the image moves: the saxophone horn bellows, cow bells waver, and the harp strings vibrate and emit stars. My youngest son loved this song.
Or if you want to introduce your kids to the different musical instruments that make up an orchestra, you can take advantage of Meet the Orchestra ($ 2 on iPad). Much attention has been paid to its attractive graphics and it is also easy to navigate for kids – my 4 year old picked it up quickly. The application has two halves. The first teaches the name and sound of each instrument, including a short historical text (which you’ll probably need to read aloud and simplify depending on your children’s ages). The second is a quiz section using simple games to reinforce what has already been taught. You will probably appreciate it too. I learned some surprising facts about pianos: I didn’t know that before 1709 pianos usually only had four octaves and had up to 10,000 moving parts inside. And it was lovely to see my oldest son learning to say “trombone”.
I focused on iPad apps because I found the bigger screen to be a godsend for kids who disparaged music apps, and the iPad still dominates the tablet market. But there are Android apps that offer similar experiences. Kids Musical Challenges is a great free app that, with a bit of adult supervision, teaches kids instruments and notation through simple âfollow-meâ games. There is also a tablet version for Android devices.
Kids Piano Lite is a delicious, free, ad-supported app for young children that combines music notation, playable touchscreen instruments, musical scale and more. It has a song playback mode, editable skins (including an animal that will appeal to toddlers), a “baby mode” that locks the usual Android control buttons, and a song mode to teach them tunes. There’s even a decent amount of content before you have to purchase the top-performing full version at $ 2.49.
Come on, play some music and have fun with your kids! Assuming you’re happy to let them bash them for a few hundred dollars worth of electronics, of course.
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