Thursday, November 21, 2013

Musical Toys That Won't Drive You Crazy: A Gift Guide

I think I'm safe in saying that we all want our kids to experience music to at least some extent as they grow up.  Now, as a music teacher and the parent of small children, I've done rather a lot of research into the types of musical instruments and toys that I actually want to keep around the house for my children to experience. 

Because here's the thing:  There are a lot of really terrible "instrument" toys that are marketed to parents who don't know any better.  These things make horrible non-musical sounds, or are electronic toys where the singer is off-key, demonstrating obnoxious singing styles, or just plain annoying!

And did you know that up until the age of 9, your child's developmental music aptitude is capable of changing?  Yeah, pretty big deal!  I'm talking aptitude, not achievement.  So whatever varied musical experiences you can get in them early on are only going to help!

With all that in mind, and with Christmas fast approaching, here are some of my favorite musical instruments, activities, and toys:

Egg Shakers - One of my all-time favorite baby gifts!



Maracas - Same sound, size, and brand as the egg shakers, but sometimes it's nice to have handles!
 

Remo Drums - We have a baby drum that the kids have always LOVED, but I'm putting this set on my wish list because I'd really like to have some larger drums around the house.  They're NOT indestructible, but they make a far nicer sound than those awful plastic drums that you find at the big box toy stores...  There's a reason you find this brand in music classrooms all over the country!


Glockenspiel or xylophone


This one has been on my wish list for a while and we still haven't gotten around to buying it...  We have a Fisher-Price Xylophone (you know, the one everyone had growing up?) and it's just fine, but DO NOT buy one online - you must try it out in stores and make sure you get one that's tuned properly.  They aren't always, and it's aaaaawful!

I'm going to buy a nicer one some day, one with more than 8 notes and with chromatic notes too...  There are only so many songs you can play with just those 8 notes!  But it's fabulous for improvisation and playing basic tunes.


Rain Stick - I can't find the exact one we have, and the sound of the plastic ones isn't as nice as the wooden ones buuuut I'm always a little concerned about babies chewing on wooden rain sticks.  Our rain stick is fantastic for all ages - it's particularly wonderful for soothing a fussy newborn, because they're always fascinated by the colorful balls and the sound.



Bathtub Xylophone - I just think this one's so fun!  Sure, only 6 notes...  But you can rearrange the order, stick them to the wall, float them in the water...  A really fun bath toy!



Munchkin Mozart Magic Cube - The ONE electronic toy I'll recommend - the instrument sounds aren't perfect (particularly the violin...), but it's a great way for kids to explore the sounds of the instruments of the orchestra and how they fit together to make one piece.  And there are quite a few Mozart tunes on this one - I've seen adults have a blast with it, too!
The Carnival of the Animals - You can buy a book/CD set or just the CD.  It's an AWESOME piece for kids to listen to, respond to, dance to...  We have this cd , which has Peter and the Wolf, Carnival of the Animals, and The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (we've been listening it for almost 2 weeks straight and I'm still not tired of it!).  You can almost always find this at your local library in some form, so definitely check it out - I've taught this to all ages, and it's awesome for cold weather when you need the kids to get some energy out but it's too cold to go outside!



Peter and the Wolf - Another one you can buy as just a CD or as a set - this one was actually specifically written with a story set to the music and I've never met a kid, big or small, who didn't have fun listening to it! 

 
I've got some more of my favorite CDs listed here - check them out!
 
And if you really want an "outside-the-box" gift, consider giving someone (or yourself!) music classes via Kindermusik or Musikgarten - terrific curricula, particularly for early childhood.  I highly recommend trying to do a baby music class or two when you have your first child - you'll learn a lot of great songs to use for all the rest of your children!
 
So before you get one of those plastic "band-in-a-box" sets, check out some *real* music!  I highly recommend finding your local music store and seeing what you can purchase there - those are usually family-run and I know we all want to support local businesses!
 
Do you have any recommendations of your own?  I'd love to hear them!
 
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17 comments :

  1. Some "friends" of my husband in law school gave our son the kitty cat keyboard monstrosity that looks like a giant orange cat face with keys for teeth. It was horrific, especially when it went into meow mode so that every note was, you guessed it--a meow. It also would periodically purr at you just to remind you that it was there, waiting to torment you with its non-music. I attempted to garage sale it but my son caught me and I had to dejectedly bring it back into the house, but I was able to finally disappear it for good a month or two later :)

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    1. That kitty keyboard is HORRIBLE!!! Same thing here - a "friend" of my husband in law school gave US this electronic storybook that sang nursery rhymes with THE WRONG WORDS and every once in a while would sing the song entirely in meows or baas... We dubbed it "Awful Book" and it lives at Grandpa's house because we keep forgetting to throw it away...

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  2. Love instruments, and I agree the Fisher Price xylophone is awful! My kids are getting this set at the request of their mama from their grandparents this Christmas --> http://www.novanatural.com/rhythmic-music-set.html
    I'm excited.

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    1. That looks awesome! I really just want to raid a general music classroom and take all their instruments for home :P

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  3. Agree there is so much bad stuff out there but also good, like the Mozart Box. One I would add is the Lamaze Octotunes ~ we had ours since Lisbeth was a baby and it is still going strong and holds there attention time and again.
    http://www.amazon.com/Tomy-LC27027-Lamaze-Octotunes-Musical/dp/B000I2MRMY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385057005&sr=8-1&keywords=musical+octopus

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    1. That octopus is adorable! We almost bought one at a consignment sale but Andrew got annoyed that it would only play one pitch at a time, so it got vetoed :P

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  4. Amen to checking if the xylophone is tuned before buying. Our kids' xylophone is properly tuned for the top seven notes and then all of a sudden, BWACK!, the eighth key goes off out of tune like a dying duck. Makes me cringe every time.

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    1. We have two musical toys of the same brand that play the same song HALF A STEP APART and it's the worst sound in the world... I just don't get it - WHY would anyone do that???

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  5. Ah, yes! Just what I needed. Or at least my oldest would think so. He loves prancing around pretend playing guitar (with his golf club) and turning every random box or toy bucket into drums. I haven't bought him any musical toys because they noisy toys (or at least the ones I haven't yanked batteries from) we have already maxed me out (haha, probably have a low tolerance). Thank you!

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    1. It's amazing to me how many of those noisy toys exist... Who buys them??? It's gotta be just grandparents and eeeevil friends who want to annoy you :P

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    2. Yup, grandparents and the younger brother and brother-in-law who both have yet to have kiddos of their own. :P

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  6. I am so glad you wrote this because I was just thinking that I really needed someone to just tell me what to buy. My wee one loves music, but all of the toys seem really daft.

    What do you think of those mini "life-like" pianos that seem to be cropping up everywhere? They look super cute but I think it might be a waste of money...?

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  7. I usually don't like the electronic music toys either, but we have two books that we all really enjoy. Usborne's Little Children's Music Book, and Usborne's Noisy Orchestra. In both books, you read a story about various animals practicing for a concert. Buttons on the side let you hear what each particular part/instrument sounds like. At the end, you hit the last button, and they all play the piece together. The music is pleasant, and has taught our son about a lot of new instruments!

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  8. I might have to add that bathtub one to my list. I don't care how much noise..I mean music! they make in the bathtub!!

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  9. I love Carnival of the Animals! My MIL bought Michael a little wooden xylophone which is really neat. He loves it and it never gets annoying. :)

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