Simple music machine for kids?
May 13, 2008 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Our kids, 5 and 7, haven't singled in on any specific instrument yet (nor, perhaps, will they ever), but they do love listening to, humming/singing, and dancing to all kinds of music, and playing the various "minor" instruments we've got. We're thinking about buying some sort of simple music machine/synth to have in the house for them play around with. Any recommendations?
posted by progosk to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you have a new(ish) computer? Have you considered getting a MIDI keyboard that will allow you to play with the many costly and free music devices out there for computers?

I've got a keystation 49e, a basic keyboard, and it'll chat with all sorts of soft-synth programs.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 9:26 AM on May 13, 2008

Mmmm, computers are fun for musicians, but for your purposes it sounds like your kids might be better off with a more "I'm playing on it" type of instrument (instead of a "sitting in front of the computer" experience).

If you have the space (big rec room etc) you could consider getting one of those "smaller" ez-touch style organs (piper II etc) that have stops for a couple of different sounds, a few pre-programmed rhythms, and so on.

Super fun, not too complicated, and enough of a piece of furniture that it won't get dropped or used to brush the dog with, etc.

The key elements here are: different sounds & tones to experiment with, a compromise between a "toy" and a "real" instrument, durable enough to handle rough treatment and last long enough to be a significant presence in their musical development (i.e. not just that thing that we played with for a month).
posted by Aquaman at 9:47 AM on May 13, 2008

Best answer: My parents used to have a chord harp (like this) that I played around with as a kid. Pressing one of the keys puts a damper on all the of strings that aren't in a particular chord. As long as you hold down a key, you can strum as crazy as you like and not hit a dissonant note. Pick 3-4 chords and you've got a song. Like, say, this guy right here.

They're also called Autoharps, although that's technically a trademark.
posted by echo target at 9:53 AM on May 13, 2008

I got my kids a little Drum Set ( $100 at sams club) and the LOVE it. What's amazing is thereare times when they are pounding on it and it actually sounds like they know what they are doing

The other nice thing is when i have company that has overstayed their welcome, I simply encourage the kids to show our guests how well they can play their drums. It must do something for the part of the brain that is in charge of appointments, because usually after a 5 minute drum solo our guests seem to remember something that were supposed to do at their house.........
posted by Mr_Chips at 10:07 AM on May 13, 2008

What do you mean by "'minor' instruments?"
posted by rhizome at 10:25 AM on May 13, 2008

With a MIDI keyboard you have lots of versatility, and can play standalone or hooked up to a PC/laptop

Synthpad drum sets are also nice and many are MIDI capable (it also has a nifty volume control where real ones don't :P

I'm guessing tho, since they haven't really gravitated towards a particular instrument yet, go with the simple midi keyboard first then see which sound they like the best for help in picking out future (more costly) instruments.

I somewhat disagree with Aquaman about involving a PC...I think with the right software, learning the ins and outs of music will be a much more rich experience than going at it alone. I do think however that some of the most brilliant musicians out there weren't formally taught how to play until after they had a lot of hands on definitely pace it out, and pick the right time to introduce keys, chords, sheet music, and maybe even sequencing/synth editing...the possibilities are near endless.

For a Mac, I'd go with something like this (weighted keys are a nice touch for any consumer level keyboard) and primarily use GarageBand, as it is an excellent piece of software. However there are also plenty of other keyboards out there that can be used stand-alone as well as connected as a MIDI device. I link to amazon here simply because the selection is decent and you have reviews to go by that will aid your decision. Read them carefully, especially the ones that mention caveats, and factor in the price to see if the shortcomings are worth paying less.

A personal recommendation would be to go with one that has lighted keys, as well as onboard sequencing capabilities (drum kits, rhythms, etc). I would also narrow it down between Casio (ok sound, less expensive) and Yamaha (better sound, especially XG and later, more expensive) models.
posted by samsara at 11:13 AM on May 13, 2008

Buy two harmonicas (preferably in the same key). Cheap, indestructable, easy to play*.

*Which were also my prerequisites for potential dates in college. HEYOOHHHH!!
posted by Kibbutz at 11:14 AM on May 13, 2008

Response by poster: sounds like your kids might be better off with a more "I'm playing on it" type of instrument (instead of a "sitting in front of the computer" experience)

we were thinking that too, for now - they use the computer every now and then, but i was hoping to avoid the screen as their interface for music, too.

I got my kids a little Drum Set

a drum machine had crossed my mind - are there ones that you can get other music out of?

What do you mean by "'minor' instruments?"

a tambourine, mini-bongos, a harmonica, maracas, and a mini-accordeon.

My parents used to have a chord harp

Hm, there's an idea...
posted by progosk at 11:52 AM on May 13, 2008

Best answer: there are MIDI boxes you can get that are just pads to tap on.. alternatively, electronic drums (if you spend enough) can output in MIDI too. you could do something like an entry-level synth or electronic piano type deal, or even the drums - with any of those they can play it sans computer, but you can hook it in if you want and do neat stuff. (note that typically if you see a MIDI keyboard, it means there's keys and MIDI but not necessarily sound.)

Korg also makes something called the Kaossilator that looked pretty neat - the neat bit is that you pretty much just draw on it to make noise, as it's pretty much got a laptop's trackpad on it. this one or this one would be good to take a look at.
posted by mrg at 12:27 PM on May 13, 2008

Best answer: My daughter is just 5 months old, and I'm already thinking about this. She's so entranced by music that it seems nuts to waste the potential fun she could have banging away herself.

To that end, I really, really, really wish I were more technically inclined and could make this toy sequencer from Make Magazine. I've even considered finding someone willing to make it for me, and paying for labor and parts, because it seems so fraking cool.

My other musical find was this awesome music machine: the Kaossilator. On Preview, mrg got to it first, but it really is a cool little box.

And if money were no object, I would so be buying a Tenori-On.
posted by griffey at 12:43 PM on May 13, 2008

I had a miniature melodica growing up and loved it. Easy enough to play around with, portable, non-electronic, and can actually teach "real" keyboard skills along with some basic breath control that can come in handy if they ever want to play a wind instrument. And they sound good!
posted by Benjy at 1:30 PM on May 13, 2008

Response by poster: The Kaossilator looks awesome, and pretty close to what I might have imagined. Although, sure, the Tenori-On would be the ultimate dream machine...
Thanks so much, all.
posted by progosk at 2:02 PM on May 13, 2008

Although not a very typical instrument, these are fun and make a cool noise:'s_harp

it takes a little time fooling with them before it 'clicks' and you can play them right.
posted by jockc at 2:39 PM on May 13, 2008

Start them out with a old casio sk-1 from ebay. You can get them for about $30, and they are still, 25 years later, fantastically fun little devices. 5 year old + 7 year old + sampling keyboard = no end to the merriment. It's got a lot of depth too if they get into it, with a modifiable synthesizer, 4-track record and playalong, and the toy symphony built-in. Fart into the mic and hit the demo button and there will be joy.
posted by ulotrichous at 4:07 PM on May 14, 2008

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