About five years ago my husband surprised me with a piano for Christmas (big surprises are kind of his thing). We had talked about wanting one for our family, and I had visions of listening to our children sit down to play and sing for us. Of course, our son was only two at the time and I was very pregnant with my daughter, so no one really had much time or ability to play it. The piano mostly collected dust that first year.
Here's a collection of instruments that range from happy little stocking stuffers to big gifts that create a real "wow" factor for your kids on Christmas morning. My selections may skew toward the noisy side, but there's nothing quite as joyful as a preschooler feeling empowered buy the big sounds they can make!
It's shiny, it makes a big sound, and it comes with its own case. I think that checks all of the boxes! Just make sure to buy one in a key that makes sense for you. If you or a family member play the ukulele or piano, you may want to buy a harmonica in the key of C. If you play the guitar or other string instruments, you may prefer a harmonica that is set in the key of G.
B. Toys Symphony in B
This toy is SO. COOL. Your child is the conductor of this orchestra and can mix and match the musical arrangements for fifteen different songs.
I love that this toy exposes kids to such a variety of instruments and encourages them to be more active listeners. Anecdote: after having the toy for a while my then-two year old son and I were listening to music and he was having fun identifying all the different instruments he heard, saying, "Mama, that violin is so pretty!"
Junior Drum Set
This last item is not for the faint of heart! Square footage is at a premium here in the Bay Area, so I understand not everyone has the space for one of these babies. But if you do, I highly recommend one of these babies. Rhythm and tempo are the foundation for music, and drums are a terrific first "real" instrument for kiddos. Plus, it looks stunning under the tree and is such a hit when friends come over for playdates! Just make sure to include a pair of noise-reduction earphones and kid-sized drumsticks!
Three-piece drum sets are another option, but I'm partial to the five-piece sets that include high hats. The kids and I had fun learning how to play by watching thislisa's drum lesson tutorials on Youtube.
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Here are a few of my favorite instruments designed for the littlest musicians:
So many parents are drum-averse, as if not having them will somehow make their children less noisy. I say, it's better to have them banging on a drum than on their siblings, or any of the other things I don't want them thrashing! These bongos from Remo are a fun option that also work for preschoolers and older kids.
In my experience, kids don't get quieter with age, so if your kids make too much noise, drums or no drums, a pair of these may save your sanity— try a pair for each noise-maker in your house, plus a pair for you (they say they're kid-sized but they fit my adult-sized head just fine).
Pots, Pans, and Anything Else that Makes Noise
Remember banging on old Tupperware containers and pots and pans as a kid? Those still work! This cute play set of pots and pans from IKEA works in a play kitchen or in the family band. Pair it with a wooden spoon or wooden mallets plus any plastic food storage containers, bowls, lids, pots, or pans you may have floating around the kitchen. And if you don't want to share your real stuff with your little one, a quick trip to the thrift store is all it takes to supply your toddler with an entire kitchen-themed orchestra!
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My husband and I have taken the kids to Disneyland a handful of times, and each of us has a different priority when we go— my husband wants to go on all the rides, the kids want to meet all the characters, and I want to see all of the "park atmosphere entertainment" (the term used for the many musical acts that perform throughout the parks). There are so many opportunities to catch live music throughout the park, and taking a few minutes to stop and listen is sure to add a little magic to your next visit. Here are a few of my favorite musical acts:
Oh, man. I love a good printable! They're great for kids (we use them on road trips all the time), and I enjoy creating free downloads to share here on the blog, though so far I've focused on creating printables for kids. But these Get to Know Your Ukulele printables are handy for all beginning ukulele players— kids and grown-ups alike.
An update of my original post from 11/29/2016. My tuner recommendation remains the same, but I have updated the ukulele section.
So you've signed up for lessons? Yay! This is so exciting! Now let's make sure you have what you need to get started. There are really only two things you'll have to bring to the first lesson: a digital tuner and a ukulele. This post includes my recommendations for obtaining those items with only a modest initial investment.
I owe a lot to Shawna.
She's my very talented friend who designed the Musical Mama logo, and she was also my very first ukulele student (though I affectionately referred to her as my guinea pig, ha!). Shawna even let me make this video, where she shares her experience of going through the beginner's course:
Having her as my first "test" student helped me refine my teaching style and improve my course materials before I officially launched Musical Mama, and I'll always be grateful for her help. Thank you for everything, Shawna! You're the bomb dot com!
Short answer: NO!
Longer answer: Somewhere, someone got the idea that there was such a thing as being "too old" to learn how to make music. And now many people seem to share this weird idea! Where did they learn this? I've spent the past few days thinking about it, and I think it boils down to two common misperceptions:
Myth 1: Music is Mysterious and Difficult
The world of musicians can feel like a secretive club with restricted access. And if you do dare to enter that world, you'll have to dedicate years of tedious practice before you'll be any good. FALSE! In my lessons, I cover the basics— strumming, chords, etc— but I also incorporate a lot of practical music theory so you learn the patterns behind popular music, which gives you a better understanding of how music works. And we dive right into playing (the first lesson includes four songs) so you can experience the joy of making music right away.
Myth 2: Music is Intimidating
What if I try and I'm not any good? Yikes!
Have you ever talked yourself out of trying something new? When I'm feeling nervous or scared in this way, I try to imagine my future self who has already done the scary thing. What will it feel like to have done ________? I also ask myself, what is the worst (realistically) that can happen? It's usually not as bad as my fear makes it out to be. There are some things you probably ARE too old for: playing the lead in Annie or becoming an Olympic gymnast, perhaps, but learning an instrument is not one of those things.
Need some inspiration? Check out Grandma Mary Ho in a video that's popping up all over social media:
H/T to Elaine for first sharing the Grandma Mary video with me. Isn't she wonderful? I'd love to jam with her!
When was the last time you did something even though you felt nervous? How did you get through it? I'd love to hear!
PS: If you're interested in learning how to make music in a friendly, approachable environment, please contact me.
We vacationed on Oahu recently and one of the highlights of our trip was taking a tour of the Kamaka ukulele factory. I mostly focus on the playing of ukes, so it was neat to learn more about how Kamaka's well-regarded instruments are made.
The tour began in the small main office area with a history lesson by Fred Kamaka Sr, who's in his 90s. We were all riveted as he chatted about the company's origins (it was started by his father) and the company's 100 year history of making instruments. The tour then moved on to the warehouse, where Fred Jr walked us through the entire manufacturing line. It was very cool to see how invested the Kamaka family is in the brand, with the company now being run by third and fourth generation family members.
Here are a few photos:
Wanna go? Tours are conducted at their factory in Honolulu, HI, Tuesday - Friday at 10:30 am. Check out their website for more info. The entire tour is free, and it's worth it just to get your picture taken with Fred Sr!
Most music teachers will encourage you to practice your instrument every day. But why? Are you rehearsing for a public performance? Are you a musician by trade? Assuming you're learning the ukulele for fun or as a new hobby, I'd much prefer you played what you want, when you want. I truly want the ukulele to be a source of joy for my students (and everyone!). And when was the last time you felt joy completing a homework assignment?!?*
Your relationship with your uke will be happier and more sustaining if you play when you feel intrinsically motivated to play. Even if that means you're only playing once in a while. I pick up my uke for any number of reasons— to provide entertainment for my kids, to create with others, because I want to try out something new, or (most often) because it's fun. What motivates you to play?
* For the occasional student who insists on assignments, I tell them to simply pick up their instrument every day.
The temperatures in San Jose were back in the triple digits yesterday, so I packed the kids up into the car and we escaped to Seacliff State Beach, just south of Santa Cruz. I'm partial to this beach, simply because it's so accessible.
Heading out of town this summer? Don't forget to pack your uke!
One of the ukulele's best features is its portability. It's perfect for hotel rooms, the beach, the campground, and almost anywhere else you might be heading to this summer. Road tripping? Perfect. You'll almost certainly have room for it in the car. Traveling by air? Bring it on the plane. Your ukulele qualifies as a carry-on item.
If you're worried about keeping your ukulele safe on your adventure, you may wish buy a cheap one (affiliate link) to keep as your designated travel uke. You'll enjoy your vacation more if you're not too concerned about keeping the elements (or children) away from your instrument. Just don't forget to pack your tuner (affiliate link) and Musical Mama binder. 😃
Jam in the Car
If my husband's driving, sometimes I'll even play on the road. We also hold in-car family jam sessions where we take turns picking songs to stream via our smartphones. Egg shakers and jingle bell bracelets (affiliate links) are easy to pack and a simple way to liven up a long day of driving— I have a feeling we'll be jamming to this earworm all summer!
Jam at your Destination
When you're out of town and away from the usual to-dos and responsibilities, you may find yourself with a bit more free time. Won't it be nice to have your ukulele on hand? Just having that vacation mindset may positively impact your playing.
Even if You're Staying Local...
Having a dedicated travel uke means you can keep it in the trunk! Taking the kids to the park? Maybe you can strum while they play in the sandbox. Or, if your kids take lessons of any sort, why not play in-between chauffeur duties?
Where will you be playing this summer? I'd love to hear...
One night long ago, my husband took our baby son out for a walk. I stayed home to spend the evening wrapping Christmas presents. Sounds mundane, right? But it was heavenly. I had two whole hours to dedicate to a task with absolutely no interruptions. That night was the first time in months that I experienced that lovely state of flow, where I was able to completely lose myself in an activity.
Losing the opportunity for "flow" is, for me, one of the most difficult aspects of parenting.
Just a quick post today about how to improve your sheet music viewing and, therefore, your overall playing. In short: buy a stand! Many uke players set their sheet music on a flat surface and look down as they play. But that's really hard on your neck and negatively impacts your playing (and singing!) posture.
I bought this cute little tablet stand from IKEA a while back, and it's been so useful. It easily holds my Musical Mama Foundations binder with all the lesson materials and song sheets, and I've even been using it during private lessons. This stand is portable, so it works well on a table top and is easily repurposed for random kid projects and as a recipe/cookbook holder in the kitchen. You can find it at IKEA for $15.99.
If you keep your ukulele in its case, it's likely to stay there. But that's not where you want it! If your ukulele is out and ready to be picked up at a moment's notice, you will be so much more likely to play it. So, let's talk about the important stuff: how to display your instrument when you're not playing it. There are two basic options— stands and hooks— and they're both easy.
An ukulele stand (affiliate link) is an easy way to display your instrument. There's no installation required and it's portability makes it great for those who are unsure of where they want to set-up their instrument.
I have a home office where I prep for lessons. I'm also working on an exciting new project, so I'm constantly playing when I'm working at my desk. It only makes sense for me to keep an ukulele available for strumming here.
This pineapple uke sits on a stand right next to the TV. We also keep a banjo, a guitar, and a banjo-lele in the same room, on floor stands. We spend a good chunk of time in this room, and I keep all of our kid instruments in one of the fabric bins in the bottom of the picture. Having multiple instruments out and accessible makes impromptu jam sessions easy. The TV might get turned on once or twice a week, but the instruments get played daily!
The age of your children is an important consideration. If you have very young children, you may want to keep your instrument up high!
There are a variety of wall-mount hooks (affiliate link), and they are pretty simple to install. If you're handy, you can even make your own! I love how the instrument hooks in the picture above have been painted to match the wall color. My only concern with a room like this is that you don't want things to look too precious or perfect. After all, the goal is to play, not just admire!
I love how these instruments were able to fit in this living room. They're so cute stacked vertically like this!
Doesn't the guitar look great against that grey wall?
This last room looks like heaven to me! If you can pull off a wall of instruments, go for it. Think of the family jams you could have in that home!
Before you buy: Identify when and where you're most likely to play. Then do your best to keep your uke in that room— whether that's the play room, the living room, a bedroom, or even near the kitchen. If you're unsure, or if you're having a hard time making time for your hobby, experiment by moving your uke around. Sometimes the simple act of relocating your instrument is all it takes to get you in the habit of playing more frequently.
How are you displaying your instruments at home? I'd love to hear about it!
I know how hard it is to coordinate childcare and find a class that's held at a time that's convenient to your schedule. That's why I've created the private lesson package, which gives you the option of bringing your child to lessons with you!
Private lessons are held in my home in West San Jose. Please plan to arrive a few minutes ahead of time to allow your child an opportunity to settle in before we get started. Children who attend the lessons typically enjoy the novelty of being in a home environment with new-to-them toys. However, if your child has a favorite toy or activity, please consider bringing it to the lesson with you. You’re also welcome to bring a snack for your child.
Your baby’s needs come first, and we fit the lesson plan around them. Babies love hanging out on a soft blanket and listening to their parent sing and play. If your baby likes to be worn, please bring your carrier to the lessons. The ukulele is very lightweight and small, and it's fairly easy to play while baby-wearing (front or back). You may find your baby enjoys your playing so much that s/he falls asleep during the lesson!
Children this age have pretty short attention spans and may try to join in the fun when they see mommy trying to focus on the lesson! I've seen a wide range of behaviors, and we work around your child's needs— some toddlers prefer to stay right next to their parent during the first lesson while others play nearby with blocks or color with crayons. By your second or third class, your child will likely have adjusted to the structure of the lessons and will be more likely to engage in the age-appropriate activities I have set out prior to your visit.
Kids in this age range are more likely to partake in activities like coloring, play-doh, or building with blocks or train tracks. Prior to your arrival, I set-up some play stations based on your child's interests. They tend to stay happily engaged in the activities, which makes for a smooth lesson for you!
If your school-aged child is attending the lesson with you, I recommend you have them bring along whatever activity (book to read, activity book and markers, etc.) you think will work best.
If your child has special needs, please contact me to discuss arrangements.
Have a question? Please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch through my contact form.
Last week I was tasked to come up with an activity for my son's kindergarten class. I was looking for a quick, non-messy project the kids could do easily, and a friend shared this idea with me: easter egg maracas!
This is a great all-ages crafts. I'm obviously partial to music-related crafts, and it was a convenient way to use up the surplus of Easter eggs we had acquired this year. The kids all seemed to enjoy making the shakers and then playing with them on the playground afterward, and I had just as much fun as the kids did!
- Plastic easter eggs (the small ones work best)
- Popcorn kernels (rice, dried beans, or lentils would work, too)
- Plastic spoons
- Washi tape (Amazon affiliate link)
- Fill a plastic egg with popcorn kernels.
- Nest the egg between two spoons.
- Secure the maraca by wrapping tape around the egg and spoons (little hands may need assistance). You can opt to tape just a few key spots, or go crazy (like my kids did) and wrap up the entire instrument in washi tape.
- Shake it!
Considering how easy this project is, the maracas make a surprisingly satisfying sound and would work perfectly at your next family jam!
Today my daughter and I had our first play-along jam session in a long time. I recommend them to students all the time, but I hadn't realized we had fallen out of the habit of it in my own home!
What is a Jam?
Our jams are inspired by the play-alongs that occur in Music Together classes. We simply get out our kid instruments, crank up a song, and play along to the music! If you don't have a basket of instruments, break out the wooden spoons and pots and pans, and take a quick look around the house to see what else might be turned into a noise maker. :)
MM: Favorite Disney Songs for Family Jams
Since my daughter listens almost exclusively to Disney soundtracks, we were jamming to songs from Frozen, Moana, and Tangled. We had so much fun that I created a playlist for us to reference the next time. Wanna hear it? I've created the playlist in Apple Music/iTunes and Spotify.
What's in it for the Grown-Ups
As a mom, I'm partial to activities that are stimulating for my kids AND me. I don't just do these play-alongs to humor my children. I totally get into them and probably get a little too carried away! But honestly, there's a lot that beginning musicians can get out of these jam sessions.
Hone your vocals.
The personalities singing these songs are very expressive and some are quite over-the-top, which I find to be great inspiration for my singing. Sing along if you know the words, and try to match the level of emotion and mood.
Build up your endurance.
Beginning musicians can fizzle out over the course of a song (or songs). Playing along to recordings is great training for developing your stamina. The recorded music will carry you, which is easier than setting and maintaining a tempo on your own.
Boost your mood.
One of the best things about music is its affect on our emotions. Singing whole-heartedly and shaking some egg shakers or buzzing on a kazoo can totally perk me up and turn me into a more joyful, peaceful parent. And that's something everyone benefits from.
What's in it for the Kids
They have your attention.
There's a difference between watching your kids play and actually playing with them. You are doing something together, which makes the activity feel special. Jams are suitable for all ages and development stages, and it's a lot more fun than yet another round of Don't Break the Ice (or whatever your child might be obsessed with lately).
Developing their musicality.
Rhythm is the most important element of music making, and your kids can learn a lot about music through this type of play. Just as you're striving to keep your playing in time with the music, so are your kids! It's so thrilling to see little ones sing along to their favorite song or bang a drum right on beat!
Permission to be loud, Permission to be silly.
Jams are the most fun when you all let loose and get noisy. Kids love to see their parents be goofy, and this playlist is full of happy, upbeat songs that I enjoy as much as my kids do. I hope they are as big a hit in your home as they are in mine.
Do you have a favorite Disney jam song that's not on the playlist? How are you making music with your kids? I'd love to hear about it!