My Musical Gift Guide for Preschoolers

  My son, Christmas 2013

My son, Christmas 2013

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! 

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Kazoos

You can find packs of cheap kazoos at any party store, though I find this whimsical set to be particularly irresistible!  

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Maracas

This pair of Hohner maracas is sized just right for the preschooler's grip. 

 

 

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Harmonica

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.  

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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!" 

You can find Symphony in B on Amazon and on eBay. You might be able to find the new version of the toy in-store at Target, but it's no longer listed on their website. 

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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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My Musical Gift Guide for Babies and Toddlers

  my daughter at 7 months old

my daughter at 7 months old

 

Here are a few of my favorite instruments designed for the littlest musicians:  

 

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Egg Shakers

Baby's first instrument! These Nino egg shakers can be grasped by even the tiniest of hands and are so satisfying to shake that even big kids and adults enjoy playing with them. In fact, we bring them on our road trips so we can jam in the car! 

 

 
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Hohner's Baby Band 

This cute set of rattles includes a mini rainbow shaker, a maraca, a rattle, and a cage bell. Hohner's Baby Band is well constructed and is listed as safe for ages 3 months and up.  

 

 

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Drums

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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Live Music at Disneyland

Live Music at Disneyland

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: 

Updated: MY UKULELE AND TUNER RECOMMENDATIONS

Updated: MY UKULELE AND TUNER RECOMMENDATIONS

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. 

My Musical Gift Guide for Children

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If you have kid-friendly instruments around the house, it's easy to turn your ukulele practice into a family jam session! All of the instruments I'm recommending come from years of being tested in my own home. They've held up to years of use (and abuse) and still sound great! 

My All-Time Favorites Kid Instruments

When you think of rhythm instruments, you might think of drums. But really, there's an array of instruments that fit this category that can add dynamic sound to your family jams at home. Rhythm instruments are great because there's no learning curve. Odds are, your kid already knows how to bang on things, so all of these options work for babies, toddlers, big kids, and even adults!   

 

Tambourines 

Tambourines are an easy way to add a friend in to the mix. I recommend buying a "real" one versus a kids' version. The sound will be much fuller and that alone will make it more fun to play. And if it's too big for your child's hand, don't let that stop them from playing! Set it on the floor and have them bang on it as if it was a drum!    

 

Egg Shakers

Babies get pretty thrilled when they discover that they can make music on their own! These shakers are a great size for tiny hands, and they make a surprisingly nice sound. Babies love to mouth them, but there's no danger of choking with these perfect-sized shakers. We frequently bring these on road trips so we can rock out to the radio on long drives. 

 

Jingle Bell Bracelets

These jingle bells are perfect for when you're singing holiday songs at home. They can be worn as bracelets or simply held in the hand to add a fun rhythmic element to your singalong at home.  

 

Floor Drum:

Babies and toddlers have a great time banging on this durable drum, and it's a little easier to stomach one (relatively small) floor drum than a full drum kit! It includes two soft-head mallets for playing, but it's just as fun to tap out rhythms with your hands. 

 

My Personal Favorite: Resonator Bells

These individual xylophone keys are fun to play all at once, sure, especially if you like to tap out melodies. But if you want your child to sound in tune with your ukulele, give them just the 1 and 5 tones for whatever key you're playing in (what I'm saying makes sense if you've gone through the Foundations beginner course!). For instance, if you're playing in the key of C, have them bang on the C and G bells; if you're playing in the key of G, give them the G and D notes to play.  

Baby-proofing note: the black tips of the little mallets have repeatedly fallen off of our sticks, so please be careful if you have a child who likes to mouth objects. 

Don't Forget About Hand-Me-Downs 

When you begin the Foundations beginner course, I recommend you kickoff your ukulele adventure with a cheap starter uke. In large part, this is because I want you to have a ukulele you can hand down to your children when you're ready to upgrade your instrument. You are their role model, and it's natural for them to want to play the same instrument you're playing. 

Why I Advise Against Buying Instruments in Sets

A set like the Melissa and Doug Band in the Box is a fine shortcut to building your at-home instrument collection, and if you already have one, great! Play with what you have! But in general, I recommend buying instruments individually so that you'll have more control over your instruments as well as higher quality materials and better quality sound. 

Ready to Jam?

Once you've assembled a few kid-friendly instruments, you'll need to find a good place to keep them! I recommend stashing them in a basket or bin in your living room or whichever room you're most likely to hang out in. When your kid instruments and ukulele are nearby and easy to pick up, it makes it that much easier to host impromptu family jam sessions! And that's kind of the point of all this, isn't it? :)

Happy jamming! 

What to Bring to the Lessons: My Ukulele and Tuner Recommendations

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So you've signed up for lessons? Yay! This is so exciting! Now let's make sure you have what you need. There are really only two things you'll have to bring to the first lesson: a digital tuner and a ukulele. Here are my recommendations for obtaining those items with only a modest initial investment.  

The Tuner

A good digital tuner is as important as your instrument. It won't matter how great your playing is if you're out of tune! My current favorite is the Snark SN5X. You can find it on Amazon Prime for about $10, and it has a big bright interface that makes it easy to tune up your uke. There are other methods for tuning instruments, like phone apps and pitch pipes, but I find the digital tuner to be the easiest, the fastest, and the most accurate way to tune up an instrument. 

 

The Ukulele

If you already have a ukulele:

Great! Make sure it's a soprano, concert, or tenor ukulele. Sopranos are also called "standard" ukuleles, and it's the small, friendly size you typically picture when you think of a ukulele. Concert and tenor ukuleles are bigger and have a slightly different sound, but sopranos, concerts, and tenors all have the same GCEA tuning, which is what we use for the course. The only ukulele that won't work for the Foundations course is the baritone ukulele, which has a different tuning. 

If you don't already have a ukulele:

Start with a cheap one. I recommend the Diamond Head and Mahalo brands. Both companies make really happy looking entry-level ukuleles that are available from Amazon Prime for around $30. Choose one in your favorite color or one that matches your decor at home! It doubles as a sculpture, you know. :)

Why I Recommend Starting with a Cheapie:

If you were just learning how to drive, you wouldn't learn on a Ferrari, would you? And it wouldn't make much sense to go car shopping if you didn't know how to drive, would it? How would you even know what to look for, or what features were important to you? If you buy an expensive ukulele, I think you're more likely to look at the instrument as a burden than a source of joy. You may feel guilty for not already knowing how to play it, or feel a responsibility to practice instead of viewing it as a source of fun. You won't feel that pressure if your start-up costs are low. 

Learn to play first. Then you can make an educated decision on what kind of ukulele you'd like to buy. And most importantly, once you've upgraded, please pass your starter uke on to your child, so s/he can play with you! 

Updated 3/2/17: I've received multiple requests for a recommendation that's a step above the candy colored Diamond Head and Mahalo ukuleles. If you'd prefer to invest a bit more in your instrument, Kala is a brand that makes several ukuleles with good tone and good construction in the $50-150 range. Happy strumming!