While it is now generally accepted that music is important for the development of babies and young children, many parents are confused by the array of musical toys, instruments and recordings that are available in the market place. Musical instruments shall be discussed here.
The percussion family
There are a number of musical instruments generally from the percussion family that are suitable for little ones. Percussion instruments are defined as those instruments that are shaken, scraped or struck with a beater or mallet. There are two kinds of percussion instruments: tuned and un-tuned. Tuned percussion instruments are correctly pitched enabling the playing of melodies. The piano is a tuned percussion instrument as are electronic keyboards and instruments with bars such as xylophones and glockenspiels and individual tone or resonator bars. By far the majority of percussion instruments are un-tuned and some examples include maracas or shakers, triangles, jingle bells and tambourines and drums.
What is best for baby?
It is important that babies are provided with musical toys and instruments that are age appropriate. Adult musical instruments can often be unsuitable. Size really does matter. For example a large pair of Latin wooden maracas would not be suitable for a young baby as they are too heavy and cannot be easily manipulated. Strong sounds may also startle babies. There are however many types of mini maracas or baby maracas that are lightweight with a delicate sound, have easy grasp handles and are safe and washable. They provide visual stimulation as well with lots of bright, colourful beads that are safely enclosed. This is an important consideration as all children under one year will put everything in the mouth. Halilit produce some beautiful mini maracas for babies as well as lovely rainbow rain shakers in small sizes. They also have a mini sea drum with beads and a lovely sea pattern.
Care needs to be taken when selecting bells. All bells have jingles and small parts that can be a choking hazard. Bells should only be used under supervision with little ones. There is however a completely safe bell for babies produced by Kindermusik where the jingles are enclosed in cloth. These bells are attached to Velcro and can be wrapped around wrists and ankles.
Appealing to young children
Babies and young children learn through all the senses. Musical toys and musical instruments should be appealing in many ways. They should not only sound great but should be visually attractive with good design and bright colours. They should also feel good to play and encourage active playing. They are not just for looking at. Good quality musical instruments can withstand vigorous use. Many toy drums for example can be five minute wonders but a sturdy drum with a natural skin head or quality synthetic head can give years of enjoyment. Remo produce some beautiful children’s drums from the delicious looking lollipop to jungle patterned toms, djembes, and bongos Saxophone.
Quality and price
Good quality can often mean paying considerably more. This is the case not only with drums but certainly with xylophones and glockenspiels. Sonor produce a glockenspiel with precision tuning and an incredibly beautiful sound that is built to last for years. In comparison many cheap barred instruments have a tinny, dull, highly inaccurate pitch. But quality can also come at bargain basement prices if you know what to look for and where to look. Many examples can be found with wooden toys and wooden musical instruments such as castanets, tone blocks, spinning crackers and recorders.