Review: Musical iPad Apps for Kids

I know. I know.

I agree with you: instead of playing music on the iPad, kids should be using honest-to-goodness instruments, including those instruments known as their own voices.

But sometimes kids want to play on the iPad and if some of those games and books are primarily musical in nature, who am I to force them to play Angry Birds instead?

So here are a handful of musical apps that have found their way to my iPad.

Let's start off with the Puff, the Magic Dragon app, based on the classic song and popular picture book from Peter Yarrow and Lenny Lipton and featuring Eric Puybaret's illustrations. Like most iPad books, it features the ability for the reader to read the text themselves or to have it read to them. And as one would suspect, you can also have Yarrow and his daughter sing the song to you as the animation proceeds. But at $5.99, some people will find the app a bit pricy for the level of interaction (comparatively minimal) and animation (a little "chunky" compared to the level of Puybaret's original illustrations).

ADuckInNYC.jpgThe Secret Mountain's A Duck in New York City app is, just like Puff, the Magic Dragon, a song (by Connie Kaldor) and a book (illustrated by Fil & Julie) that is now an app. On the positive side, the conversion of the illustrations in a collage-like format into moving pictures is well-done. On the negative side, the song isn't as classic as "Puff," though that's probably an unfair standard for comparison. Again, you have the option of reading it yourself, having it read to you, and listening to the song, with a karaoke option thrown in. For $3.99, the app is a little more affordable than the Puff app, but I'd definitely listen to the song before committing the money (and the memory space) for the app.

With both these apps, I felt like something was missing, like the interactive nature of the iPad begs for more control and interaction (and, frankly, in the case of the "Puff" app, finish) than what they offered. Perhaps we haven't yet found a good music-book-to-app app yet. (It seems like a Gustafer Yellowgold app, done well, would be truly game-changing for the kindie world.) But there are other apps with musical DNA to consider...
Dr. Seuss Band is basically a piano version of Rock Band or Guitar Hero, except that in lieu of slightly scary looking computer-animated rock stars (Lego-based or otherwise) it features plain goofy strips of color. And instead of a wide variety of rock songs you get goofy songs with Seuss book titles as song titles and which sound like they should be playing a local merry-go-round. But, it's a game, which may be enough to keep your kids occupied for a while. The game is free, but you (or your kids) will need to unlock higher levels (or purchase the unlocking via an in-app purchase) or you'll have a relatively small selection of songs to try. Of course, free play (not associated with a game) is also an option. Get the app here.

LegoDuploiPadApp.jpgI would be remiss if I didn't mention the LEGO DUPLO JAMS app I highlighted a few months back. It's probably the app whose musicality is least necessary of those mentioned here. It features LEGO-themed songs and some fairly random (and simple) touch screen games for the preschool set. The app is not necessarily the most challenging, but the songs are decent and the price is right (free). I don't necessarily see this as a long-term app for any family's iPad, but it's definitely work checking out.

GaragebandDrums.jpgBoy, oh boy is Apple's Garageband a big program. Weighing it at more than half a gig, it's one of those apps you actually have to think about wanting to download, especially if you have a 16 GB version and the iPad gets many different types of uses, from music to video to games and pictures. But the $4.99 app is incredibly powerful and lots of fun, even if you have no intention of ever recording a song.

To do a full review of the app is beyond my scope here, but suffice it to say that this is a very popular app with my kids. We don't have a drum set (yet), so getting to tap fingers on the several different types of complete drum sets to make a reasonable facsimile of drum sounds is an OK substitute. The program also includes keyboards, drum machines, bass, guitar, even a sampler and an amp for your guitar. Perhaps one of the coolest features for people of all levels of musical abilities are the "smart" instruments, where you can, literally with the touch of the screen create a track that sounds pretty competent. (Yes, Little Boy Blue and I mess around with the Hip Hop Drum Machine, quite a bit, thankyouverymuch.) And who knows, maybe one day, Little Boy Blue or Miss Mary Mack or I will finally polish up those doodles of songs into the real thing.

dropophone-screen1-300x200.jpgFinally, an app that's actually for the iPhone, though it works just fine for the iPad, if a tiny bit fuzzy. It's called Dropophone, and it's from the kid-friendly band Lullatone, known for its appropriation of unique instruments to create songs that sound like they're simultaneously 50 years from the future and the past. It's pretty simple -- the user can select from 30 tone/instrument combinations that loop continuously (unless changed) and, if desired, turn on a simple metronome to help guide their selections. It's a lot like Brian Eno's "Bloom" app (and the like), but more structured, which may be helpful for kids who are trying to come up with an actual song. I wish you could record the results, but oh well -- music can be fleeting, and the app is free. It's not Garageband, but sometimes (often) Garageband is way too much.

[Disclosure: I received free copies of the Puff and Duck apps for possible review.]