Keezy - Elepath



Developer:  Elepath

Compatibility: iPad / iPhone / iPod touch // iOS 7.0

Size: 45.1 MB

Description:   Is Apple's Garageband app too unwieldy, does it overwhelm your kindergartner? (It's OK, sometimes it overwhelms me?)  Are they bored with Toca Band and its limited set of interlocking sounds?  Does Toc and roll offer some -- but not enough -- flexibility, or does it also feel too much like project management, Garageband on training wheels?

Then perhaps Keezy is for your kid (or you).  It's actually for both of you, for different reasons.  The basic organizing concept is that of "boards," an iOS screen split into eight differently colored squares, each of which has a different sound.  Those sounds could be beats, vocal loops, synthesized notes, or your toddler banging pots and pans in the kitchen.  Touch a square, and it produces a sound; touch them in sequence, Simon-style, and all of a sudden you've got yourself a song. Or something.

How do you get boards for your use? Two ways -- 1) record your own sounds, or 2) use pre-loaded boards from the likes of Reggie Watts, Tegan and Sara, and others.  So, basically, you can be as DIY as you want (or don't).

From my perspective, it's not totally intuitive swiping around between the different functions (basically, touch and hold in the center, and the big black circle will expand to reveal a wordless menu, which the user will then have to remember, for example, the "hamburger bun" means "menu of boards to choose from."  I'm sure with regular use it becomes second nature, but initially it's kind of confusing.  Also, there's no way at the moment to record the songs or set an unending loop for a particular sound, although it sounds they are working on both concepts.  (They're also working on a drum machine of sorts, which I feel mad at myself for not having stopped by their tent and checking out when I was at XOXO.)

But for a toy with a deceptively simple interface and a large range of possibilities (some I'm sure beyond what the creators intended), this is an app worth your download.

Age Range: 4 through 10

Price: Free


Toc and Roll - minimúsica-Sones


TitleToc and Roll

Developer:  minimúsica-Sones

Compatibility: iPad / iPhone / iPod touch // iOS 5.1.1

Size: 165 MB

Description:   I'm a big fan of Apple's Garageband app as a kid-friendly musical app -- tapping on the drum set or other "instruments" can produce a surprisingly interactive effect for something that is, well, tapping on a glass screen.  But it can be an incredibly complex experience, and if a kid were trying to put together an actual song, the sheer number of choices would probably him or her.

That's where Toc and Roll comes in.  Simply put, this is the app kids graduate to after getting bored with Toca Band but before they're ready to really create music in Garageband.  The app was developed by the much-beloved Barcelona-based minimusica, and it allows you the user to put together tracks designed to fit together harmonically.

There are 10 types of tracks -- piano, glockenspiel, guitar, voice (you can record those tracks), violin, drums, saxophone, trumpet, bass, and percussion -- and each of those tracks has well more than a dozen different modular units that are probably a couple measures long.  The user can tweak each instrument by changing the volume and providing effects (vocoder, delay, and reverb) and changing the overall tone of the song by changing the tempo.

You can save and title the songs.  It also offers you the option of saving your songs, but it requires a YouTube account.  (There is probably a technical reason, and possibly business reasons, but why oh why can't these types of programs just create an mp3 file?)  That's a minor complaint, and I guess my only other complaint is not minor -- that is, to say, there's no option for a minor-chord song.  The song is essentially a major-chord song, and I wish there was another option for a sad (i.e., minor-chord) song.  (I also wish they would offer an 80 bpm tempo in addition to the 100, 120, and 140 beats per minute tempos.)

But those are pretty insignificant complaints.  For kids with a musical bent, this is a playground well worth your money and their time.

Age Range: 5 through 9

Price: $1.99



Dr. Seuss Band - Oceanhouse Media

Title: Dr. Seuss Band

DeveloperOceanhouse Media

Compatibility: iPad / iPhone / iPod touch // iOS 3.2

Size: 42.9 MB

Description:   If this were 5 years ago, we could call this "Baby's First Rock Band" or "Baby's First Tap Tap [Whatever]" and lots of people would recognize the reference to the games that gave players points for tapping correct "notes" in time with the song.

This app is one of the many Seussian apps from Oceanhouse but doesn't really use the famous Seuss words or drawings (the songs are totally made up to Seuss' book titles).  The user gets to customize wonderfully goofy instruments (think trumpets with all sorts of crazy bagpipe-like attachments) and, once set, taps notes that  correlate to a C major scale in time with the lighted pulses coming down from the top of the screen.

You can change the difficulty level -- the harder the difficulty, the more notes you need to tap.  You can select a number of different songs, but some instruments and some songs are locked -- you need to achieve a high-enough score to unlock them (or you can just be lazy and pay via an in-app purchase).

While the app offers free play, we've never bothered to try it -- aside from the goofy sound and bright colors, there's no advantage to this over, say, Garageband (which we also have installed).  Also, until I was prepping this review I hadn't realized that you could also play this on an iPhone or iPod touch.  I have no idea why you'd ever want to do that on such a (comparatively) tiny screen.

As musical games go, this is reasonably diverting.  Once mastered, it probably won't hold much allure, but I think it could take your kids a long time to do that...

Age Range: 2 through 7

Price: $0.99 (plus in-app purchases -- $7.99 unlocks everything)


The Disappointing Pancake - Mibblio / Lisa Loeb

TitleThe Disappointing Pancake

Developer:  Mibblio / Lisa Loeb

Compatibility: iPad // iOS 5.1

Size: 91.7 MB

Description:   Another month, another stand-alone Mibblio app.  This one features "The Disappointing Pancake " from occasional kids' musician and author Loeb.  The song, like the titular pancake, has bounced around for awhile -- it originally appeared on Loeb's first solo kids album, 2008's Camp Lisa (with Steve Martin on banjo!).  As with other Mibblio apps, the song plays while the user can add or remove different tracks (e.g., guitar, percussion, keyboards) from the recorded song while simultaneously being able to play melody and stringed/guitar instruments in harmonically compatible keys, not to mention percussion.  It basically lets kids (and adults) play along in ways that allow some creativity but also help make whatever comes out sonically sound decently.  (You can also pinch out to expand it to full screen if you just want to read and sing along.)

In addition, the songs are accompanied by illustrations that feature lyrics to those songs.  The result is a musical picture book over which the user has some small control.  Along with the song, which is one my favorites of Loeb's, I also enjoyed the retro illustrations of Brad Renner; his pancake looks very happy as he goes on his adventures in Loeb's story song, which is kind of the point, isn't it?

The price for the app, $0.99, is pretty cheap, the same price as if you'd buy it through the main Mibblio app if in fact you could do so -- which you can't at the moment (or at least I couldn't find it in my app).  [Ed.: The folks at Mibblio say it's now available in the main app, too.]  As with the rest of the Mibblio apps, it's well-done, and this is definitely one of the more appealing songs in the Mibblio library.  Fans of Loeb or the song will enjoy it, and it would make a fine selection if you want to explore the concept for the first time.

Age Range: 3 through 7

Price: $0.99


Note: I was provided a copy of this app for possible review.

Drawnimal - Lucas Zanotto

Title: Drawnimal

DeveloperLucas Zanotto

Compatibility: iPad / iPhone / iPod Touch // iOS 6.0

Size: 31.1 MB

Description:  A simple program which uses the iDevice as the jumping off-point for creative drawing.  Select one of the alphabet's 26 letters (if you're doing this in English -- there are five languages available), place the iPad, etc. down on a piece of paper, and have your kid trace around the iPad as indicated on the app.  (So, in the case of the picture here, a couple triangles on the top, a tail near the bottom.)  Most kids will be able to figure out the animal -- I think "C" is fairly obvious here -- but watching the animation (and listening to the narrator say "C is for... cat") once the user presses the "play" triangle will amuse the kids playing along.

The replay value isn't the best -- there's only a single animation and therefore a single drawing that can be done for each of the 26 letters -- but the multiple languages may extend that value somewhat.  The execution of the concept is very polished, and the concept itself -- that creativity need not be limited to the digital world -- is worthy.

Age Range: 3 through 7

Price: $1.99


Dropophone - Lullatone

Title: Dropophone

DeveloperLullatone / Hayashi Yosuke

Compatibility: iPad / iPhone / iPod Touch // iOS 3.1.3

Size: 1.2 MB

Description:  A simple looping program, but, as the page for the app says, "This app is super simple on purpose. Simple is magic!"  Select from 30 different tone/instrument combinations (that would be one for each of those drops in the screen grab above), and set them to a-looping.  The sound is both from 1964 and 2064, hypnotic and charming.  It's too bad you can't record your kids' (or your) creations, but it's a beautiful introduction to creating song loops.  (Read the original review here.)

Age Range: 2 through 8

Price: Free


Petting Zoo (Animal Animations) - Fox & Sheep / Christoph Niemann

TitlePetting Zoo (Animal Animations)

Developer:  Fox & Sheep / Christoph Niemann

Compatibility: iPad / iPhone / iPod Touch // iOS 6.0

Size: 37.4 MB

Description:  An utterly delightful digital playground.  German-born illustrator Niemann's simple but not simplistic illustrations encourage the users to touch the screen and interact with 21 different animals -- an elephant in a bathtub, a crocodile with musical teeth, an absurdly flexible giraffe.  Actually, many of the animals are absurdly flexible.  Accompanying the minimally animated drawings are 3 melodies that sound a little bit retro -- '50s jazz, perhaps -- but fit the relaxed tone of the app perfectly.

Give this app to a toddler, and they'll squeal in delight.  Give it to a kindergartner and they'll gladly explore.  Their parents might not squeal, but they'll explore and smile.

Age Range: 2 through 8

Price: Free (for now, though it's also had non-free prices)