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)


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)


Musical Paint - Building Blocks Media


TitleMusical Paint

Developer:  Building Blocks Media

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

Size: 77.8 MB

Description:  Less a musical app with some painting components than a painting app with some musical components, this app allows your kids to "finger paint" and produce both a visual piece of art -- the "canvas" -- while generating sound that changes with where the finger goes on the canvas.  Different colors produce different sounds.  And you get to sign your name at the end.

The downside of the app is that it doesn't have a lot of painting or musical features.  Painting-wise, you can only pick one color at a time, then change its intensity.  Musically, you can't change the instruments -- you're stuck with the same 5 color/sound combinations and many of the vibrant instrument sounds the animated characters at the museum splash page play aren't found in the painting area.  But there are probably a number of families for whom the specific multi-sensory experience (visual plus music) this provides is the key feature, and providing too many features otherwise is over-complicating matters.  (Teachers may also find the included lesson plans useful.)

The interface is reasonably easy to use, with saving the picture to the app's "gallery" easy enough.  (So is e-mailing pictures, so you may need to supervise your kiddos unless you turn that feature off.)  While the app is available on all 3 types of iOS devices, I only used it on the iPad; it seems the iPhone screen might be a bit small, or at least difficult to do much more than the blockiest of drawings.

Families seeking a pure fingerpainting experience or a more musical experience probably won't find much here worth retaining.  But if the idea of audio-visual art intrigues you, you might want to try this (or even its older sibling, not specifically designed for kids, but cheaper).

Age Range: 3 through 8

Price: $4.99


Note: I was given a copy of the app for possible review.

Jazzy World Tour (Musical Journey for Kids) - The Melody Book


TitleJazzy World Tour

Developer:  The Melody Book

Compatibility: iPad / iPhone / iPod touch // iOS 5.1

Size: 115 MB

Description:  Part of The Melody Book's "Jazzy" series, which includes separate apps on the alphabet, numbers, and more general music education, this latest app uses music as the hook into learning about basic music, instruments, and culture of various countries around the world.  As of this writing, your child can (via the 2 kitten explorers) "visit" Brazil, Ireland, Spain, Egypt, Kenya, India, Japan, Australia, and the United States in the full-featured version.  Each country's portion of the app lets the user tap on various objects and learn more about them via written text, "play" country-specific music (only the U.S. gets jazz) or make country-specific animals make noise, or create animated photos and videos which can be shared via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, or added to Photos in a manner similar to many video/photo sharing apps for kids.

The interactivity in the "learn" and "play" could be better -- there isn't much room for creativity in the play section.  I wish there was an option to have the "learn" text read aloud, and your kids will probably have more fun just banging around on the drums or guitars in Garageband.  But there's a nice selection of countries to explore and the app itself is laid out in a well-organized manner that should be intuitive even to preschoolers.

The move to in-app purchases on the App Store does mean that you can download the free version, purchase a $0.99 country and see if the full version is for you.  The app isn't broad enough to be an atlas, or full-powered enough to be a creative engine, but if you're looking to start exposing your kids to other countries' sounds and culture, Jazzy World Tour may work for you.

Age Range: 4 through 8

Price: $4.99 / free w/ $0.99 per-country in-app purchase

LinkiTunes (full) / iTunes (free w/ in-app purchases)