Bottom Line: Stylishly rendered Garage Band for beginners that lets kids express their inner Mozart or Madonna while learning about rhythm and melody in a bright, beautiful sound garden.
I described Flutter-by Butterflies, Fee Fi Fo Fun’s debut app as “soothing.” Their latest effort, Make Me Music, is anything but. It’s a loud, raucous cacophony of ringing, honking, strumming and banging instruments brought to life by legendary artist Alan Aldridge and the creative folks at FFFF.
My own musical background consists of one year of piano lessons, one year playing clarinet, and managing not to fall asleep until the fat lady sang in Lucia di Lammermoor. Despite my own limited musical talent, I took my twins to The Music Class every week before they could even walk. The highlight of class was when the instructor brought out a huge basket of bells, triangles, drums and wooden guiro. The children all grabbed something and the class had an impromptu concert. This experience is what Make Me Music conveys except it’s a one-man band, and instead of a studio in a dreary strip shopping center, kids get a psychedelic musical wonderland full of color, patterns, and unexpected surprises.
Pushing play takes you directly to the music room. It’s anchored by a winding red pipe covered in garlands of flowers that laugh or make funny noises when touched. A question mark in the top left corner brings up basic directions which let parents know that the four flowers across the bottom of the screen control rhythms and the arrows in the bottom right corner let you change the melody from a Caribbean vibe ukulele to a jazzy trumpet. When the melody is changed, the background in the room changes color as well which gives preschoolers a subtle hint to perhaps change the tempo of their composition.
All the kid-created symphonies and concertos can be recorded by activating the microphone symbol on the bottom left. Kids get a 3, 2, 1 countdown before recording begins. Compositions can be saved by emailing them to yourself or friends. They are converted to a mp4 format, so once downloaded, tunes can be made into ringtones or used as background music for home movies or whatever creative pursuit calls for maximum banging and clanging.
The instruments in Make Me Music are heavy on Orff percussion with a xylophone, bells, maracas, a tambourine, gongs, drums, a cow bell and rainmaker. Some are quite creative and unexpected. Kids get to strum a spider web which is my absolute favorite. There’s a stack of pots, a battered boot that stamps out a beat and liquid filled bottles and glasses that hum and vibrate on different frequencies. Future rockers can practice their solos with a reverb bar disguised as a flower on the red pipe from which many of the instruments hang. The cleverest addition is the lidded bread container which belts out Fee Fi Fo, Fee Fi Fo, Fee Fi Fo Fun in a fine tenor. Mozart probably never envisioned that when he wrote The Marriage of Figaro.
I am happy the developer left behind preschool numbers, letters and colors in this app and focuses solely on making music. The learning potential is still very strong as many parents, teachers and researchers with fancy degrees from fancier universities believe music instruction increases academic performance. Plato is credited as saying that music "is a more potent instrument than any other for education." It trains the brain for higher forms of thinking, and uses both sides of the brain which means it supports all areas of development. The aural discrimination needed to distinguish a bababa from a dadada in music is the same skill that later will be needed to distinguish the sounds that make up words. Autistic children are often encouraged to participate in music therapy because of the belief that it spurs language development.
As much as I love the vibrant colors and sounds of Make Me music, I do think it might get a bit lonely for young children. All their performances are solos. The presence of an animated friend to guide them in their musical exploration, join in the playing or offer gentle tips for achieving better harmony might be warranted. I would nominate Alan Aldridge’s own Harlequin Hare, the original one man band, for this role.
Music is the great equalizer because you are never too young, too old or too disabled to participate in it. The recordings my kids and I made with Make Me Music were not as pretty as the app’s band room, but we had a lot of fun. Private music lessons or even the yuppie filled music classes I took my kids to are expensive and a luxury many families (and increasingly schools) can no longer afford. If the research is to be believed, this $1.99 app which follows the Orff method is a good investment in your child’s academic future.
Regardless of your stance on the importance of music education, Make Me Music is a welcome departure from the plethora of preschool apps and games currently available.
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This review brings Jill Goodman one step closer to her idol since in the seven degrees of Kevin Bacon world she now knows the developers at FeeFiFoFun who know Alan Aldridge who once commissioned David Hockney to do a drawing for his book. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.