Bottom Line: A good resource for music teachers for teaching musical instruments to their students. Not able to be used without an adult as none of the text is voiced. The app is free (and contains some excellent games to play with your students) but to use it to its full potential, the physical cards are a must.
If you would like to download Little Musician — Musical Instruments (FREE, iPad only) please use this handy link:
Little Musician — Musical Instruments from developer BelugaBloo is designed to help little ones (ages 3-8) recognize some of the more popular musical instruments. The app covers 24 instruments, and they are broken up into five groups: strings, woodwind, brass, percussion and keyboard. The app itself is free, but to hear the musical examples and fully explore what the app has to offer, you need to purchase a set of physical cards that interact with the app (check out the video to see them in action). Each card has a picture of the instrument, a short description, and the instrument's musical family, so the card set could be used on its own in an educational setting as flashcards. But they're fun to use as a physical extension of the app — the player taps the screen with the appropriate card to hear a musical example and to interact with the musical games.
The production values of both the app and the cards are very high — the cards work really well and are printed in both English and Traditional Chinese. The illustrations and animations are slick and professional and are visually very engaging. The musical examples are fantastic — all acoustically produced professional recordings. There’s not a heap of actual information about each instrument in the app, and what is provided is puzzlingly inconsistent in detail — the flute get a detailed description ("the flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across the opening"), while the poor old piano is neglectfully described as simply "a keyboard musical instrument." It makes me wonder what the piano did to offend the description writer. BUT, as the focus is on visually and aurally recognizing each instrument and not on their individual characteristics, the descriptions seemed to be a bit of an afterthought.
There are three games to play: one which uses the cards and two that don’t (so are essentially good free reinforcing games — take note, music teachers!). The card game is a series of listening examples where the player taps the card for the sound they hear against the screen to progress — this can be played as one player, or as a battle! The other two are a musical memory game (aural) and a recognize the instrument game (visual). Both are great for when students are ready to start reinforcing their knowledge. Each game has three levels which increase in difficulty.
While I would definitely recommend this to all the music teachers out there, there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration:
- To use the cards with the app, there can’t be a case on the iPad — the cards need to lie flat against the screen. Now, in a school/educational situation, I’m betting there aren’t many iPads that don’t have protective cases on them. So this is going to make using them in the classroom a bit of an impediment — the cases would need to be removed before use.
- While there are excellent instructions on how to use the cards included in both the app and the product, the big thing that I found missing was that none of the text within the gameplay is voiced at all. As the target audience is littlies, this means that it’s not an app that can be used autonomously — there will always need to be an adult present to read the text and explain what to do. I would really LOVE to see voiceovers in this; that one change would absolutely make it a Top Pick.The cards are available from the Little Musician website and are currently $29.03 USD, which is not a bad price for a teaching tool, but I don’t imagine many parents will fork out this amount on a product that their kids can’t use without needing adult intervention.
- I would love an option to customize the games. Twenty-four instruments is a lot to learn in one hit and the games use all of them. It would be great to be able to focus on one family at a time, or to select which instruments appear in the games. This would take the app and cards to the next level and be a truly versatile teaching tool.
- This is one of those things that bugs me, but I'm guessing I'm not the only one. The fact is, there is no actual "keyboard" family. I understand why people have started lumping all the keyboard instruments together, as some belong in strings, some in percussion, and it can be confusing for young children. But when they understand HOW the sound is produced, it makes perfect sense why a piano is in the percussion family, while the harpsichord is in the strings.
Altogether, this is an excellent app and product and one that any music teacher would enjoy implementing with his/her students. It would take just a few tweaks to take it to the top of the must-have list for every music teacher in the country. I'm so pleased to finally see a music education product hit the app market that 1) works and 2) is entertaining. I look forward to seeing what else Little Musician can do in future releases!
Eleanor Holland is a primary music specialist on sabbatical, currently raising her two littlies. When she's not wiping their snotty noses she sings with Opera Queensland. Amongst other things. SmartAppsForKids.com was paid a priority review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.