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Piano Ball App Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on June 14th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

The app Piano Ball is a great way to begin to bring colors and sounds into your babies’ and toddlers’ lives, especially since they can make their own music with just a simple swipe or tap of their little hand. Young children are not very coordinated at this young age, so something as simple to use as this app, is just the key for little ones. It’s an easy way to develop motor skills. Older babies can just shake the iPhone or iPod, hear an array of musical notes and see a shower of stars. Then a random musical picture pops up on the page and its word repeated, “drum.”

You can introduce your young ones to new sounds by letting them listen to you playing the drums, horn, piano or xylophone. As they get older, you can tell them the names of these instruments. (I remember as a kid how I thought there were only two “X” words in the alphabet: X-ray and xylophone.)

The app has a variety of choices. First, there are four different balls: Color Ball, Tune Ball, Rainbow Ball and Instrument Ball. The piano keyboard is transformed into different colored pallets with the Color Ball, so the young musicians can learn their colors. With the Tune Ball, older children can play five popular songs by following the lit-up stars—and then get a rousing applause for their efforts. Then the song is played again for listening. More songs are to come in the future.

Or, if your children want to be more creative, they can play their own songs as the stars swirl around the keys. They can also change instruments, to the jazzy drum for example, and make up a song. If parents want to keep toddlers from switching from one mode to another every two seconds, there is a feature lock. This way, the child can be focused for what? About three minutes, which is par for a two-year-old. The Rainbow Ball turns the keyboard multihued. The tiny little arrow in the back left corner brings to back to the menu.

Of course, this app actually does not teach music. There are no notes, scales or musical letters. However, it’s a fun way to stimulate your child’s auditory and visual senses. The app says it’s for players nine months to five years of age. Think more along the lines of the younger ages. With all the other musical apps available, your five-year-old will be ready for something more challenging.

Monster Chorus Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on May 20th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Monster Chorus is a super-cute musical app which my son really enjoys. With a simple interface, kids will delight in tapping eight varied monsters who each sing a different note. Recently, this app has had a significant update adding a recording feature as well as the addition of four popular kids' songs that children can easily play following highlighted cues.

This app is nicely space-themed as these monsters are displayed along side of each other, standing on a sphere much like the moon with satellites and shooting stars also seen in the sky. The look of this application is very pleasing, as are the sounds these monsters make. I really enjoy the world created here and I like how each friendly and adorable creature is different, as are each of their sounds. Now babies, toddlers and beyond can look for the hidden monsters in this app, a cute addition. I appreciate that you can play various monsters together to make even more harmonious noises, but I do wish I could drag a finger across them like a piano.

After tapping around this app the first time, my son was beaming and clapped for me as if I were an accomplished musician. Later I asked him if he liked this app, and he said “Yeah, thanks for getting it for me.” I am impressed by how this app holds my boy’s attention much longer than expected. Now he calls it his "monsters singing app," sometimes asking for it right before bed, and I do my best to make the monsters sing peacefully.

Four classic songs, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Three Bind Mice, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star are now included where a spotlight shows which monster to tap in order to play these songs, possibly aiding in the basic understanding of piano-playing concepts. I wish I had more of a music background to explain how tapping the lit monsters translated to music theory, but unfortunately I don’t know how to explain this to my son. Still, it is a lot of fun to play these songs this way, and my son was quick to pick up how to play these songs using the highlighting cues.

It is also nice that a record feature is included, allowing the player to record their voice and then tap a monster to hear this recording, as each monsters play back is slightly different. This feature is fun, but I wish the record time was longer and it was more obvious when the recording has started. It would also be nice in the future if a record option was also available for when music in made with these monsters as well.

My son really enjoys this app, and I think this would be a very nice first app for babies or toddlers, also fun for the entire family.

The Day the Music Stopped Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on May 16th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Some children’s apps are a breeze to review, since it’s easy to write about all the wonderful things they offer. That’s exactly how I feel about The Day the Music Stopped. The developer of this app, Juno, already received accolades for its Juno Baby Musical ABC’s. Now it added this delightful app for toddlers and preschoolers. These apps demonstrate what really can be accomplished for iPhones and iPads with state-of-the-art technology.

When your children enter the 3D world of The Day the Music Stopped, they will meet Juno and Rai Rai and have time to interact with different items in Juno’s room. Then, it’s off to musical Harmonia Springs with the other cute puppet characters--Bunny, Buzz and Indie. When Murphy describes his new invention the "shush machine," Bunny presses the red button on top and all the music in the town comes to a halt. (If a button says, “Do Not Touch!” you know your preschooler will touch it!)

Now it’s up to your children to bring the music back with entertaining and musically educational activities. The founder of Juno, Belinda Takahashi, a PhD of music, composed the music in the app, which is played by a real live orchestra. Each of the activities teaches a different aspect about music. At the lily pond, the frogs, like a barbershop quartet, teach harmony, and the birds on the fence, which looks just like a musical staff, help the children create their own song either on their own or with a song provided. (Soon to come will be a game that teaches rhythm.)

One of the things that makes this app so delightful, besides the colorful animation, is that it is a story, as well. Many apps are just separate activities that have a theme, like the alphabet or animals, but do not go beyond these activities. With the Juno apps, your children meet new characters, become part of their story, and bring back music to Harmonia Springs. Of course, the other very special aspect of this app is the music. How many times do your children listen to the actual instruments of an orchestra being played instead of coming from a music synthesizer? Then, they can actually learn how to make their own music.

In most cases, the children’s apps created for the mobile units and tablets have not at all been on par with computer CDs and DVDs. Here is an app that clearly shows what can be accomplished with the technology available and should be used as a role model for many of the apps now in the marketplace.

What is my job? Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on April 21st, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

What is my job? is a lovely interactive app for children which explores different occupations. Sections include interactive flash cards and a matching game. A version of this app is available for iPhone as well as iPad.

This is a very sweet app that young kids will enjoy. Adults will appreciate the polish that went into this application, which includes very cute pictures and good music. Two sections are included here: interactive flash cards and a matching game. I have enjoyed swiping through the flash cards with my son, tapping both the sweet children and bright, colorful animal characters who demonstrate different jobs, hearing their occupations when tapped. A related object is paired with the animal or child that corresponds to these various occupations, such as an astronaut and a space shuttle, pianist and piano, or worker and hammer who's names can also be heard when tapped.

Adults will appreciate the quality of the music used during this educational application. The use of an acoustic guitar with a wonderful Spanish sound is an interesting choice that I greatly enjoy listening to. I also appreciate that a series of narrators, both men and women, are used to narrate both the job titles and related objects, all of which brings a richness of sounds to this app.

It is also nice that although a basic premise, this app is very content-rich with lots of jobs introduced, including some interesting choices like "fish monger," "sculptor," and "cobbler."

The matching game is what one may expect, as the player turns over cards looking for pairs. Here, one matches together the character demonstrating a specific job and the related object. I really like that one can control the number of cards used in this game, from four to eight, as it is great that young players can play this game focusing only on four cards. Typically, my son needs me to pair matching apps down to four cards before he is capable of solving the game, and it is nice that he can start this himself and be able to finish on his own. The same style of wonderful music is also used through these matching games, along with the matched job's name narrated when a match is made.

The characters used through this app are also used among the K-Magic apps from these same developers - which my son has enjoyed for a long time. I am grateful that this series of apps has introduced my son to Patrick, a red dog, who wants to be a "good father" when Patrick grows up, something my kind son has taken to heart. In this app, we see that Patrick is now practicing as a baby sitter, a detail that both my son and I enjoy. I also like that the title page has a row of characters that one can be introduced to with a tap, my son was happy to see his old friends from the K-magic series.

What is my job? is a simple, lovely app that babies, toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy. I also highly recommend the other apps by the developers at PAKA, especially their K-Magic series, as well as their Farm Animals app, look for them in iTunes.

ABC Music Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on March 23rd, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

ABC Music is the third universal educational app from the developers at Peapod Labs which teaches not only the alphabet but now also different musical instruments through various photos as well as video clips and fun facts.

This app works very similarly to the earlier apps ABC Wild! and ABC Go. Tap on a letter from the main menu and then scroll through corresponding pictures of something music-related that starts with the same letter chosen. At the bottom of the screen, the object will be spelled out and any of these letters can also be chosen as well, or you can choose your favorite from the index. If online, a window in the top left corner containing a preview screen of a video can be tapped connecting you to YouTube or just read about your choice by tapping a question mark. It is very helpful that the index keeps track of what photos you have already looked at and what else there is for you to discover.

As with the other apps, the background music and the photographs included are very well done, and I enjoy them all very much. I also enjoy watching the videos as they give great examples of these instruments in use, especially instruments that one may not be readily exposed to such as a zither or unique instruments like the jaw harp. Their selection is nicely varied, and I found some of them to be quite moving and surely inspiring to young musicians. Like the other apps in this series, there is a lot to explore here, but in order to get the most out of this app WiFi is helpful because you won’t hear the sounds of these instruments without the included videos. Sound samples imbedded directly into this app would be a nice addition, especially when an internet connection is not possible. This aside, ABC Music is a great way to introduce various musical instruments to children, getting them interested in letters as well. I am curious to see if Peapod Labs will continue with this series or come up with something entirely new.

Zoo Train Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on February 25th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Zoo Train is a nice universal app which contains five train-themed games that toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy. This app includes a variety of activities, one of which consists of simple puzzles that when each is correctly completed by the player, a train moves one step closer to the station. A music mode is included where children can select a traditional song to be played with colorful train whistles. Watch as a freight train pulls a word, such as “cow” and match corresponding letters to the letters on the train. Other options include the creating of a personal train by connecting different cars together and choosing a background. One can also put together a train tracks puzzle and watch a train ride over the tracks, once completed.

It is nice that there are so many different games to choose from and I enjoy the fact that some educational elements are taught here as well, like letters and spelling and the solving of simple puzzles. I think this would be enjoyed by babies, toddlers and preschoolers, especially those who enjoy animals or trains as well and would also be a nice choice for kids who are just getting into app puzzles. My son enjoys making his own trains and choosing different backgrounds as well as putting together the train tracks. I really like the music played with different colored train whistle. Kids are sure to be occupied by this app for some time.

Kindermusik Radio App (includes lyrics!) Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on February 22nd, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Kindermusik Radio App is an interesting music application from Night and Day Studios, much like Pandora radio, here created with children in mind. With the use of an internet connection, over one hundred songs are arranged into specific stations including “Bounces and Rhymes,” “Animals, Animals,” “Get Up and Move,” and “Mostly Lullabies” as well as a station of stories.

I like the idea of this app; the songs are of a very high quality that one would expect from Kindermusic, and I like that the lyrics are included to these songs as are activities that one can do along with your child while listening to the music, much like the activities one may participate in at a Kindermusic class - a lovely way to get kids up and moving.

It is really nice that you can choose "play along" with the songs if you wish, choosing an instrument like a castanet or egg shaker and then tap in time to the music. My son and I took a few music classes together, but he had a hard time waiting until the moment at the end when the kids were allowed to explore a big box of musical instruments, so being able to play along with any song is right up his alley.

I did notice however, that many times by its nature you are brought to a song already in progress, most notably when you choose a story and have no idea what it is going on. This never bothered me before when using the radio as background music, but when choosing an app as an activity, it is nice to have the choice of starting a song or story from the beginning. Maybe I should have more patience and simply wait for a song or story to end and another one begin, but this is an app geared towards young children who are not known for their attention spans. I appreciate that information about each song or story is given as are options to buy it or its album from iTunes, but I do worry that my son may make purchases by mistake. The option of emailing the song information to oneself or a friend is a nice option to have, but it would be great if one could simply add it to a “favorites” list to keep track of songs or stories to be investigate later without leaving the song's page to do so.

The song and story choices are unquestionably excellent here, as is the fact that activities and the song's lyrics are included and the ability to play along is wonderful as well. If one is looking for kid-friendly radio-style app with a large variety to choose from, this is a very good choice. Another interesting app from Night and Day Studios - definitely developers to keep an eye on.

Elly Book 7 Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on February 18th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Elly Book 7 is yet another lovely storybook about my son’s favorite reindeer, Elly. The “Elly” series of story books is written without any narration and is designed to be read out loud to children, thereby also making excellent beginner reader books as well. In this book, lovely musical as well as other sounds have been added and it is nice that the areas to be tapped are marked clearly and are very easy to find?. Having these interactions not be hidden keeps this app very baby-friendly in terms of finding where to touch, especially for the youngest viewers new to interactive applications.

One of the aspects I have always loved about this series is how warmly Elly and her friends treat each other. This book is no exception, as Elly and her friends find musical instruments and decide to play a song for their friend Owl who loves music, but in this story Elly makes a faux pas by waking up her nocturnal friend during the day and feels embarrassed doing so. As my son enters the world more and gets ready for pre-school to start, I am sure he will make a few mistakes of his own and this story gave us a chance to talk about how Elly felt embarrassed and why. I also appreciate how, although all the individual musical sounds sound very good here, the first time the gang plays together they don’t sound quite right until they get some help from Owl who has experience being a conductor. This adds another educational element about playing music, but also the social aspect that the gang needed instruction and help to be able to sound the way they want. It is especially cute that the song they learned to play is “The Reindeer Song,” which is also the theme used among this series of books, the earlier books being updated to include this theme as well.

My son and I hope to see more from Elly and friends in the future. These books are welcome breaks from the highly interactive apps that he also loves. I not only recommend this book, but the whole series as well.

Maximus Musicus Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on January 26th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Maximus Musicus is a thoughtful, interesting and very content-rich application aimed at teaching classical music appreciation as well as musical instruments to children. Based on the well-known Icelandic children’s books and concert series about a mouse who wanders into a concert hall and becomes enthralled with the music that is being performed, this app teaches the basics of instrumental sound recognition, learning the basics of how to play xylophone, harp, piano, and percussion, musical themed jigsaw puzzles are also offered here, as well as a lovely arcade style game also included that kids will enjoy. Designed for iPhone, the app looks good on iPad as well with little pixilation. Be sure to scroll down in game mode to find all seven sections.

I really enjoy all that this app has to offer, especially the Mystery Box which allows the player to hear a sample of music and the sounds of three instruments, as the player must now decide what instrument is playing in the box. I appreciate that each sample of music played in the box is the same, highlighting the differences and similarities of each instrument. The sections of each instrument are also very well done, giving the player a choice of free play or learning short pieces of music by copying the sounds seen and heard, “simon” style, this game being harder that it looks, even for adults. I also like how when one explores the jigsaw puzzles or playing “Maxi's Dream” - an action based game about catching cheese - they are listening to and enriched by beautiful classical music, something that may not happen for children on a daily basis.

I am stuck by the beauty that all these illustrations have to offer, there soft watercolors bringing life and great quality to this app. All the music is expertly played as well as recorded, and a joy both to listen to as well as to introduce classical music to my son in this way. Commonly, after his bedtime story, my son chooses the game “Maxi's Dream.” Too tired to play, he nods off listening to this game, its theme being a very peaceful piece of music.

This app has made me interested in the Maximus Mouse picture books as well, and I hope to be able to read these books to my son who I am sure would love them. I wish these developers will continue to make more applications with such quality and educational content. If interested, also check out Maxi’s Holiday Piano as well by the same developers, Fancy Pants Global.

Astro Kids ABC Color HD Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 28th, 2010
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Astro Kids ABC Color HD is a super-cute coloring book app for iPad which includes a short space-themed story as well as many pages to color, mixing in number and letter recognition as well. All combined, this app has a lot to offer in terms of both entertainment and education.

My son and I really enjoyed listening to the included story, which does a nice job of introducing the characters you meet in these pages to color, as well as of explaining a bit about the space theme of this app, specifically how these space kids are explorers from “planet aquablue,” having just arrived on earth. Each page is an adventure they experience. This bit of background information made coloring these pages more enjoyable for us than other more random coloring books we have used.

I think this application does a nice job creating a coloring book using a “paint by numbers” or letters method for filling in the spaces. Each area to be filled in has been given a number or letter which corresponds to a specific color. First, tap a color found in a row on the bottom of the page and then fill in all of the same areas of the picture with these matching numbers or letters. I think it is great how numbers as well as upper and lower case letters can be chosen, all of which are narrated when tapped - great for recognition skills. There is also a free coloring mode as well, and I especially like that you can choose to work with ten or twenty six different colors. These pages tend to have more spaces to fill in then other apps available, and I like that these pictures can be intricate without being difficult to use.

This friendly app congratulates the player each time they correctly colors in an area, and there are also astro badges available for a completed picture. Saving or emailing your work is also an option. It is also possible to turn off all of these options and sounds if you wish, customizing the experience. I really like that there are sixteen pages to choose from, but it would be nice if one could go back to a page to continue coloring at a later time. All in all, a very good experience from this coloring book.

Jellybean Tunes Holiday Edition Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on December 21st, 2010
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Jellybean Tunes Holiday Edition is an interesting universal app that lets children play Christmas tunes as well as become exposed to the concepts of reading music. Three game modes are included: the playing of these songs by tapping their individual notes, a quiz to see if the student has learned the notes by sound as well as placements on the sheet music, and the ability to make one's own music. The music selections are popular Christmas songs, pleasant to listen to as well as to play.

I never got the hang of reading music in school, much to the frustration of music teachers. Looking at this app as a novice, I think it is on the right path to being very educational, but I do think some things could be added. Although not commonly seen on sheet music, I wish there were an option of the notes being displayed at the side of the staff in full view of the player as a point of reference, and I would like to be able to tap to hear these notes in the interest of beginning to familiarize myself with the sounds they make in correlation to there names and arrangement within the sheet music. Being able to study this as the tunes are being tapped would go a long way in understanding what I was looking at. I am glad that when individual notes are tapped during the playing of the music, their names are displayed such as “a” or “d”, but I would still like to see all the notes listed the corresponding lines and spaces of the staff itself. This would be especially helpful in the creation of one’s own music; as of now, I am not aware of what notes there are to choose from or where to tap to find these find specific sounds that I have heard.

I also would like to see a message to parents on how to fully utilize this app, especially for parents who have no music experience. I would love to fully explain to my son the basic principles of reading music, but I don’t have the vocabulary or the insight to do so. As of now, this is just a tapping and music game to him, but I know that this could be the basics of understanding music if I knew how to help him further.

Sounds of the Orchestra Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on November 24th, 2010
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Sounds of the Orchestra is a fun educational app which introduces children and adults to the instruments one may find in an orchestra. There is much to explore here including a section to "play" which includes an instrument-themed "memory" style game where the player flips over cards to find matches incorporating both the images and sounds of each instrument. There is also an informative "learn" section where you can read descriptions of these instruments as well as a "listen" section, featuring a sound board as well as a quiz to see how good your ear has become.

I especially like the way the instruments are laid out in the "learn" section as you would find in any orchestra, and are grouped into four basic sections, Percussion, Brass, Woodwinds and Strings all to be tapped. I also appreciate how you have the chance to hear classical music being played, for example using just Woodwinds, or Strings to get a feel for the basic sounds these instruments make, while being able to then tap each instrument in their section to read a concise and informative description as well.

Connoisseurs of classical music may find the sounds of the instruments from the sound board in the "learning" section less than perfect, but I think they sound good, and I have enjoyed hearing the difference between instruments like clarinet, oboe and bassoon. We enjoy playing the listening game as well. I do wonder if having the choice of listening to the same music samples for each instrument would be helpful, and I wish this option was available for times when I really want to focus on hearing differences or similarities of each instrument. I also wish the classical pieces sampled were given credit so I could tell my son what he was listening to when he asks. I find many of the pieces familiar from "Bugs Bunny" but I regret that I do not know most of their proper names. All in all, a fun an informative app that we both enjoy.

Splish Splash Inn Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on November 1st, 2010
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Splish Splash Inn is a beautiful application that teaches number recognition and counting. Sea-themed, this app takes place at the “Splish Splash Inn,” a hotel for fish. Go door to door, find out what kind of fish is staying in each room, and practice counting with the narration as each fish swims into the room. There are 10 rooms to choose from. This would be a lovely game in and of itself, but what makes this app all the more special is that each fish is musical and you can help them swim around as well. Tap to play, and drag to move around the screen. The drawings are beautiful, the music is well done, and I enjoy introducing my son to the names of these fish this way. As an adult, I also like how each hotel room is styled differently, a nice touch parents will appreciate.

I think it's great how children can play this game at their own pace, and I am impressed with how long this app holds both my 2.5+ year old son’s, as well as my attention. The first time we played, my boy wanted to quickly go to every room to see what kind of fish there was to discover. Now when he plays, he stays longer in each room, tapping and dragging the fish around the screen, being really engaged with their sounds. My favorite rooms are those where the fish play octaves so one can really make music with them. The effect can be quite magical. Others have more of a random noise quality that is still fun and entertaining, but not as musical.

I really hope the developers at Shortstack continue to make children’s educational apps. The quality here is grand, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Monster Melody Mash Review

Posted by Nina Ignaczak on September 2nd, 2010
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

I love this app! Monster Melody Mash is an adorable, addictive and unconventional musical app which challenges users to create unique electronica-inspired tracks by toggling off and on a variety of different hilariously and beautifully rendered cartoon monsters, each of which has a unique rhythm or melody attached to it. When activated, the monster will make the sound and dance along to the music. To keep the melody constant so that you can focus exclusively on rhythm, a pin toggle is available

Three "monster worlds" are available; Alien Monster (my favorite), Classic Monster, and Volcano. Alien Monster contains adorable sea-like alien monsters with a chime tool that shoots alien eyeballs from the craters of a planet, a decidedly cosmic keyboard sound, and monsters ranging from an anemone-shaped harpsichord of creatures to a cyclopean squid. Classic Monsters is a veritable graveyard of horror-show creatures, with a Thriller-inspired soundtrack, and a skeleton, vampire, mummy, zombie, and swamp creature. A piano keyboard consisting of spiders on a web, each with a different tone, lines the sidebar. The Volcano world pairs fiery sounds with a two-toned Volcano that sings the word "Volcano" at different pitches. More worlds are planned.

My 4-year old had a ball with it and got his 2-year old sister up and dancing to his musical stylings.

Did I mention that I love this app?

Dem Dancing Bones Review

Posted by Nina Ignaczak on August 12th, 2010
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

This is a limited but cute little game in which a dancing skeleton (Mr. Bones) waves his arms and legs from a stage, dancing to an unidentified tune, The child can select a bone which then becomes highlighted on the skeleton. As the selected bone is highlighted, song lyrics appear at the bottom (e.g. the hand bone is connected to the forearm, the hip bone is connected to the back bone, etc.). Setting options include six different colors for the skeleton and three for the stage curtain.

The tune is not the same as the well-known bone song, and I found myself wishing the skeleton would sing the song rather than just printing the lyrics at the bottom. My 4-year old son found it amusing for a very short time. Some planned updates include themed theater sets and holiday outfits, the ability to record your own dance loops and share them, and tickling Mr. Bones, the skeleton.

Despite being cute and funny the app is very limited; not yet worth the money.