Falling in love with a discipline of any kind at a young age relies in part on having fun with it first. Whatever the pursuit, if a developing mind comes to regard something as fun, it can plant a life-long seed that can make pursuing it later easier.
For example, when I was a kid, I loved two things above all else: playing with cars and writing little weird stories. I came home from daycare one day and told my mother that I wanted to be an author — long before she expected me to know what the word even meant. Around that time, I spent hours upon hours playing with Matchbox cars every day.
These young pursuits stuck with me until late in high school when a college counselor laid out my options for deciding what I wanted to do for a career. It came down to going to a four-year liberal arts school for writing or getting a two-year trade degree to be an automotive technician. That I’m writing this right now gives you a pretty good indication of which direction I went, but it truly was a tough choice.
Meanwhile, I didn’t even think about playing an instrument until I was in my mid-teens. And though playing guitar is one of my very favorite activities, it isn’t my vocation as such. There are lot of contributing factors, but I have a strong feeling that if I’d been enamored of instruments at a younger age, the amount of time I spend writing and the amount of time I spend playing guitar might be reversed now.
To that end, musical toys are excellent for encouraging development not only of musical talent, but of young brains in general. Competency with music improves competency in math, which has a host of knock-on benefits for logical and abstract thinking. It generates an appreciation for understanding and processing things, even if those things are just different forms of music. In short, it’s good for them.
Not only are these toys and gadgets great for kids, even professional musicians can find a use for them. Weird toy-like noises are great for inspiration or for adding something to a track in progress. I’ve written a few songs based on the limited intervals available in a kid’s toy, and I’ve certainly used a few of them as noise in ambient tracks. They’re great for busting up ruts.
The items we’ve chosen for this list tend more toward the toy versions of instruments rather than beginner instruments in the classic sense. There’s a mix here, but if you’re looking for a real instrument, some of our other posts can help you. For the budding percussionist, try our best drum sets for kids here. Newly minted guitarists can look to our best beginner guitar kits or best guitars for beginners.
Children who think music is fun may become the next legendary players. To help them along, here’s our list of the best musical instruments and toys for kids.
1. Mi Jam Lite FX Guitar
Naturally, being a guitarist, I am unable to resist the urge to start with a guitar toy. With a two-way strum bar for upstrokes and downstrokes, multifunction riff/chord buttons, and a few knobs for controls, this pretty successfully emulates a guitar. Clearly, it owes a debt of gratitude to the Rock Band and Guitar Hero controllers, but this one can be used without any additional hardware. If you’d like, you can plug in an MP3 player and play along to the music, since this guitar features pitch, tempo, and volume controls.
Choose from four styles — rock, heavy metal, blues, and bass — and let your future shredder start creating. There’s a Dimple version that is cheaper and a little more preschool, too. Alternatively, there’s a violin that uses a similar design and allows for free play.
Intended age range: Three years and up
Price: $26.99 (61 percent off MSRP)
2. Jade Active Handbell Set
Your child needn’t be a prodigy to grasp how to make noise with bells. Because the playing itself is simple, this set of handbells can help teach musical concepts without frustration. These are color-coded to each note in the C major scale, so it’s essentially impossible to play a wrong note. An included songbook uses these corresponding colors to teach your child how to play tunes, while the note value is printed atop the handle. A fun and easy way to get into interpreting music.
Intended age range: Three years and up
Price: $33.94 (57 percent off MSRP)
3. AirJamz App-Enabled Bluetooth Music Toy
While this would be just as much fun to give an adult, this Bluetooth-enabled, guitar-pick-shaped device is meant to emulate the experience of playing guitar through the power of modern smartphone technology. There are over 100 sound options, including options for guitar, drums, synths, and sound effects. You can play with up to four people at once time, on either iOS or Android devices, so your kids can have jam sessions with friends. And when your kids aren’t around, all those hours of air guitar in your bedroom could pay off for you, too.
Intended age range: Six years and up
4. Melissa & Doug High Sea Symphony
The youngest members of your musical ensemble will most likely be relegated to rhythm duties until they grasp the concept of music on the whole. Fortunately, there are still fun noisemakers to be had even for the young ones, including this set of sea-themed percussive creatures. In this set, you get a sea horse shaker, soft shell crab bell, octopus tambourine, and clam maracas. Once they hit the age of three, you could consider upgrading them to the Melissa & Doug Band-in-a-Box Hum! Jangle! Shake! set, which is actually quite a bit cheaper.
Intended age range: 18 months to ten years
5. Click N’ Play Gigantic Keyboard Play Mat
You remember the piano scene in Big, don’t you? Now you can reenact that with your kids in the comfort of your own home. This floor mat piano measures 70 by 29 inches and features 24 keys. Using the control module at the top, you can choose between play, record, playback, and demo modes, as well as eight different instrument voices: guitar, piano, clarinet, trumpet, saxophone, violin, banjo, and xylophone. The volume is also adjustable in case you get tired of your stomping little Beethoven.
Intended age range: One to ten years
Price: $34.19 (57 percent off MSRP)
6. VTech KidiBeats Kids Drum Set
For your more advanced beginning percussionist, try this beginner drum set. Formatted to look not unlike a real beginner’s kit, this introduces kids to the rock drummer interface, complete with a snare, two toms, and a cymbal. Four different play modes include free play, letters, numbers, and a follow along for training. There are nine different melodies in different musical styles for the budding session drummer.
This also comes in a pink version, if you prefer. As a personal appeal: The world is in desperate need of talented drummers, so let your child play drums!
Intended age range: Two to five years
7. First Act FG127 Acoustic Guitar
While the multi-modal (no pun intended) electric style guitar above is cool, the junior-sized acoustic guitar is a classic instrument. For generations, kids have had acoustic guitars to strum, even before First Act introduced their Discovery line to specifically invigorate young would-be guitarists. The body itself is plastic, but the neck is made of real hardwood topped with a rosewood fretboard to emulate a real guitar.
Packaged with this lovely sunburst instrument — natural finish here and “rock and roll” finish here — are all the instructional materials needed to get started. There’s even an iOS app to further the learning. Since these beginner guitars tend to be about the size of a ukulele, that might also be an option worth considering. Try this Hape uke if you decide to go that route.
Intended age range: Three to nine years
8. First Note USA Three Instrument Combo
If you want to introduce your child to a few instruments at once, try this pack that includes a trumpet, saxophone, and clarinet. Though they’ll eventually reach the age where the option is presented to the in school, you can give your child a head start with this clever set that, like the bells above, utilizes color coding to teach proper technique. The included songbook feaures 14 classic kids tunes for them to learn. Have them give these a whirl before moving on to the real deal. Either way, this is almost certainly a better way to teach them than the dreaded recorder.
Intended age range: Three years and up
9. Woodstock Kid’s Accordion
From zydeco and pokla to Weird Al and even (the not exactly age-appropriate) The Who, accordion is deeply embedded in the musical landscape. No matter the age, it’s a pretty fun instrument to play and as with the other options on this list, a songbook and instruction guide is included. It’s tuned to C major, so you could play it along with the handbell set and form a band with your kids.
Intended age range: Three to ten years
Price: $26.35 (6 percent off MSRP)
10. Little Tikes Tap-a-Tune Xylophone
It’s my belief that it would be against the law for someone to write a post covering kids musical toys and not include one of the Little Tykes classics. Virtually all of us had either this xylophone or the piano. Such a simple, great thing, designed to delight young budding musicians. Though you may eventually tire of hearing the dulcet tones of this mini-glockenspiel being hammered to death, it’s a rite of passage that parents should provide one to their children. It’s a classic toy not to be missed by any child.
Intended age range: 18 months and up