18 - 48 Months+

Why real instruments are the best musical toys for young children

Young children are often naturally drawn to music—whether it’s dancing to the song playing in the grocery store or making noise with a homemade maraca. And research finds that children who learn to play an instrument at a young age show improved reasoning, language, and fine motor skills.

There are many toys that can tap into your child’s innate curiosity for music—but not all of them are built the same. To really make the most of musical play, look for playthings that mimic real instruments. The best ones will:

Help your child begin to make real music. Musical toys that play a song at the press of a button may capture your child’s interest, but they don’t teach them anything about how to create music. Real instruments let your child experiment with musical concepts like tone, tempo, and scales.

Encourage open-ended play. Young children typically play with real musical instruments in an exploratory way. They delight in the sounds they can make when they shake a maraca, ring a bell, or blow on a pan flute. When your child rings a bell and hears a sound, then rings another bell to get a different sound, they may create new connections in their brain. This makes them want to keep going.

Get them moving to a beat. Research finds that babies and young children engage in more movement when exposed to music in comparison to plain speech. Swaying and dancing along to a beat can work your child’s sense of proprioception—the understanding of where their body is located and how it moves within a space. Instruments that your child can easily carry from room to room encourages them to practice their motor skills as they play. 

Produce a pleasing sound ❤️ Instruments that produce real music are great for your listening ears—and also your child’s. It may take effort for children to learn to manipulate a new instrument in order to play a note. The best instruments reward that effort with an authentic sound that helps them feel successful from the start. 

The 6 best instruments for toddlers and preschoolers

To help take the guesswork out of choosing the right instruments, we worked with music and child development experts to create the Lovevery Music Set. Here’s what we included, along with some ways to play: 

Shakers and maracas 

There’s a reason why shaker toys are a common first instrument for babies and toddlers: they’re easy to use and can give immediate feedback to your child about cause and effect. The Loud and Quiet Stackable Shakers use beads in two different sizes to allow your child to experiment with varied sounds and volumes. In addition to shaking, they can be easily stacked, rolled, or tapped.

3 ways to play with shakers: 

  • Develop a rhythm. Tap two shakers together, then invite your child to try. For a challenge, create a simple rhythm for your child to imitate, like slow, fast, fast, slow, fast, fast.
  • Play a beginner’s game of catch. Sit across from your child and roll shakers back and forth. Try to make them collide so your child can listen to the sound.
  • Exaggerate the sound. Invite your toddler to take small tip-toe steps, moving a shaker softly to make a quiet sound. Then, do big monster steps and move a shaker fast to make a loud sound. 

Cluster bells and jingle bracelets 

Looking for an instrument that can keep up with a toddler or preschooler on the move? Cluster bells and jingle bracelets are easy to grab and go. The Jingle Bracelet With Wooden Handle is both instruments in one—and can also be used as a microphone during pretend play. 

3 ways to play with jingle instruments:

  • Play hide-and-seek. Have your child close their eyes and keep them closed. Shake the bell somewhere in the room and ask your child to point to where the noise is coming from. With preschool-aged children, you can try hiding in another room and shaking the bell so they can follow the noise to find you. Take turns being the one who hides and the one who seeks. 
  • Walk, run, hop, jump. For younger toddlers, place the jingle bracelet on their wrist or ankle and let them experience how their natural movements can create sound. Put the bracelet on an older toddler or preschool-aged child and invite them to walk, run, and hop. Point out how the sound changes according to how they move. For example, “When you walk, the beat is slow and when you run, it’s fast.”
  • Explore big and small movements. Encourage your child to hold the jingle instrument and make small, rapid movements with their hand. Then prompt them to make large, sweeping movements with their whole arm. Point out how the sound changes. To make this more visually appealing, tie the Bright & Light Play Scarf to the instrument so they can see—as well as hear—the movement.  

Pat bells

A set of pat bells introduces your young child to the concept of a simple musical scale. The Lovevery Pentatonic Pat Bells incorporate five simple notes that sound harmonious no matter how they are played. Each colorful bell can be removed from the wooden base, allowing your child to take their favorite sound with them 😊

3 ways to play with pat bells:

  • Introduce a music scale. Encourage your child to play the bells in order, using words like “lower” and “higher.” Preschoolers may be up for the challenge of rearranging the bells. For example, they may be able to put a set that is out of order back in order from highest to lowest.
  • Play a matching game. Tap on a bell, then invite your child to tap the same one. Next, try tapping the bell twice, and invite your child to match you. Once they’re able to follow one-step directions (“tap the bell”), consider working toward two-step directions: “Tap the bell with your hand, then with your foot.”
  • Notice patterns. Use color names when tapping on each bell to help your child develop associations between color and sound. With two bells, you can introduce a simple A-B color pattern, like red, blue, red, blue. Next, you can introduce an A-B-B pattern, like green, yellow, yellow, green, yellow, yellow. Finally, add in a third color for an A-B-B-C pattern: green, yellow, yellow, blue, green, yellow, yellow, blue. Young toddlers may not successfully imitate the patterns yet, but simply recognizing how they sound is one of the foundations of both music and math.

Concertinas

The concertina, an instrument in the same family as both the accordion and harmonica, can give your child early practice coordinating their hands to play music. The Lovevery Simple Concertina’s unique design helps your child get a firm grip so they can compress and expand the instrument. Keep in mind that it may still take several tries—or even play sessions—for them to make the concertina produce sound on their own. Invite your child to hold the concertina in a way that feels comfortable to them. If they struggle to produce a sound, show them how to squeeze and expand the instrument using the handles.

3 ways to play with a concertina:

  • Up high, to the side, down low. Suggest your child try to play the concertina over their head, down low near the ground, or by dangling it up and down from one hand. This can prompt your child to grip the instrument in different ways to figure out what feels most comfortable to them. 
  • Play the concertina as a team. Try holding one end and have your young child pull and push the other end so the concertina stretches across their body. This encourages your young child to practice bringing their hands to and across their midline—an imaginary line that goes from the middle of their head down to their feet. Crossing the midline is a skill they will use when they write and tie their shoes. 
  • Practice mindful breathing. Show your child how to inhale as they expand the concertina, then exhale as they compress it. Focusing on matching their breath to the movement can help them explore early mindfulness skills.

Pan flutes

Playing a flute requires focus and deliberate breath control. These are useful skills for everything from music to organized sports to coping with big emotions. The Color Tab Pan Flute has five different holes, each with a small color tab attached that flaps when your child successfully blows across the top of the flute. This visual reinforcement tells your child how hard they need to blow in order to play a note.  

3 ways to play with a pan flute:

  • Sing into the pan flute holes. Blowing is a surprisingly advanced skill that young toddlers may still be working to develop. In the meantime, you might suggest that your child sing into the pan flute holes like a kazoo. This can help your child begin to understand how to hold the pan flute and target each individual note.
  • Learning how to blow into the flute. When your child is ready, invite them to take a deep breath before blowing into the pan flute, inhaling through their nose and exhaling through their mouth. Explain this is how they should breathe in order to play notes on the instrument. 
  • Experiment with air flow. To help your child connect the sound the flute makes to the air that flows across the top of each hole, encourage them to cover up different holes with their fingers. You can ask, “Did any sound come out that time? Why not?” 

Metronome 

A metronome helps set a beat, or tempo—which is a foundational music concept that creates a rhythm and organizes instrumental sounds into a song. The Lovevery Animal Metronome has eight different tempo settings, each one represented by an animal. For example, the snail is set to a slow tempo (40 beats per minute), and the cheetah is set to a quick tempo (208 beats per minute).

3 ways to play with a metronome: 

  • Learning the basics of tempo. Have your child choose their favorite animal on the Lovevery Animal Metronome. Ask, “Does that animal move fast or slow?” Turn the dial to the animal’s picture, then have your child jump or clap to the tempo. 
  • Sing a favorite song to different tempos. How fast can you sing “The Wheels on the Bus?” 🙃 Choose a speed, set the metronome, and tap your knees to the beat. Try singing your child’s favorite song to that tempo. Repeat with different metronome settings. 
  • Clean up to a beat. At the end of a play session, set the metronome to a slow speed and challenge your toddler to clean up to the pace. Then, increase the tempo and encourage them to change their cleaning speed. 

Arts Education Consultant Joy Marilie Jackson shares more ways to create a music-rich environment, plus fun activities you can do with The Lovevery Music Set:

Learn more about the research 

Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Norton, A., & Schlaug, G. (2008). Practicing a musical instrument in childhood is associated with enhanced verbal ability and nonverbal reasoning. PLoS One, 3(10), e3566.

Holst-Wolf, J. M., Yeh, I. L., & Konczak, J. (2016). Development of proprioceptive acuity in typically developing children: normative data on forearm position sense. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10, 436.Zentner, M., & Eerola, T. (2010). Rhythmic engagement with music in infancy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(13), 5768-5773.

Author

Team Lovevery Avatar

Team Lovevery

Visit site

Posted in: 18 - 48 Months+, Play to Learn, Playtime and Activities, Music, Playtime & Activities

Keep reading