As the world unfolds before your toddler, you, as a parent, want to present experiences which will not only delight your child, but which also will inspire him or her to build upon these early encounters. You seek books with beautiful illustrations, take your child to the natural history museum, smell flowers together in the park, share the taste of raspberries off the bush. Invariably, after the eyes, the nose, and the taste buds are taken care of, one thinks of the ears. A CD/MP3 player in the baby’s room and a collection of CDs that also travel to the car are a great idea… and then you see the set of plastic rhythm band instruments in the toy store. STOP!
Listen to the Rhythm
A collection of rhythm instruments can be some of a child’s favorite toys. They will offer hours of entertainment for both the parent and the child, as even you, the parent, discover that almost any piece of music is more fun if you can play along. You can play along with anything, from Bach to Tchaikovsky to Raffi. You are not destroying the music, but rather discovering rhythms, volume, texture – and just having fun. Your child will intuitively discover how rhythms change and how to listen for loud and soft.
The beginning of the experience will be like parallel play in the playground; the recorded music will do its thing and your child will play whatever he or she feels like playing. Soon, however, your child will begin to pick up cues and he or she will discover that it is possible to march to the music and play the drum, tambourine or triangle in time with it.
You Get What You Pay For
If rhythm band instruments are such fun, why don’t you just purchase that brightly colored plastic set at the toy store? The answer is simple: when you purchase rhythm band instruments you are purchasing sound, and plastic instruments sound like plastics food tastes. In short, it is worth the trip to the local music store and a visit to the percussion section. In order to get what you are looking for, however, you may need a few tips.
First, don’t be put off by the company: you probably will find yourself surrounded by at least a few purple-haired rock drummers. Second, do not admit that you are buying for a 3-year old; a small fib like, “I’m buying these for my step-son; he’s 17 and is into percussion,” will help you with the sales-man. (No one will believe that you are buying high quality instruments for a toddler.) Third, in addition to the list below, look for anything that looks like it is fun to play. Try everything! If you do not find it fun to play and do not like the sound, I guarantee that your child will be equally bored with the instrument.
Percussion Instruments and Imaginative Play
The first instrument which you want is a tambourine. Good tambourines are fairly tough and make lots of noise. (You will be amazed at how quickly you can feel like a Spanish dancer with one of these in your own living room!) Hand drums also can be found and should have a nice, fat sound. If you purchase a snare drum you must also purchase sticks and a stand. This is a more substantial investment, but any 3-year-old will love it! (Price: $100 - $150) Triangles come in several sizes – I recommend a medium. Price often determines quality; again, listen and compare. (Price $10-$12; the beater comes with it.) Good marachas, like tambourines, not only make prettier sounds but also can produce a much bigger sound than the toy variety. Claves are two sticks that you hit together, a simple idea but a good set makes a great sound. Wood blocks make several sounds and are hit with a stick (which you purchase separately). And after that, you are on your own. Look, ask to try, listen. If it is fun and it if fits within your budget, buy it!
This will be the beginning of your child’s instrument collection. If your child enjoys them, you will move on to the trumpet mouthpiece, the harmonica, the penny whistle and the recorder. Unlike the plastic set, these instruments will never be thrown out. Ours are packed every summer and always find their way into the picnic basket. To the surprise of many, wafting across the bay on the way home from a day’s sailing, one can hear strains of Gilbert and Sullivan or “Baby Beluga,” as the instruments purchased when our boys were toddlers are still brought out, played and enjoyed.
Simon, Bonnie. “I Got Rhythm: Buying Quality Percussion Instruments for Your Preschooler.” Washington Parent July/August 1996: Print