Chrome Music Lab

Chrome Music Lab is a collection of 13 free online musical ‘toys’ that let kids (and adults) play with music and in the process, learn something about pitch, rhythm, and structure.

Chrome Music Lab

They require no instruments or musical knowledge. The site relies on JavaScript, which is supported on all browsers on all devices.

Each ‘toy’ (or ‘experiment’ or ‘app’ etc.) focuses on a different aspect of music and all differ in how technical they are. None are difficult to use. Young (3- or 4-years old) kids seem to enjoy Kandinsky and Oscillators, which make fun musical sounds based on the user’s mouse movements. While slightly older kids can get into constructing melodies, playing with modifications of their voices, or exploring visualization of tone and rhythm.

Overall, it’s fun and educational for kids, and a great alternative to videos or video games during ‘screen time’.

From their website: "Chrome Music Lab is a collection of experiments that let anyone, at any age, explore how music works. They’re collaborations between musicians and coders, all built with the freely available Web Audio API."

musiclab.chromeexperiments.com

The site is not just free, but has no ads of any kind.

One drawback we found is that there seem to be memory issues with JavaScript on some browsers, so using the site for a while will fill up memory and slow everything down. Quitting the browser and opening it again seemed to take care of it.

Andrew & Polly

Price: $8.99

This duo came out with one of the catchiest songs of the year in 2015.

Years later, one of us (parents) spontaneously starts singing this song.

Their music is catchy and funny and everyone loves it.

From their website:

Andrew & Polly compose and produce songs and score for children’s television, advertising and independent film. Polly Hall is an Emmy-Nominated songwriter and Andrew Barkan has composed score for over 45 independent films, including five features. Their advertising experience includes work for GE, Levi’s, Toyota, Nike, Starbucks and Sprint. Their work in children’s television includes songs for Wallykazam, the score to the Nick Digital Series “Welcome to the Wayne,” the score for “The Outsiders” and digital projects for Sesame Studios and Disney.

Lucy Kalantari

Whether with TV shows, music, movies, videogames, or books, a challenge is finding stuff that the kids like that we parents can also enjoy, or at least tolerate, even when it’s just the noise we hear on a device from across the room. This is especially true with music when driving. Lucy Lalantari is a recent discovery, who makes music that both the kids and parents can enjoy, and I mean not just grudgingly tolerate but actually enjoy.

From her website:

Kalantari went to the Purchase Conservatory of Music for composition and production. She has published many works in various genres spanning from singer-songwriter to industrial rock. After being introduced to the ukulele by a colleague, her writing took a shift as she created sounds inspired from the bygone jazz era. Listeners likened her laid back voice to that of Billie Holiday, and Kalantari herself noticed how natural it felt to sing and write in this genre.

Two months after giving birth to her son, she participated in a song-a-week project in 2013 while staying home with her newborn. She found herself with a handful of upbeat ukulele ditties pleasing to babies and adults alike. This collection became her debut into the kids independent music scene, as she released Pockets Full of Joy, in 2014. Pockets landed a Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Award and earned a place in The Best Kids Music of 2014, by Cooper & Kid.

The sound is very New York, and the prominent clarinet in many tracks gives it an almost klezmer sound, reminiscent of Woody Allen movie soundtracks. Some of her songs are very much kid songs, others are grown-up jazz songs, and some are specifically songs for parents.

Steam Powered Giraffe

Price: $8.99

It has been fascinating to watch this band evolve over the past ten years. From busking at Balboa park in San Diego to a huge theatrical production on a constant nationwide tour.

From their website:

Steam Powered Giraffe is a musical project from San Diego, California. It was formed in 2008 by twin siblings David Michael Bennett and Isabella “Bunny” Bennett. Together, along with a cast and crew filled with theatrical backgrounds, the group takes on the guise of singing antique automatons and the fictional robotics company that made them.

The quirky act combines comedic sketches, improvised android banter, and original music fused with multimedia visuals, billowing steam effects, and robot pantomime.

Our 4-year old often asks to watch their songs on YouTube, the two below being the favorites:

The concept is of self-aware robots that perform music, but the story is far deeper than that, with an almost unbelievable amount of backstory that explains the origins of the robots as well as a set of very surreal comics.

The songs are fun and energetic with a combination of old-timey melodies and steampunk stylings. Although some aspects of the performance are outrageous, it remains family-friendly.

More at their site

Bad Lip Reading Star Wars Songs

BLR is a YouTube phenomenon. A guy dubs over news clips and videos with silly nonsense and sometimes songs. The songs are very, very good – well-composed, well-performed and sung, and slickly produced. His re-dubs of music videos are better than the originals.

Not all of them are particularly kid-friendly, but most are.

In 2016, Disney hired him to create some dubs of clips from the original Star Wars trilogy, with guest star help from Jack Black and others, in order to promote the new Star Wars film. These are pretty good, but Disney has a way of inserting crude sexual humor into kids’ media. I assume their intention is to make it more entertaining for the adults watching, but it ends up being awkward and feeling inappropriate.

However, the BLR guy included little tunes in these dubs and then went ahead and produced full song videos from them. They are excellent. The kids and I have watched these several dozen times.

I’m not a fan of how Disney has treated the Star Wars franchise, partly because of the fetishization of the Empire instead of the rebels, partly because the new ones are so much more violent than the originals, and also because the writing for episode 7 felt like mere fan fiction.

So, the kids haven’t seen the new ones. But they still love the figures and the Lego sets and the aesthetic.

Rolling Stone has an interview with the creator, as does The Washington Post. And The Village Voice has a more recent one as well.


And a list of funny, catchy Star Wars songs would be incomplete without these:

KidsTV123

We try to restrict ‘screen time’ to weekends and when we do let the kids use our phones or the iPad we try to limit video usage to PBS Kids, Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. YouTube is a special case because of the quantity of ads, but also because of the content of the ads, which often is not appropriate. Further, YouTube, with its vast store of content, is a rabbit hole of discovery that can lead to inappropriate videos. An innocent search for ‘batman’, for example, can turn up raunchy spoofs that a 5-year-old should not see.

There are some (many, really) exceptions however, and we try to make sure we are around to supervise in order to prevent wandering into the YouTube equivalent of the wrong side of the tracks.

One of these exceptions is the set of ~200 videos from the unmemorably-named KidsTV123 which has had over 3 billion views since 2009.

Price: $12.00
Price: $12.00

My kids have many favorites, but the ones we adults sometimes catch ourselves humming aloud are

and

Many of the songs are true earworms, and the songwriter is a master of melody. The animation is very simple – the kind of thing that would never get distributed by a commercial network, but the kids don’t seem to care. In fact, the simplicity is part of the appeal.

The singer (and presumably also the songwriter and guitarist) is a bit of a mystery. His FAQ is not generous with details. The Week tried to profile him but came up short. But that anonymity adds to the allure and helps separate the music from the creator.

Schoolhouse Rock

Price: Check on Amazon

Schoolhouse Rock was a big part of my childhood. ABC would show the ~3-minute cartoons during ad breaks on Saturday mornings. “Conjunction Junction” was probably the most memorable for me.

But then the 70s ended and the series was mostly unavailable until Disney bought the rights and began releasing them. And they are now available on DVD.

The set is worth having. There are 46 songs, which is well enough to keep kids occupied while learning.

I had though the old-fashioned hand-animation style wouldn’t be appealing to my kids, but they didn’t seem to care. The cartoons that resonated most with them were “Lolly Lolly Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here”, “Figure 8”, “3 is a Magic Number”, and “Interjections!”. We sang and hummed those songs for a long time after watching the DVDs.

The CD is separate from the DVD.

In my opinion, the math ones had the best music and the history ones were the weakest, but it’s still a good gift.

Philadelphia Chickens

This is a unique book. Sandra Boynton (most famous for desktop calendars and coffee mugs with phrases such as “Don’t Let the Turkeys Get You Down”) wrote a musical and got performers (Kevin Bacon, Eric Stoltz, Meryl Streep, etc.) to sing the songs on the included CD.

The CD is about 48 minutes long and includes 20 songs. The book includes illustrations and lyrics in the first half, and sheet music for all songs in the second half. A younger child can listen to the songs while following along in the book, and an older child can try to play along using the sheet music.

The inclusion of celebrities on the recordings will not appeal to kids, but it’s fun for adults to hear the actor Scott Bakula sing about Pig Island:

The only way to get there is by Piggy Express — You’ve got to close your eyes and then whisper, “OOO, YES!”

The music itself is not remarkable. The melodies are not memorable enough to have you humming them afterward. The fun is in the words and the pictures.

Backyardigans

This is a Nick Jr. cartoon that was very popular with our kids. The music is particularly good.

5 animal friends play together with a different theme (Egypt, under-the-sea, space, cowboy, etc.) each episode. The friends take turns being the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ and the overall tone is very kind and gentle.

It ran from 2004 to 2010 with a total of 80 episodes.

You can watch for free at NickJr.com if you have a cable tv account, and it’s available on amazon’s streaming video service as well. (And they’re all on YouTube too, although you may have to hunt for them.)

Smithsonian Folkways Children’s Collection

This was a Christmas gift and a surprise huge hit with the kids. We had it in the car for a long road trip to their grandpa and nana’s house and we ended up playing it over and over and for weeks later. It is one of very few CDs where the kids want to sing along and some of the songs are so catchy that all of us (adults too) often randomly start singing one chorus or another around the house.

More information on the Smithsonian site:

“Twenty-six songs, play-party games, and poems selected from over 200 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and Folkways Records present a panorama of music performed for and by young children. Includes notes, song texts, and a complete list of recordings for children. Well-loved songs and unexpected treasures from Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Langston Hughes, Ella Jenkins, Suni Paz, Pete Seeger, and others.”