#parent | #kids | The 8 Best Electronic Music Toys for Kids

That said, while you can get some pretty incredible results out of the Pocket Operators—just check this on-the-fly cover of Röyksopp’s “Poor Leno,” created entirely on the PO-33—programming sequences and tweaking sounds takes some patience, and prior experience with pattern-based sequencers wouldn’t hurt. Smaller children probably won’t get much out of the instrument. (It’s also a pretty no-frills affair, essentially just a metal circuit board with some buttons and an LCD screen; you might consider an optional silicon case, though you’ll need to break the detachable metal hanger off the unit to make it fit.) But older kids will have a blast banging out simple grooves, and given the way kids’ brains work, they’ll probably have an easier time figuring out its intricacies than you will. The complexity of the feature set means that there’s really no ceiling to what they can do with it, provided they put in the time. Want proof? Veteran American breakcore producer Dev/Null created his new album Microjunglizm entirely on the PO-33, and it bangs.

Age Range: 6+
Power Source: 2x AAA battery
Audio: Built-in speaker, headphone jack
Connectivity: CV sync

Teenage Engineering PO-33 Pocket Operator KO

Tasos Stamou is a musician and instrument maker who hacks, or “circuit bends,” old toys and electronic devices to make far-out musical gizmos. (I haven’t actually tried any of these, but they come highly recommended by friends.) His Modified Peppa Pig Toy Sampler adds pitch control to its bevy of preset sounds; the Paper Jamz Pro Mic Aetherial Noise Generator generates bizarre drones; the Computerized Arcade Melody Sequencer turns an old Radio Shack toy from the ’80s into a synth and sequencer with a bleepy, dub-siren effect. If you have dreams of bringing up your kid to be the next Dan Deacon, any of these would be a good place to start.

Age Range: For bigger kids and young-at-heart grownups
Power Source: varies
Audio: varies
MIDI: varies

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Circuit Bent Toys by Stamou Instruments

At some point in my daughter’s infancy, we discovered a silly little toy called the Tap & Play Magic Piano. Jam the device’s cables into pieces of fruit—apple, banana, orange, whatever—then touch them, and the toy plays a different note for each piece of fruit. A little gimmicky, sure, but kids love it. (If you don’t feel like wasting fruit, you can also use Silly Putty.) They seem to have gone off the market in the U.S. (though Spain’s Eurekakids still has them). But Playtronica’s Playtron takes the same functionality and, paired with its computer app, lets you use objects—fruit, vegetables, glasses of water, house plants—as an ad-hoc MIDI controller for sampling, performing, and sequencing sounds. It’s pricier than the Tap & Play Magic Piano was, but the creative possibilities are considerably greater.

Age Range: 3+ (with parental help)
Power Source: n/a
Audio: Only via computer (or tablet/phone)

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Honestly, you can’t go wrong with a simple Casio keyboard, and this model, which has been around for a while, is a great starting point. Don’t let the model numbers confuse you: The SA-76 has an orange base, the SA-77 has a gray base, and the SA-78 has a pink base. This was one of the first musical purchases we made once my daughter had progressed beyond the xylophone-and-shakers stage, and we still get plenty of use out of it. The keys are sized for smaller hands, yet the 44-key length (three and a half scales, basically) offers a nice amount of range. There are 100 preset sounds to choose from, ranging from stock piano and organ sounds up through reeds and guitars to percussion and white noise, plus five drum pads to bang on. Eight-voice polyphony lets beginning players and straight-up fist-mashers make satisfyingly rich sounds by playing up to eight notes at once. It’s chintzy, but in a way that will probably sound appealing to parents who grew up on indie music. The demo songs will drive you crazy, but if your kids are like mine, they will also love them.

Age Range: 2+
Power Source: 6x AA battery, AC adaptor
Audio: Built-in speakers, headphone out

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The Otamatone is a popular Japanese musical toy that resembles an elongated eighth note (also a tadpole and a ladle—both of which, it turns out, are called “otamajakushi (おたまじゃくし)” in Japanese). A ribbon controller runs the length of the thing: Squeeze to play single notes, slide to connect two notes with a swooping portamento effect. Squeeze the mouth at the base to create a “wah” effect, or shake the instrument to create vibrato. Parents may find it a little creepy; kids will probably think it’s adorable. I haven’t tried one; this classically trained cellist says that they’re actually surprisingly hard to play. But hey, 35 bucks and a little practice might just turn your kid into the next TikTok star.

Age Range: 6 months+
Power Source: 3xAAA batteries
Audio: Built-in speaker
MIDI: no

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