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February 2021 | Vol. XX - No. 2


Musical Toys Fastest Growing Sectors of the Toy Industry

Can music make your child smarter?

Musical training does shape structural brain development. Long-term instrumental music training is an intense, multisensory, and motor experience and offers an ideal opportunity to study structural brain plasticity in the developing brain in correlation with behavioral changes induced by training. --- Jason Lerch, Andrea Norton, Marie Forgeard, Ellen Winner, Alan C. Evans, Gottfried Schlaug | 11 March 2009,  (

In 1974, Desmond Sergeant and Gillian Thatcher said: "All highly intelligent people are not necessarily musical, but all highly musical people are apparently highly intelligent."

Studies on the “Mozart Effect” suggest that children under 3 who are exposed to the composer’s music have increased brain development. Other studies indicate that such exposure appears to confer increased temporal-spatial reasoning skills. The net benefit is that such skills can enhance a person’s lifetime abilities in science, chess, math and engineering. It’s an intriguing, if unproven concept.

Musical toys bring the sounds of music into the home without the expense of purchasing real instruments. While some musical toys offer full creativity to children, others simply require that children participate and prerecorded tunes are piped out for them. In many cases, a child’s experience with "pretend" instruments can shape their musical aspirations in later life. Whatever a child’s age, there are plenty of music related toys to stimulate the brain in a fun way.

Musical Toys Trending in 2020 and 2021

Driven by social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok that have become incubators for viral music and dance crazes, toys that get kids moving and grooving are expected to grow in the toy aisles. This trend includes toys inspired by music-infused social platforms, channels, and programming; innovative new audio players that encourage screen-free play; toys that encourage kids to mix and make their own music; unboxing toys that incorporate music into the reveals; and, of course, classic musical toys -- TIA

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Musical toys make up one of the fastest growing sectors of the toy industry

As many first-time parents are waiting until they are older and more established in their careers before they start families, they are much more aware of the benefits of early music exposure in developing children's brains and generally have the financial ability to indulge in these kinds of learning-specific products.

It's an awareness Carol Penney has seen in her 20 years as an educator with Kindermusik, one of the largest music instruction franchises in North America. "We've long known the power of music to energize and console," she notes. She thinks parents are well aware of the benefits.  She is excited that the whole industry recognized years ago that music has many benefits.

While the educational component of a toy does influence many parents' purchasing decisions, the bottom line for most experts is the toy still has to be fun. Any educational benefits are enhanced if the parent and the child play with the toy together.

"Music becomes part of the family bonding," explains Penney. "[Parents] are seeking out the long-range benefits of music. Our wish is that music has become a part of every day life."

Interestingly, for years, the fastest growing group of new musical students has been the 25-55 year olds, according to the Music Teachers National Association. Older students gain the same benefits younger students receive, such as increased mental acuity and abstract reasoning skills, creative outlets and anxiety reducing physical, mental and social activity. There are also studies that connect music making with wellness as reported by the Music Making and Wellness project done by researchers at the University of Miami.

Parents and mentors firmly believe that passing these benefits on to their young ones is an excellent idea.

Children can sometimes be frustrated by the countless hours of practice needed to play the violin, piano, or other musical instruments. Parents may have had the same experience with musical training in their youth--maybe even quitting before learning to play the instrument well.

Tod Machover, a composer and professor of music and media, and his research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass., developed a line of musical toys that can be learned in a very short time--allowing players to achieve a basic level of understanding in three to five two-hour sessions.

In 2004, the musical toys were used in Machover´s Toy Symphony, an international music performance and education project. The project was co-sponsored by MIT Media Consortia Fund, Yamaha, Sega, Fisher-Price, and Mattel.

Toy Symphony music toys developed by the MIT team include:

  • Beatbugs : hand held percussive instruments that respond to movement
  • Hyperscore : a toy that uses software to draw lines that turn into music compositions
  • Hyperviolin : a "hyperinstrument" that is driven by synthesis software and wireless technology within an enhanced violin bow

"The music toys developed for Toy Symphony help children to have a direct, complete and compelling experience with music so that they can fall in love with music-making first, and become motivated to learn deeper skills later,” Machover said.

Machover invented Hyperinstruments in 1997. "The original idea was to give live performing musicians the ability to control and shape a vast amount of digital music technology through natural musical skills in a live performance context..." Machover explained.

"This concept grew over the years, and became a more general technique for enhancing musical expression...from all kinds of musicians, from some of the world´s greatest performers--from Yo-Yo Ma to Prince--to the general kids--in Toy Symphony," Machover added.

Music Improves Learning Skills

Machover said that that there is growing evidence in literature that music is connected to most other forms of learning and that excellence in music-making improves many other skills. According to Machover, "music combines more mental functions than almost any other human activity."

The MIT developed Hyperinstruments and Music Toys to find a "balance between the passivity of the so-called Mozart effect," which Machover says they do not believe in, and the years of traditional instrumental training, "which, while a great discipline, may not fully exercise the musical mind," Machover said.

"Music Toys hit a sweet spot of creative and imaginative discipline and exercise," Machover explained.

Based on this technology, Fisher-Price will begin selling Symphony Painter, a music composition tool, in October. The Symphony Painter will be sold as an “add-on” cartidge to Pixter Color, Fisher-Price’s hand-held digital drawing platform. Using the Symphony Painter, children can convert their Pixter paintings into music. Different colors and strokes create musical elements.


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