The Melody Harp is an outstanding first instrument for children as young as 4 or 5 years old. We had bought my older daughter a guitar for her 5th birthday, because she really wanted to have "real" instruments in the house. But a guitar is always out of tune and basically requires lessons to do anything but strum. Similarly a piano is fun for playing around on, but without instruction, a child can't create any real music. Grandma got my daughter this instrument as a gift for the holidays just after she turned 5.
What's so great about the Melody Harp is that is a bona fide instrument that is easy to use, pretty self-explanatory for a young child and teaches music and note reading in a really natural way. The child simply inserts a song card underneath the strings, and follows the dots with the included pick. When we first saw this instrument in a store, my daughter sat down at it and in a matter of minutes, was producing recognizable music with absolutely no help. She was transfixed for more than a half-hour and was willing to leave only because I promised I'd put it on her "birthday list" for when family and friends asked for what she wanted. Lucky for her, Grandma was willing to oblige for birthday #6!
The dots on the path are either filled in, empty or half-filled to indicated whole, half or quarter notes (quarter notes are held for a count of 1, half notes for 2, and whole notes for 4). There is an explanation for this at the top of each card (which also offers the explanation of short, medium or long notes if you don't want to use the musical terms yet. You can choose to explain this to your child, or for younger children just allow them to apply rhythm based on their familiarity with the songs.
What I love about the Melody Harp, in addition to the "jump right in" nature of being able to play music, is that the very design creates an introduction of how to read music. The strings on the instrument mimic an extended musical staff – so kids get an immediate sense that higher pitch notes reside on respectively higher lines and lower notes on lower lines. The fill-in length indicators are a simpler introduction to traditional rhythm markers. Eventually they can learn to count proper rhythms and develop a sense for pitch relative to placement. If they do encounter true note-reading later in life it won't be like getting hit with a whole foreign language, but more of a refinement on a concept they have already grasped.
It is important to note that if you get this instrument, you'll have to tune it and keep it tuned. It does come with a standard metal tuning wrench, and it's pretty simple to use. You will need to have a keyboard available to tune it, or you can purchase a C-to-C pitch pipe (I've linked to an inexpensive one below). You do need to have a good enough ear to match the pitch. If you don't, you can buy an automatic electronic tuner, which will basically tell you whether the string is flat or sharp (high or low) and tell you when you've made the match (I've linked one of those below as well!). Once you've tuned it up the first time (if you are giving this as a gift, do it before you wrap it up, because it will be impossible for little ones to wait while you tune), it seems pretty easy to keep in tune by checking the scale every week or so and fine tuning either against your own ear, or a scale on the keyboard or pitch pipe if needed. The Melody Harp comes with a tuning card you can insert that gives you the letter names of the notes for each string, as well as a graphical picture of the keyboard to show you which key to press for each string.
The instrument also has a lifetime string replacement guarantee and comes with one extra string to get you started. It also includes a pick, little rubber feet to stick on the bottom and 12 "traditional" starter songs. I will say that the songs could be a little more accessible for today's kids than they are, but you can also buy inexpensive additional songpacks of Children's Songs, Folk Songs and Christmas Songs. You can also buy blank cards to make your own songs, which is pretty cool!
I think the Melody Harp is an absolutely fantastic gift for a young child who wants to create recognizable music in the home. It can introduce a child to the gift of music without an investment in a costly instrument, lessons or excessive practice, which if done too early can turn some kids away from music as easily as it can turn them onto it. It's easy to figure out with little or even no explanation. I'm so glad that my daughters have this lovely instrument in the house.
Accessories and Music:
Melody Harp Carrying Case
Write Your Own Songs Manuscript Pack by Trophy Music
Folk Songs #1 Music Pack
Folk Songs #2 Music Pack
To tune the instrument, if you don't have a keyboard handy, you'll need a pitch pipe:
Or if you aren't confident about matching the pitch with the pipe yourself, try an automatic electronic tuner that tells you when you've tuned correctly.