The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.
Share this review on
I bought this piano for my daughter's first Christmas in 2007. It cost £20 from Boots and was in the 3 for 2 deal. It's the same price and in the same deal this year, and available from a wide variety of other stockists; Early Learning Centre, Argos and Amazon being some of them. At the time of buying I was wandering around the store with my then five month old daughter who was not in a happy mood. I took her to the toy section to distract her and plonked this piano on her knee, she looked rather startled, but interested, and began to frown and poke at it. The unhappy noise stopped and was replaced by an electronic one which meant I was able to do a bit of shopping in relative peace. At that time anything that could stop my daughter crying for more than thirty seconds seemed miraculous and I decided that this could be a Christmas present for that year, (even though she'd seen it, and sure enough when Christmas Day came it was still a surprise!).
The recommended age for this is from 6 to 30 months. My daughter is now coming up to two and a half and still enjoys playing with it, so it has had plenty of use and, despite being occasionally rather annoying, was a good buy. There is quite a lot to it so unless you're especially interested you might want to skip to the pros and cons paragraph near the end where I sum it up.
When you switch it on a chirpy little voice shouts out 'It's Showtime!', and launches into a song, (to the tune of 'Skip to my Lou'), which implores you to; "come play with your animal friends, the fun and music never ends, play the piano and sing too, there's so much for us to do", then yells "Come and Play with us!" Oh yes, I know it all off by heart. My husband has been known to switch it off in annoyance and put a ban on it, but I can let the noise go over my head. I've noticed that Mums seem to be able to manage this kind of feat much better than Dads, at least that's true of my acquaintance! There is, importantly, a volume button, so it can be on loud or extra loud. Why anyone would choose to have it on the higher setting is beyond me, although now my daughter can switch it to this, she does so. The quieter setting is definitely loud enough. It took a while for my little one to get to grips with the on/off, modes setting and volume buttons as they are small and quite stiff for a young child, (I think it was better when I had full control of them).
The piano has five broad colourful keys and there is a fat blue and white drum pad at the left hand side. The drum pad doesn't seem to vary much as far as I can tell, after saying 'kick to the beat', it plays three different percussion beats on three pressings, but it is the easiest button for very little hands to press. There is,(was), a microphone attached to this side. On the right hand side there is a little round speaker and a blue plastic puppy,(the composer). At six months old this was the bit my daughter favoured. Obviously that puppy looks really juicy to a little teething one, and, if you push it, it barks! Holding and moving the puppy can also make the music speed up or slow down.
Above the keys there are five light up buttons shaped like musical notes, these light up to the music and can be quite manic. Above them is a little book with three scenes entitled - 'shapes', 'animals' and 'nursery'. As you turn a page there is a musical sound and a phrase such as, 'Jam With the Band!', and the button and key responses change. The pages are strong and despite them being a bit bent, I can vouch for the fact that they are made of durable material.
Each piano key and light up button is associated with an animal. There is a cat on the red key, a monkey on the orange, a pig, a bird and an elephant. They each play their own musical instrument and are used help to illustrate various things on the pages, eg on one page the cat is reading a book which, we are told, is shaped like a square.
There are two modes of play; music and learning and there are three sections to each, denoted by which page of the book is open. It's a bit difficult to remember what does what at first, I remember my daughter wanting to hear a particular song one day and it took me aeons to work out how to find it.
Music Mode When in music mode, it doesn't matter which page of the book you are on, pressing the piano keys on their own will always sound a note enabling the user to make up tunes. If you press a key when a tune is playing it will stop and let you 'pretend play' it yourself, one note at a time, but if you stop, it will return to playing normally. This means the player can give the impression of actually playing the tune themselves, if they/you should find them/yourself so inclined, (Okay I admit I have on the odd occasion been seen pretending to play one of the tunes while my daughter tries to wrestle the piano from my grip).
Pressing the buttons will result in tunes being played, two to each button on some pages, or songs being sung. You can make the animals miaow/grunt/tweet etc to different melodies by pressing the keys or buttons when a tune is underway. One of the things I originally found a bit frustrating was that once a tune was underway it continued to the end, there's no cancel button. However -useful tip - I have discovered that in effect the red button on the microphone stand acts as a cancel button; whenever it's pressed a voice says, 'use the microphone to sing along!', but it can just be pressed to stop a tune and then quickly overridden by another button.
All of the tunes are well known, some very obvious ones such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Hickory Dickory Dock, others annoying in that you know the tune but can't put a name to it, (unless you're a musical know-all). There is a melody list in the instruction booklet but I don't think everything is actually covered on it.
Learning Mode In learning mode the keys will teach colours by saying the colour of the key that is being pressed. Shape names are taught on the shapes page, ("The sail on the boat is shaped like a triangle"), and instrument sounds are also taught - eg the words, 'the bird is playing the violin', followed by a bit of violin playing. Then there are animal noises to be learned too, "miaow like the cat, miaow, miaow", and so on. Various other noises come into play and new words may be learned as the animals undertake simple activities like the cat fishing in the pond. Songs are played in learning mode too, the five songs on the 'Nursery' page are sung in both modes.
The Microphone There is a microphone which allows your child's, (or your own), voice to come out of the speaker if they sing along. The one on our toy didn't last long. There were a couple of problems with it. The first, which is the same for all of them, was that the lead was a bit short. I appreciate that this is probably for health and safety reasons, no one wants to see their child strangled by a toy, however, it means sitting uncomfortably close to the piano to sing into it as well as encouraging inadvertent rough handling. We soon had a problem with a loose connection, (probably caused by a good yank), which meant that the output was crackly and sometimes just touching the microphone made the whole thing crackle annoyingly. My husband 'fixed' it temporarily by shortening the lead even further, but it soon packed in altogether so we removed it.
Automatic Power Down - If the piano is left untouched but switched on it will continue to try and attract your attention by shouting 'come and play with us' and various other musical entreaties, until after a while, (the booklet says 30 seconds but I'm certain it's a lot lot longer), it says 'bye bye', and shuts up. If you have any other Vtech toys you will recognise the voice as it seems to be the same one on all the Vtech toys I've heard.
It takes 3 AA batteries. For some reason in the instruction booklet Vtech state in big letters that they do not recommend the use of rechargeable batteries. Having only just noticed this all I can say is that I have been using rechargeable batteries in it for the last two years without any noticeable ill effects. They've been changed no more than a handful of times over this period and my daughter does play with it a fair bit. Having said this, bear in mind that she doesn't have lots of toys, because for various reasons, I don't think it's good for children to have too many.
Fun for Fun's Sake On the Vtech website this is sold as an educational toy and much is made of the 'developmental benefits'. I'm a bit fed up of hearing this sort of thing on children's toys. As a rule I'm not a fan of noisy plastic toys. I think plain old wooden/soft non electrical items are often a lot better, as the child has to use their own imagination instead of having everything done for them. I suspect many/all the claims these kind of toys make are really just so much claptrap. Children learn more from being with their families and interacting with real people than with lumps of plastic, no matter how bright they flash or how many different noises they make. 'Encourages auditory stimulation' is one of the terms used about this toy on the Vtech website. I mean, come on, 'auditory stimulation?' isn't that what happens every time you hear a noise?! Children learn every minute from every thing around them. Just let it be fun.
To sum up the pros and cons: There are plenty of tunes and songs which little ones like and other fun features like animal noises. The chunky keys are good for little fingers to get to grips with and all those sounds and flashing colours make it a good distraction for crying babies. It could possibly encourage further interest in music. There may be something in the 'developmental benefits' such as language development, certainly there are close links between music and language so who knows, it might well help with speech. It's not too pricey. Apart from the microphone it seems quite hardy, ours has certainly taken a bit of a bashing and survived well. It teaches shapes and colours in learning mode or can be played simply as a piano in music mode. It can seem a bit complicated and difficult to work out. I think it could be over stimulating for a baby, especially in combination with other things going on such as more toys. The noise can be repetitive and irritating. The microphone seems fragile, ours didn't last long.
I've seen my daughter progress from being barely able to press the keys, through bouncing happily to the tunes although not knowing how she's made them happen, to eventually gaining some kind of mastery over it. She now likes to play little tunes of her own composing and understands what will happen with different buttons that she presses. She knows how to get it to play Hickory Dickory Dock and other favourites. She seems to prefer the music mode over the learning mode, although she likes both. Although I wouldn't rush out to buy more of this type of toy, I do think my daughter has had good use from this one and I'm pleased that it still works well enough to be passed on for another child to have fun with.
I've knocked off a couple of stars for the faulty microphone and the irritation factor, but if I could I would actually give this 3.5 out of 5 stars.