Pros: Fun games and freedom to explore capture the wonder, energy, and spirit of orchestral music.
Cons: Visual style is busy, and there's no way to track progress.
Bottom Line: Kids will delight in this wonderful digital update of a classic celebration of orchestral music.
Music teachers might use this app for an in-class activity or homework for a lesson that introduces the instruments of the orchestra. Teachers might also use this as a good introduction to a unit on music history, music theory, or careers in the arts.
Editor's Note: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra is no longer available.
In 1946, English composer Benjamin Britten composed "The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra," which features a theme from another English composer, Henry Purcell, and illustrates the different voices and characteristics of orchestral instruments.
This app offers a brightly colored, beautifully designed digital extension of Britten’s classic work. Kids can listen to a recording of an orchestra playing the piece and toggle between a video of the players and the conductor’s score. Four built-in games are included: The aural quiz challenges students to identify instruments from sound clips, the personality quiz leads to video interviews with professional musicians, the variation game lets students create their own variations on a theme, and the fugue game lets them design a performance of the piece with their own combination of instruments.
Part of the appeal of Britten’s piece is its deliberate approach. Listeners get the chance to explore the instruments one by one, section by section, slowly comparing and contrasting as the theme recurs in each variation. This app re-creates that exploration thoughtfully: Kids can touch illustrations of the instruments to hear them one by one, or they can read along with the musical score, seeing the relationship between the composer’s notations and the sounds they hear. While the playful visual style might seem frivolous to some, the content is solid. The aural quiz gets increasingly tricky and challenging with each level, and the fugue game gives students a taste of musical arrangement and voicing. The video clips are especially absorbing. Watching the instruments being played is exciting, and seeing the same musicians reflecting on their lives in music is interesting.
The original "Young Person’s Guide" wasn’t meant to be a one-stop shop to teach children everything about reading or playing music, and this app won’t do that either. That being said, these absorbing games and engaging videos will certainly capture the imagination and interest of the children who use it. With added context from a teacher or parent, this app can continue Britten’s legacy by helping another generation of children discover the world of orchestral music.