Mozart Interactive is a children’s interactive music app for the iPad put out by the developer Melody Street, which is behind a suite of bubbly, animated musical experiences for kids. The concept is pretty simple: As a movement from a piece of classical music plays, an animated sequence accompanies it. At various points throughout the movement, characters on the screen prompt the user to make a decision: Which instrument should take the melody at the upcoming phrase? Violin? French horn? Flute? A timer ticks down as the child makes his or her decision, and a large number of overall combinations are possible.
The app’s main human character is played by a kid named Ethan Bortnick, whom I did not recognize upon first seeing, though some might. He’s apparently had his own PBS concert special, along with dozens of other high-profile live performances. You first notice that he’s not just some child actor when you see his hands on the piano – he’s actually playing, with a scary kind of exactness, which should have been the first clue that this is the sort of 12-year-old who has a bigger Wikipedia page than Greenwich Mean Time. The musical piece featured in the app is “Rondo alla Turca,” the final movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11, and Bortnick, like Mozart himself, is a prodigy and a young composer.
The app’s main strength is that it helps a kid see how music is all about choices—that sonatas don’t spring out of the composer’s mind fully-formed, and that even decisions as seemingly insignificant as which instruments you choose to play the melody and in which order have a profound impact on the emotional signature of a piece of music.
On top of that, I’m pretty convinced it’s just generally a good idea to get kids trying to wrap their brains around the mechanics of music at a young age. Even if your child isn’t cut out for drafting operas in the crib, some research shows that a moderate amount of juvenile musical instruction makes a big difference in the brain. This study, published in the journal Brain in 2006, shows that children who underwent a year of musical training (when compared to a control group of children who had no musical training) showed “a larger and earlier N250m peak in the left hemisphere” of the brain, in response to a recording of a violin, as opposed to a burst of noise. This suggests that early musical training can help program your auditory cortex for “sound categorization and/or involuntary attention” down the road. Most instructors will also tell you that it’s just plain hard to pick up musical training as an adult, so it’s best to lay some neurological foundations for music when you’re a kid.