GeekMom’s 2014 Gift Guide of Music and Listening

Music and listening

Collage: Cathe Post.

There are so many audible geeky things! Between geeky music and geeky/techy listening devices, there is no end to the gift possibilities. Read on…

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Image: murielanderson.com.

Nightlight Daylight. Daylight is a 30-song double CD set for children and others by master guitarist Muriel Anderson, featuring some of the world’s best musicians. The Nightlight CD offers soothing restful music, the Daylight CD is packed with lively tunes. A fiber-optic cover lights up with stars and fireflies when the moon is pressed. It’s a great gift for parents as well as little ones. $29.99

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Image: Rockabye Baby.

Rockabye Baby. Have someone on your list with a little one? Help nurture those budding musical tastes, with the sweet sounds of a Rockabye Baby CD. The popular music label has made it a mission to make “rock music baby-friendly and kids’ music adult-friendly.” Each full-length CD takes popular artists and turns their hits into lullabies to help baby literally rock themselves to sleep. There are CDs with jams from The Beatles, The Clash, Pearl Jam, Pink, Rush, The Police, Led Zeppelin, Dave Matthews, and too many others to list here. $14.99 each

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Image: The String Arcade.

The String Arcade. Give the gift of a little earworm. What started as a Kickstarter project is now a full-length CD, filled with all sorts of classic video game tunes. However, the hook here is that everything on this album is played by a string quartet. It features a total of 15 original arrangements, as well as two bonus CD tracks. That lineup includes “hits” from Galaga, Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, Minecraft, and more. $16.91 

Pimsleur

Pimsleur Foreign Language Instruction. Learning a new language is a great way to expand your mind and set an important example for your kids. Better yet, learn a new language with your kids. Have German heritage? Planning a trip to Japan? Found a new friend who speaks little English? Pimsleur has more language instruction programs than I’ve heard of languages.  Price Varies

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Image: The Doubleclicks.

Dimetrodon by The Doubleclicks. The geeky-sister-music-duo had a very successful Kickstarter this year and were able to release Dimetrodon. If you are not familiar with their music, check out their site. Find them on YouTube. They. Are. Awesome. $16.95

My ukulele. Photo by Ariane Coffin.

Image: Ariane Coffin.

Ukulele. Musical instruments tend to be expensive. Very expensive. Ukuleles are fun. Very fun. Also, they’re totally not expensive for a musical instrument! Get yourself or your loved one a tiny ukulele, load up a bunch of YouTube instructional videos, and learn a new skill with very little start-up cost! Warning: Ukes are totally addictive. $30 and up

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Image: Casio.

Casio CTK-2400 Keyboard. Piano is both simple and quite complicated. Simple to make a note or two or even a basic song, but complicated to master. This keyboard has instruction built in, along with plenty of fun sampling to keep you and/or your kids jamming to existing or brand-new songs. $124.66 for the set with stand, etc.; $99.99 for just the keyboard

Image: JBL.com

Image: JBL.com.

JBL Synchros S700. The Synchros S700 luxury over-the-ear headphones sets itself apart from the other Synchros models in that it’s rechargeable. The headphones have a built-in Li-ion battery that will provide the LiveStage signal processing for up to 28 hours of continuous listening. $299.99

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Image: JBL.com.

JBL Reflect. The Reflect headphones were designed with the headphones-wearing athlete in mind. One of the GeekMoms took these headphones out for several runs this past month and was absolutely enamored with their comfort and sound quality. $99.95

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Image: Amazon.

 

JBL Synchros E10. The Synchros E10 headphones are a basic model of in-ear headphones, particularly well-suited for listening to your favorite tunes while on your commute or while flying. They are super-lightweight and will coil up nice and compact for easy travel. $39.95

The JBL Synchros over-ear Bluetooth headphones are super-comfy for all-day-at-your-desk wear. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Image: Patricia Vollmer.

JBL Synchros E40BT. The JBL Synchros E40BTs are over-ear wireless Bluetooth headphones, available in a variety of colors. One of the GeekMoms thoroughly enjoyed these headphones in an office or commuter environment; she wore them for several four-hour periods listening to audio books and online job training with virtually no discomfort. They are highly recommended for those who don’t want the constraint of a cord. $149.95

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Image: id America

id America TouchTone Bluetooth Speaker. The id America TouchTone Bluetooth wireless speaker is a great value for the price. With an MSRP of only $79.99, it provides capable sound anywhere you want, without draining your bank account. Unlike the other Bluetooth speakers we’ve seen, the TouchTone talks to you! It can be used with your smart devices not only as a standard speaker, but also as a telephone speaker. $79.99

VMODA

Image: Amazon

V-MODA M-100 and VMODA XS. V-MODA has a great line of headphones for the headphone junkie. One of the GeekMoms loves her comfortable Crossfade M-100 headphones because they cover her ears nicely, while Dakster’s 9-year-old son loves the XS model because they fit his ears just right. Both models come with a sturdy case and have noise isolating features. $296 for the M-100 and $200 for the XS

Phiaton Headphones

Image: Amazon

Phiaton BT 220 NC. The active noise canceling on the Phiaton BT 220 NC earphones will block out 95 percent of surrounding noise. They are easy to pair with Apple devices and the battery lasts for at least 9 hours and then some. $159

Photo: Boom Urchin

Photo: Boom Urchin

Boom Urchin Portable Speakers. This handy little splashproof, wireless, hardy speaker will get lots of use in your household. Take your music (or wireless call) in the bathroom while you bathe the toddlers, hang it from a campsite tree with its handy hook, or just move it around the house as you go about the day. It comes in fun colors and is priced to be one of the most inexpensive exciting tech gifts under the tree. $42 and up

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Image: Amazon

Crosley Cruiser Portable Turntable. The Crosley Cruiser portable turntable is a fun and vintage addition to any music library. Thanks to it, one of the GeekMoms has been exploring the wonderful world of records with her son. There’s a fun selection of records on eBay and more current hits, like My Little Pony, at HotTopic for all to enjoy. It’s very easy to set up for record novices, too. $79.95

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Image: Amazon

TMNT Ukulele by Peavey Electronics. One of the GeekMoms says that her son loves his TMNT ukulele and enjoys making up his own tunes. It measures in at 20 inches and is made of real wood. $28

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Image: JBL

JBL Charge 2 Bluetooth Speaker. The JBL Charge 2 follows up on their 2013 popular Bluetooth model in offering compact, yet powerful, wireless sound. Expect the Charge 2 to be a bit larger and heavier, in part because of the larger bass ports that will actually vibrate when the bass is powerful enough. Like the original Charge model, expect up to 12 hours of playtime, speakerphone capability, and the ability to charge other devices via USB. Another feature that makes the Charge 2 a great gift is the ability to connect up to three Bluetooth users at once to a single speaker, allowing multiple playlists to become available at once. $149.99

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Image: Amazon

Harman/Kardon Esquire Mini Bluetooth Speaker. We have one word for this portable Bluetooth speaker: “sexy.” That sounds strange, but the trim size, sophisticated design, and powerful sound turn the Harman Esquire Mini into a holiday must-have. The size of a Samsung 5 or iPhone 6 Plus, this speaker easily fits into your pocket, ready to grace audiences with its elegance. Not only does this speaker work to provide sound for your favorite music or video, but you can also use the Esquire Mini’s speakerphone capabilities as a classy-looking office conferencing system. In addition, you can charge your devices with a USB connection. The kickstand easily folds into the unit when not in use, and the Esquire includes a real leather strap for easy carrying. $149.99

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Image: JBL

JBL Flip 2 Bluetooth Speaker. JBL’s Flip 2 is an upgraded version of their popular, affordable entry-level 2012 portable Bluetooth speaker. About the size of a soda can, this speaker will provide about 5 hours of playtime and can be quickly recharged with the included micro-USB cable. The sound is powerful coming from such a small size, and the Flip 2 can also be used as a speakerphone. The Flip 2 comes with a lightweight hardshell carrying case, which is an improvement over the neoprene case that was included with the original version two years ago. The variety of colors makes this a fun gift for all ages. $79.95

Learn to Play the Ukulele

My ukulele. Photo by Ariane Coffin.

My ukulele. Photo by Ariane Coffin.

It all started with a Facebook status. Fellow Geekmom Sarah proclaimed “I want to play the Ukulele!!!!” I had never even considered playing the ukulele before then, but upon reading that statement I realized that I, too, wanted to play the ukulele with a surge of excitement worthy of four exclamation points. Three would simply not do!

I immediately assumed a ukulele would be prohibitively expensive, as most musical instruments are. You know what they say when you assume things, right? Indeed I was wrong, a quick search revealed that you can buy a decent ukulele for $30-$50. It’s not pocket change, but it’s not a huge commitment either.

With the cost being not too much of an issue, I started really considering it. Was this going to be another short-lived attempt at a new hobby that will come and go? Lack of follow through does tend to be a problem of mine. However, being a saxophone player, playing music is an important part of my life and I figured the ukulele would be the perfect little instrument to play when I get five minutes here and there. No complicated set up or clean up required, unlike wind instruments.

Well, I went for it.

It’s been about two months since I bought my ukulele, and I love it! I’m able to play it a little bit almost every day. I sit my 4-month-old in front of me on the couch while I play and she loves to listen to the music. My 3-year-old is showing interest in strumming along, the ukulele is the perfect size for her little hands.

Want to know what resources I’ve used? Here’s how I got started.

The Ukulele

I knew nothing about ukuleles so I blindly searched “ukulele” in Amazon and bought the most popular, well-rated one that came with quality strings, namely a Kala KA-15S Mahogany Soprano Ukulele. It cost me around $50. There were cheaper models that were also well reviewed, but comments often mentioned that the cheaper strings should be upgraded for a better sound. I didn’t want to sacrifice the time to figure out how to replace strings, so I purchased the upgraded model.

Note that there are different size ukuleles. They are, from smaller to larger: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. I picked up a soprano, it being the more common size. I’m happy with it, but men (or people with larger hands) often prefer a larger ukulele as it gives them more room to play.

Across the board, reviewers suggested buying a ukulele tuner, so I purchased the Snark SN-6 Ukulele Tuner. I’m very glad I did! It’s a $10 gadget that makes tuning a breeze. The strings varied wildly from one tuning to the next at the beginning, but now they’ve settled into a place where only minor adjustments are needed.

The Online Resources

Upon delivery of my ukulele and tuner, the first thing I needed to figure out was how to use them! Luckily I remembered that former-Geekmom Kris Brodessa’s son, Brad, was an accomplished ukulele player. His website, Live ‘Ukulele, is an amazingly thorough resource. You can always count on geeks to be thorough if nothing else, isn’t that the best? The fact that he has video tutorials on how to play songs from Super Mario Brothers isn’t bad either!

Another excellent website is Ukulele Underground. Their video tutorials of various popular songs include 3 panes: the guy playing the song on the ukulele, the lyrics and chords, and a schema of the strings and frets you need to press to achieve the chords.

Last But Not Least, Ask Around!

Ask around on your social media outlets, ask your friends, ask your co-workers: Do you know anyone who plays the ukulele? I asked around at work, hoping I could find some uke’ players willing to start a lunch ukulele group with me. Lo and behold, there was already a lunch ukulele group at my office. I had no idea! So now I join them for lunch every Friday and we play along to some You Tube videos together. The better players help us beginners progress along and we all have fun!