Today my coworker and I interviewed Neil Smolar, founder and CEO of Sing to Say, an application that allows kids and early learners to develop language through music.
Interview by Daniel Lafleur and Vishal Yellambalse Ravi
After a successful career as a performing musician and film composer, and a follow-up career as a children’s multimedia entertainment producer, Neil Smolar knew his next project just had to be the creation of Sing to Say! Today, we sit down with him and ask some key questions about this amazing app.
Q: Neil, can you tell us what you consider to be the most unique thing about Sing to Say?
Neil Smolar: The most unique thing is the use of original songs to teach language. We’re using published research and our own testing to establish how music affects learning for kids- especially in a touch screen environment.
Our partnerships with the Toronto District School Board and the Berklee College of Music in Boston was instrumental in helping us establish a music baseline and ultimately test with children, parents and practitioners.
The other wonderful and unique aspect of Sing to Say is our use of original animation. We created an energetic group of characters called the Minimops. In fact, the Minimops were originally created for National Geographic Kids in the form of interactive musical games and animations. The Minimops add so much energy and playfulness to the purpose of Sing to Say which is to facilitate the acquisition of language for children or anyone, for that matter, looking to learn language.
Q: Neil, can you tell us how you approached the music and lyrics to Sing to Say?
Neil Smolar: We created short songs around “keywords”. That’s never been done before. There’s a song for every word on the app. There are thousands of words in our vocabulary, so there will eventually be thousands of songs.
We’ve used multiple styles of music to figure out which songs really resonated with the kids. We also researched instruments and learned that drums were the most popular, followed by piano and guitar. After that came bass, and kids also loved the violin.
The other breakthrough for us was the length of the songs. We determined a format for the songs that would appeal to kids of all ages. We found that 6 seconds was the sweet spot for the length of songs. Not too long, not too short. Just perfect!
As for the lyrics, that is the domain of my partner, Stacie Carroll. She is a brilliant special needs educator and I will leave that for her to describe.
Q: Where do you see Sing to Say going in the future?
Neil Smolar: First we’re planning to expand our use of sound as a gateway to learning. We know that different frequencies have different effects on mood, relaxation and sleep. We plan to infuse the music with an enhanced acoustic environment to uplift and stimulate attention. As a composer for film, I had the opportunity to learn so much about acoustics- beyond composition and instrumentation.
We have a partnership with the Berklee School of Music in Boston, my alma mater, and have been working with a very talented team of musicians and researchers who are interested in this work. We’ll build in the use of different frequencies in a melodic form.
The second and most obvious to me anyway, is to experiment with different instruments- especially percussion. We’ll let the kids build their own tracks with instruments- a kind of mash-up. We have a very successful music game called the Music Studio. We will incorporate that technology into the module called My Songs that already exists in the Sing to Say app
Q: Tell us about the free trial.
Neil Smolar: We’re offering a 7-day free trial and free promo codes to teachers, and language therapists. You can get a promo code by following us on Facebook or Instagram and watching out for our code offer.
Post interview thoughts
Truly a pleasure to hear about the conception of such an incredible application. Something that’s always been apparent to me is how passionate Neil is about Sing to Say. Making sure the app works for kids and early learners is always his top priority, ensuring the app is engaging and fun while remaining a viable tool for education. It is also fascinating how much research was done when developing Sing to Say. The research showing that kids learn effectively using a touch screen, and choosing optimal instruments that resonate with kids goes to show the level of detail put into the application.
We encourage you to try Sing to Say at home with your kids. Listening to the music and singing the songs helps your children learn and develop their vocabulary. Using the the 7-day free trial is a great way to get started, and to start helping your children learn language.
Be sure to watch for the Stacie Caroll interview in our next blog post!