Break Out the Vinyl Records

Grandkids might find your record collection fascinating.

By Lou Harry

To anyone born after 1990, they are ancient curiosities — vinyl discs each with a single, narrow groove winding from the outside rim to the center. Place one on an equally ancient "hi-fi" machine, power it up, place a needle into that groove, and, somehow, you get music.

You know them as record albums.

LPs are several evolutionary steps away from the latest in audio technology — MP3 audio files that don't exist in the physical world at all. But records are very much a part of the physical world, as anyone who ever had to lug a pile from dorm to apartment, and back again, would agree. But if your stacks of wax have survived their many journeys, it's time to pull them out and invite the grandkids over for hours of intergenerational fun. Turning on your turntable is a great way to turn the tables — for once, you can actually introduce the kids to something cool, instead of vice versa. They might even learn something about how machines work.

Spinning a Conversation

Just placing an album on a turntable is enough to spark a discussion with your grandchildren. Consider: If you examine the components of an MP3 player, what have you got? You've got, well, components. But do the same with a turntable and you can show kids how things really work mechanically (not so different from Edison's original plans, as it turns out). Like many pre-digital devices, a turntable’s operation is transparent, not buried within a silicone skin. You can see what it’s doing.

First, let your grandchildren inspect the needle and look closely at the album (handling it carefully and only from the edges, of course). Then show them how moving the arm toward the record starts the turntable spinning and note how the needle makes a slow but steady path toward the center — this is clearer with 45s. And we know your collection can't be in completely mint condition, so show the kids how a scratch on an album causes a skip in the sound.

You can also compare how the same song sounds when played on an album and as an MP3. Can your grandchildren hear the difference? Which sounds better to them? Which sounds better to you?

Pet Sounds, Pet Projects

Once you've got your grandchildren hooked on albums, you can take your new shared hobby outside the house and in different directions:

* Treasure Hunt. You're unlikely to see vinyl albums at your local mall’s music outlet (if it still has one) but you can find stacks of them in secondhand stores or thrift shops. Treasure hunting can introduce the kids to different spots in town and yield some cheap pleasures for you both.

* Storytelling. Every album in your collection took a unique path to get there, right? Some were gifts; some you saved cash for weeks to buy; some came from the Columbia Record Club; some you bought so you could hear one hit song but ended up falling in love with another. And each is connected to a story in your memory — at least a few of which you can probably share with your impressionable grandchildren. Start the stories now, while Jefferson Airplane is playing.

* Cover Games. Try this game with the kids: Spread out several album covers, play a song, and see if they can guess which record it comes from.

Or, cover an album's sleeve with blank paper and have the kids design their own cover while they listen, with their own drawings, cut-out photos, stickers, or whatever they have on hand.

If you or your grandchildren are photographically-inclined, you can join the online craze of posing with album covers to "complete" the image. (See some amazing examples.)

You can even allow the kids put their personal imprint on your collection by letting them organize it, with their favorites first, or by genre or album-cover style. Whatever works for them, especially if it brings them back for another listen.

Make a gift of framed album cover. Do the kids have a favorite album from your collection? Let them preserve it on their wall in a specially-sized frame. What better gift for a young music fan than a framed cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts' Club Band.

Hey, Grandpa DJ!

A curious kid is likely to have a lot of questions about phonographs and LPs. Here are some answers.

Why are they called albums?

Because, a long time ago, records (sometimes called 78s because they spun at 78 revolutions per minute) were stored in a book, with individual sleeves, that looked like a photo album.

How come, on a double album set, sides 1 and 4 are on the same disc while sides 2 and 3 are on the other?

That way, they could be stacked and you could hear sides 1 and 2 right after each other, then flip them over and hear 3 and 4 in order.

Does anyone still listen to albums?

There are many people who believe that music sounds better on albums than it does on CDs or streaming from MP3s. Some sound "information" is lost when a recording is digitized, and audiophiles, or people who care a lot about how their music sounds — especially classical-music fans and jazz fans — insist that they can hear the difference. For other people, records are just more fun.

Who is Frampton and how did he come alive?

Some things grandchildren need to find out for themselves.


Elsewhere on, get tips for making playlists for your grandchildren, see our expert's recommendations of 28 great children's books, read about what grandfathers can teach their grandchildren, and discover why grandparents know best.


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