Learning to play a musical instrument can open up many exciting new adventures for a child and their family. To further encourage your child’s interest and enhance their learning, why not visit one of the following museums on your next family vacation? Music-focused museums can help your child appreciate their chosen instrument even more and see its place in the rich tapestry of humanity’s musical heritage.
1. The Met in New York shows how art sounds.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City needs no introduction as an art museum, but it is often overlooked as a rich source for learning the history of musical instruments.
The Met’s world-renowned collections include some 5,000 instruments from all over the world, with some dating back more than 2,000 years. The focus is on demonstrating how musical instruments have developed across cultures and throughout the centuries.
“The Art of Music Through Time,” housed in Gallery 684, is filled with objects, audio and video commentary, and related artworks that provide a multisensory illustration of the power of music. Meanwhile, the André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments house hundreds of instruments from Western and non-Western traditions. These include a group of Stradivari violins and the oldest known piano still in existence.
There’s also “Fanfare,” an exhibit that centers on 75 specific brass instruments—“brass” interpreted as any tubular instrument played via a mouthpiece—that range from ancient hunting horns to a plastic vuvuzela manufactured to commemorate the World Cup of 2014. In addition, the Organ Loft houses the Thomas Appleton Organ, constructed in the first third of the 19th century and one of the earliest American working pipe organs.
2. An acclaimed musical instrument museum in the desert.
The widely praised Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, Arizona, is home to more than 13,000 instruments—about half of them on display at any given time—from almost every country in the world. The museum works with the goal of acquiring instruments of every time and place, with a special emphasis on folk and tribal instruments.
One entire gallery is dedicated to modern popular music. In this Artist Gallery, the objects on display honor artists from Pablo Casals to John Lennon, and Elvis Presley to Taylor Swift. Many of the museum’s installations feature audio or video recordings of iconic performances, while the Experience Gallery gives families a chance to actually play some of the world’s representative instruments. In addition, the MIM hosts regular performances that highlight a range of musicians and styles from around the world.
3. A cultural treasure being rebuilt in the Great Plains.
The National Music Museum in tiny Vermillion, South Dakota, has received accolades from the New York Times as one of the most important music museums in the world. It curates some 15,000 instruments, representing every part of the world and almost all of its cultures and time periods.
The museum’s collections include a viola made by the renowned Andrea Guarneri in the mid-17th century, and one of the earliest grand pianos ever constructed. Its walls also house a wide range of fascinating musical exotica, including stringed instruments crafted to resemble peacocks and harmonicas shaped like goldfish. High-tech exhibits rely on iPod Touch technology to play performance recordings of the instruments on display.
Currently undergoing a major reconstruction and expansion, the National Music Museum is set to reopen in 2021. It continues a lively current dialogue with its fans on Facebook, often offering video clips and pictures of some of the pieces in its collection.
4. See Mozart’s piano in Prague.
The Czech Republic loves and honors music and musicians. In the 1780s, for example, the capital city of Prague opened its arms to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and he conducted the world premiere of his opera Don Giovanni in its Estates Theatre. So it makes sense that Prague is the site of one of the world’s finest museums of musical instruments.
Located in a former historic church in the Lesser Town near the Vltava River, the Czech Museum of Music is a constituent part of the county’s National Museum. Within its walls are displayed some 400 musical instruments, each with extraordinary artistic and cultural value.
An architecturally stunning atrium provides a lovely location for a journey through “Man-Instrument-Music,” the museum’s permanent exhibit, which delves into the many connections between people and instruments over time. On view in the exhibits are a variety of stringed and wind instruments. A grand piano that Mozart once used is just one of the extraordinary objects on display.
Museum goers enjoy a heightened experience as their journey through musical history is accompanied by musical recordings played alongside the instruments in the exhibits. The museum additionally hosts regular concerts and special exhibitions.
5. Brussels houses musical treasures in an architectural wonder.
The Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels, Belgium, is another among the premier museums of its kind in the world. Housed in a restored, half-Neoclassical and half-Art Nouveau building complex, it houses a collection of more than 1,000 instruments ranging over four audio- and video-enhanced galleries that cover a variety of historical and contemporary periods.
The Brussels museum is part of the Royal Museums of Art and History, which makes its Carmentis online catalog, listing each of its instruments, publicly accessible. One fun feature of its website, at www.mim.be/en, is the Instrument of the Month.
The Musical Instruments Museum also encompasses a concert hall and a rooftop restaurant terrace with stunning views of Brussels.
No matter whether you’re a long-time musician, a new music student, or somewhere in between, people who are passionate about music often consider practice or performance an important part of daily life. However, travel can make practicing some traditional instruments difficult, leaving a musician on a trip without an outlet for creativity.
If you are a musician who is planning to travel soon, but don’t want to sacrifice your ability to make music while away from home, the following six instruments are easy to take with you no matter where in the world you go.
A lightweight, hollow-body instrument commonly associated with the Hawaiian Islands, the ukulele has an appearance similar to that of a miniature acoustic guitar. It features four nylon strings and is usually made out of wood, though plastic models are also available. The ukulele comes in four sizes, with the 30-inch baritone being the largest and the traditional soprano being the smallest at just 20 inches long. The instrument is notable for being fun, inexpensive, and relatively easy to learn how to play.
There are many options for the percussionist who wants to take an instrument on the go. While they do not produce the same sound as the standard drum kit, hand drums like the West African djembe are a practical option for travel. Although traditional djembes are made from a goatskin stretched over a wooden body, a hardier, more functional option for the traveling drummer is a djembe made from fiberglass and equipped with a metal tuning key. Another ideal hand drum for the traveling musician is the mini cajon (Spanish for “box”), like those designed by the instrument company Meinl. While standard cajons are large enough for a drummer to sit on when playing, the miniature version from Meinl is just under 9 inches tall and almost 6 inches wide. These birch wood instruments have a warm tone and produce a crisp sound that make them ideal for accompanying other musicians on the road.
Guitarists of all ages can bring their craft with them wherever they go thanks to a modified version of the instrument designed specifically with the traveler in mind. One of the best acoustic options is the Backpacker guitar, made by C.F. Martin & Co. Available in both classical and steel string form, the instrument has a slimmed-down body design that makes it perfect for storing in a packed car or in the overhead compartment of a plane. Although the skinny body of the wooden guitar prevents it from producing the louder, fuller sound of a standard size acoustic, it has the benefit of weighing only two pounds, making it extremely portable and the perfect option to bring along on outdoor excursions.
Alternatively, electric guitarists may be interested in the Ultra-Light Electric made by the company aptly named Traveler Guitar. At 3 pounds and just 28 inches long, the compact Ultra-Light produces a sound identical to a full-scale electric guitar and comes with a removable leg rest frame for functional lap playing. Musicians can pair the Ultra-Light with a mini amplifier and have the freedom to shred on the guitar anytime, anywhere.
For its size, the harmonica has a lot to offer the traveling musician as it spans three octaves and can play both single notes and chords. The typical beginner’s harmonica is the 10-hole diatonic type in the key of C—the version most often played in music genres like folk, blues, and pop. Though a harmonica needs to be in the right key in order to most effectively accompany other instruments during a song, these metal mouth organs are small enough to stuff in your pocket, making it easy to fit a set of them with a wide range of keys into a travel bag.
While many standard wind instruments like the flute and clarinet are already small enough to take on trips, they can be expensive to replace or repair if they are lost or damaged. For this reason, the ocarina is an excellent, economical option for a wind instrument player who wants to make music while traveling. Ocarinas are small, rounded vessel flutes with a total of 10 holes—two for the thumbs and eight for the fingers. They are made from plastic, terracotta, or even metal, and produce pure notes in a limited range. Some versions are highly decorative, and musicians may choose to wear them around the neck on a string for convenient carry.
Arguably the simplest and most often-forgotten instrument that musicians can take wherever they go is their voice. Through singing lessons and practice, musicians can learn to develop a controlled, melodic vocal tone welcome in any musical setting. Singing can also lead to a variety of emotional, social, and health benefits for the singer. Studies show that singing can strengthen the immune system, improve the body’s blood circulation, reduce stress, and even boost self-confidence. Additionally, singing in a group is a great way to make friends and enjoy the wonderful social aspect of music while on the road.
Musicians, whether they are amateur players or professionals, occasionally have to bring their instruments on a plane trip. However, while air travel is an extremely safe method of transportation for people, it can often lead to lost or damaged instruments. Musicians who wish to make sure their instruments arrive safely should keep the following helpful tips in mind when planning their next flight:
Follow any Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules
Before taking their instrument on a plane, musicians need to be aware of the relevant guidelines set by the TSA. According to the organization’s website, all instruments must undergo a security screening. Musicians who bring an instrument as a carry-on item must present it for a physical inspection at the airport’s security checkpoint. At this time, owners should communicate to TSA agents any special guidelines for handling their fragile instrument. If checking their instrument as baggage, individuals should be sure to label it with written instructions describing how TSA agents should handle the instrument while examining it and then restoring it to its case.
Arrive early if you plan to bring your instrument as a carry-on
In 2012, the US Congress passed a law requiring airlines to allow instruments as carry-on items without imposing extra fees, as long as the instrument can safely fit underneath a seat or in an overhead bin. However, the law does not state that airlines must give musicians priority space in overhead bins, and in the event that there is no room for an instrument in the cabin’s stowage area, owners will need to check the item at the gate. For this reason, it is a good idea for musicians to purchase priority boarding tickets to make sure that they are among the first passengers to board the aircraft. This ensures that there will be plenty of room to store an instrument in the overhead compartment.
Buy a seat for your instrument
Musicians with larger instruments like cellos and upright basses also have the option to purchase a seat for their instrument provided that it meets the weight and height guidelines established by the airline. The major US airline carriers all maintain different policies on instruments as cabin seat baggage, which travelers can find here. Even after establishing that a large instrument qualifies as cabin seat baggage, musicians should still contact the airline 24 hours ahead of time to confirm the viability of the special travel arrangement. In addition, any person traveling with a large instrument should arrive at the airport a half hour earlier than normal to make sure that he or she has enough time to transport the instrument through the airport and secure it safely in its seat before takeoff.
Take necessary precautions for instruments stored in the cargo bay
Musicians who check their instruments need to make sure their instruments are well protected while stored in the cargo bay. One way to do this is to purchase a quality hard case equipped with protective padding on the inside. It’s also a good idea to fill any empty spaces within the instrument’s case with newspaper, bubble wrap, foam, or soft fabric to prevent the instrument from moving around during transit. Musicians should label their case with an ID tag that clearly lists their full name and contact information to help prevent the instrument from becoming lost.
Additionally, whether an instrument is traveling in the cargo bay or the cabin, owners should make sure to tune down stringed instruments and drums before takeoff. The pressure changes that occur during air travel may cause increased string tension on instruments like violins, guitars, and cellos, which could cause the necks of the instruments to bend or even break entirely. Tightened drumheads may also be at risk for this type of damage.
Buy a cheap version of an instrument to take on trips instead
To avoid the stress of traveling with an expensive instrument, musicians should consider purchasing a lower-quality version specifically for use during travel. Owners should take steps to protect these cheaper versions the same way that they would for their standard instruments, but in the event of accidental damage, loss, or theft, the cost of replacement is much less. If obtaining a cheaper version of the instrument is not feasible, individuals can purchase travel insurance to protect them against the significant costs associated with replacing a lost instrument or repairing a damaged one.