device created or adapted to make musical sounds
Travel topics > Cultural attractions > Music > Musical instruments

Musical instruments are the tools used to make music; due to differences in musical instruments, similar musical ideas can sound different. Some acoustic instruments, such as drums and flutes, have existed since prehistoric times, but in the last few hundred years the number of instruments has grown to a multitude, and they have been supplemented by a variety of electronic instruments since the 19th century. This travel topic mentions destinations related to musical instruments.


Stringed instruments in the Horniman Museum

There are a few instruments that, in various forms, have existed in various forms and seem to be international: forms of the flute, harp, and drums all have long histories (and for the flute and percussion instruments, prehistories) as instruments, and may appear under other names in ancient works like the Bible and Indian music theory treatises and lots of iconography from ancient Egypt, China and many other civilizations. Many other instruments have been developed since then. The Industrial Revolution helped spur additional musical inventions and controversial technical improvements that made it possible to play louder, higher and lower but gave up some subtleties in exchange. Electronics have added a wide variety of additional scopes to even the concept of musical instruments: for example, a computer can itself be a musical instrument. In addition, many innovative techniques have been introduced, probably since time immemorial, but this is documented since at least the turn of the 17th century in Western music. However, alongside all the change and innovation, many traditional instruments have remained in more or less their traditional forms and some performance styles have even remained broadly similar for centuries or more, while other old instruments have enjoyed revivals.

In short, while many musical instruments have gone out of fashion, this is nevertheless probably the time in history with the largest variety of instruments to see and hear. This topic hopes to give you just a little direction in such a potentially inexhaustible quest; the rest is up to you.

Instrument-related destinationsEdit


Flute is one of the most ancient instruments, with flutes made of bone having been found in digs well into prehistory. Today, instruments of the flute/recorder family are widespread and found in many varieties around the world.

  • China is one country where traditional flutes (dizi) are for sale. As with anything else there, be careful about quality, as wooden flutes can crack, for example.


  • Cremona is where the famous maker of violins and other string instruments, Stradivari, had his workshop.



  • West African countries are great places to find drums. Brazil is also an excellent source, in that case of Afro-Brazilian percussion instruments among others.


Map of Musical instruments

Many national and regional museums have a small selection of local musical instruments. Some more specialist museums are listed here.


  • 1 National Film and Sound Archive, 1 McCoy Circuit, Acton, Canberra. Not specific to "musical instruments", but this museum preserves over 3 million items relating to archives of films, television, radio and sound recordings, video games, new media and related documents and artifacts, and musical instruments too.    
  • 2 Australian Jazz Museum, South-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Established to preserve the jazz history of Australia and has several jazz instruments on display.    


  • 3 Musical Instruments Museum (Musée des Instruments de Musique or Muziekinstrumentenmuseum), Pentagon, Brussels, +32 2 545-01-30. The museum houses more than 7000 instruments, from all times and all over the world. The museum’s reputation is built on its extraordinary collection. The exhibits are displayed on four different floors featuring a wide range of instruments from all time periods and areas of the world. The MIM is a place to experience music. An infrared headphone system allows each visitor to enjoy the sound and melodies played by the instruments presented. The restaurant on the roof is also famous because of its panoramic view over Brussels. You need around 3 or 4 hours to really enjoy the whole museum, make sure you have enough time! The ornate façade of the building was decorated as such to promote the work of local tradesman and to protest the loss of jobs due to automation. There is no exhibition information in English, only in French and Dutch.    


Gulangyu is an island in Xiamen, China that is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, mainly for fine architecture from a period of European occupation 1840s-1930s. It has both a piano museum and an organ museum.

  • 4 Gulangyu Piano Museum. This museum was built by a wealthy Taiwanese businessman who fled to Xiamen when Japan took over Taiwan in 1895.
  • Gulangyu Organ Museum. This museum was built much later but has some fine old instruments, some from European churches.





  • 8 Museum of Kazakh Musical Instruments (Республиканский музей музыкальных инструментов им. Ыкыласа.), Almaty. Small museum with fine traditional facade; exhibits have descriptions in Kazakh, Russian and English.    

New ZealandEdit


  • 10 Music Museum, Basel. The museum is part of the Basel Historical Museum, and has a collection of 650 instruments including a drum dating from 1571.    


  • 11 [dead link] Gurminj Museum of Musical Instruments (Gurminj Museum, Музей музыкальных инструментов), Dushanbe, +992 372 2231076, +992 37 5731076, . This small museum has an interesting variety of Central Asian musical instruments as string instruments example: rubab, Pamiri rubab, tanbur, dutor, setor, qashqar, and ghizhak. There are also number of drums such as tabl, daf, and doyra. That alone is worth a peek if you like instruments, but better still is to go when a musical or cultural event is being held, or hope to catch the folk musicians who practice there and can demo many of the instruments in the collection.    

United KingdomEdit

  • 12 Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, Oxford. M-F 14:00 - 17:00. Museum with a collection of 2000 instruments, run by the University of Oxford. The collection focuses on orchestral instruments. free.    
  • 13 Royal College of Music, Prince Consort Rd, South Kensington, London, . Museum: T–F 11:30–16:30; Performances: varies. Victorian school of music created on a suggestion by Prince Albert. It is still an active school but visitors may be more interested in its museum and performances. The free museum houses instruments dating back to the 15th century with several unusual pieces. Performances—by students, professors or visitors—are often free as well.
  • 14 The Musical Museum, 399 High St, Brentford, West London. Tu-Su 11:00-17:30. Something of an undiscovered gem. The museum houses a vast collection of working automatic musical instruments, from barrel organs to player pianos and beyond. Tours with knowledgeable and highly enthusiastic guides are highly recommended, as is the opportunity to listen to the Mighty Wurlitzer (which rises from the floor in the main auditorium). In addition to its function as a museum, the venue also hosts occasional cinema screenings of classic films (preceded by music from the Mighty Wurlitzer, or - in the case of silent film - accompanied by it) and houses a popular cafe with Thames views. Among the unusual (and hard-to-find) items usually available in the gift shop are clocks made from 78 rpm shellac discs, and original player piano rolls.
  • 15 St Cecilia's Hall - Concert Room and Music Museum, Edinburgh Old Town. Tue-Fri 10:00-17:00, Sat 12:00-17:00. St Cecilia's Hall is Scotland's oldest purpose-built concert hall and opened in 1763 which contains the University of Edinburgh collection of historic musical instruments (16th to 20th century) that focuses mostly on instruments no longer in use today. Concerts and other events take place in the concert room.    
  • 16 The Museum of Piping, National Piping Centre, 30-34 McPhater Street, Glasgow. M-Th: 9AM - 7PM F: 9AM - 5PM Sa: 9AM - noon. The home of the bagpipes is in the former Cowcaddens Free Church. The museum shows 300 years of piping history, mainly showing Scottish bagpipes, but also showing Northumbrian pipes and some from Poland, Hungary, Italy and Spain. The piping centre also has a restaurant, an 8 room hotel and teaches piping.    

United States of AmericaEdit

  • 17 American Banjo Museum, 9 E Sheridan, Downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (Bricktown), +1 405 604-2793. 11AM-6PM. A world class museum dedicated to celebrating the music and heritage of the banjo. See the largest collection of banjos on public display in the world and witness the history of the banjo from its African roots, throughout its heyday during the Roaring 20s to its present day voice in bluegrass, folk and world music. Adults $8, seniors (55+) and students $7, youth (5-17) $6.    
  • 18 DeBence Antique Music World, 1261 Liberty St, Franklin, Pennsylvania, +1 814 432-8350. A museum dedicated to antiques related to music, such as phonographs, organs, and player pianos. Not only do visitors get to learn about the music-makers, you also get to hear all of them played. It may seem like an odd museum at first, but the tour is quite entertaining. Downstairs is an antique shop open year-round. You can visit the shop without taking the tour if you wish.    
  • 19 Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), On Fifth Avenue in Manhattan's Central Park (at 82nd St), +1 212 535-7710. The Met has a large and very varied Music Department, which contains historical instruments from many parts of the world. One highlight is a beautiful, ornately decorated fortepiano made by Bartolomeo Cristofori, the man credited with the invention of the piano c. 1700. Some of the historical instruments are used in performances at the museum, or if you're a professional musician, you may be able to get permission to play one; email ahead to inquire.    
  • 20 Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), 4725 E Mayo Blvd, Phoenix, Arizona (Near AZ-51 and AZ-101 intersection), +1 480 478-6000. 9AM-5PM, daily. Has many exhibits where you can see and hear the history of music from around the world. There's also a room for kids of all ages to try out instruments.    
  • 21 National Music Museum (NMM), Vermillion (South Dakota), +1 605 677-5306, . The NMM's renowned collections, which include more than 15,000 American, European, and non-Western instruments from all cultures and historical periods, are among the world's most inclusive. They include many of the earliest, best preserved, and historically most important instruments known to survive. The quality and scope of the NMM has earned it international recognition.    

See alsoEdit

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