learn about music and culture at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix

I’d had a couple of people recommend the Musical Instrument MuseumΒ (MIM) in Phoenix to me, and so on our recent trip to Arizona, we made a point of visiting this Smithsonian affiliate, and were really glad we did. It is the world’s only global musical instrument museum.

musical-instrument-museum

The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix is a must for every music buff and lover of culture.

the musical instrument museum offers great insight into music and culture from around the world

The museum’s name is a bit of a misnomer. You’ll see and experience much more than just looking at exhibits of musical instruments from around the world. You’ll have the opportunity to try out various musical instruments in the Experience Gallery, where a variety of instruments large and small are available for you to experiment with, including banging on a giant Kempul gong from Indonesia.

musical-instrument-museum

My friend Laverne enjoyed testing out this ukulele in the Experience Gallery of the Musical Instrument Museum.

musical-instrument-museum

I enjoyed being the star of my own Gong Show with this Kempul gong from Indonesia.

My favourite gallery at the MIM is the Artist Gallery, where you can see clothing, musical instruments, and other memorabilia donated (or on loan to) the the museum from various musical stars. As a Canadian, I enjoyed seeing the Randy Bachman exhibit, and as an Elvis lover, I especially enjoyed the large Elvis exhibit. There is also a great John Lennon exhibit and one from Carlos Santana. If you love contemporary music, you can easily spend an hour in this gallery alone. The “Playing for Change” foundation has a video of artists from around the world singing to John Lennon’s song Imagine, which I found very moving.

musical-instrument-museum

The exhibit from Turkey provides a multi-media glimpse into Turkish music and culture.

The Geographic Galleries are fascinating, as they give you a glimpse of the culture of the place or country from which the musical instrument(s) originated. I was disappointed at the tiny Canadian Gallery, which only contained a fiddle from Nova Scotia. There is so much more Canadian music to explore from the rest of Canada! I hope the museum expands this, and some of the other very limited galleries. I found the “Recycled Orchestra” exhibit from Argentina featuring instruments created from recycled cans to be highly creative.

musical-instrument-museum

The Apollonia is a massive menagerie of musical instruments that plays itself. Don’t miss the demo!

The Musical Instrument Museum has a 300-seat theatre that hosts a myriad of entertainment and about 250 concerts each year. The floors of the museum are soft for comfort walking, and there is an elevator to the second floor making this a most pleasurable and accessible venue to spend at least half a day exploring. There is a really nice gift shop to explore, and a cafe where you can grab lunch if you want to take a break during your visit.

musical-instrument-museum

The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix offers some nice places where you can sit outside for a break during your visit.

Downtown Phoenix is just a short drive from Scottsdale, where we enjoyed a week of fun in the sun and also enjoyed a visit to the Desert Botanical Garden. Have you been to the MIM? Please let us know what you thought of the exhibits and the experience in the comment section below. Thanks, and stay tuned next week for the final post in my series on Scottsdale, Arizona.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

72 Responses

  1. Laverne says:

    I enjoyed the recycled orchestra. It was amazing to see what they used to make beautiful music. The hands on part was good too as you got to play a variety of instruments. A must see if you enjoy musical instruments.

    • Right on, Laverne. I wish we had had more time to take it all in. But it’s such a huge facility that a person really does need 3-4 hours to see everything — including the special temporary exhibits, which are separate from the other exhibits.

  2. A museum dedicated entirely to music sounds so wonderful and unique, at least to me. I’ve never heard of anything like this before. πŸ™‚ I’m sure I’d love to visit this place some time in life!

  3. Thu Ho says:

    This museum is way too far for me to visit, what a pity!
    However, I’m eager to hear your future stories of your insights into music and culture.
    Looking forward right now!

  4. Neha Chauhan
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi, I love to listen music and also sounds of various instruments like Flute and violin.

    Thanks for this nice article.

  5. TammyJo Eckhart
    Twitter:
    says:

    A very cool find! My hubby would love it!

  6. Linda Strange says:

    The places you find to visit are amazing to me ! Of course, most of your adventures open my eyes to what’s available. I think that’s the whole purpose of writing, isn’t it? You succeed admirably !

  7. Donna Janke
    Twitter:
    says:

    I visited the MIM a few years ago and loved it. I especially liked being able to hear recordings of what the unusual instruments sounded like. There is so much to see here that I think it can be a bit overwhelming for one visit.

    • Doreen says:

      I agree, Donna. We didn’t even see the temp exhibit on China, and we still were there about 3 hours. Would love to go back & spend more time at the MIM.

  8. Flora says:

    The MIM sounds like a great place to visit. I enjoy your articles!

  9. Claire says:

    This museum looks interesting! Its amazing how music can be universal and yet be produced by so many different types of musical instruments in the different cultures πŸ™‚

  10. Beverly says:

    That is a lovely picture of Laverne and the one of you is priceless. The museum looks and sounds like a wonderful place to visit. I am glad to hear there is a restaurant on the premises which enables visitors to have something to eat and continue their visit. It is on my list of places to visit if I travel to Arizona.

  11. Tom Bartel
    Twitter:
    says:

    Doreen, we visited the museum with our friend Larry, who is a docent there. I second your opinion. It’s a terrific attraction in Scottsdale, and an excellent museum, not just of music. It’s a great cultural tour, via the music, of darn near every country in the world. Very entertaining and enlightening.

  12. cindy
    Twitter:
    says:

    I’d heard about this museum from everyone for several years before actually getting there. Still, I was shocked by how much was on display and how fun it is! I loved all the historic videos of entertainers from all cultures all over the world – it was amazing to see so many musical greats of the past performing. We only had a couple of hours and will set aside at least a half-day the next time we go. It’s every bit as good as everyone says and then some!

  13. What a fun opportunity you had at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. I was an instrument player in my previous life, and would truly enjoy this place. Thanks for showing us all about it.

  14. Carol Colborn
    Twitter:
    says:

    I am ashamed! We have lived in Mesa (next door to Phoenix) for a year now and I haven’t been to the MIM. To think a Filipino friend of mine, part of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association we have set up for Arizona, is working there! Your post puts it at the top of my to-do list!

  15. I had never heard of the Musical Instrument Museum. What a great idea as music has played such an important in our lives going back over time. I played the cornet as a child so I know I would enjoy this museum. Hopefully will get to Phoenix again some day.

  16. Phoenicia
    Twitter:
    says:

    What an interesting museum; music equipment you are free to use! What fun visitors must have deciding what equipment to use. I can guarantee it must become noisy at particular times of the day.

  17. Janet May-Hewson says:

    Hi Doreen. Had never heard of this museum. It’s interesting that we are celebrated but not in the Canadian geographic area. Possibly that will be rectified soon. Always interesting. Thank you.

  18. Suzanne Fluhr
    Twitter:
    says:

    As a former recorder and oboe player, I am very attracted to music museums. I think the last one we visited was somewhere in Vienna—or was it Basel, Switzerland? If I ever make it back to Scottsdale, I’ll make sure this museum makes my “to visit” list.

  19. Judy Lawless says:

    Jim and I went to MIM our first winter in Arizona, like you, on the suggestion of friends. It happened to be a day of outdoor entertainment and indoor demonstrations. We watched some interesting Polynesian performances, including stilt walkers, and dancers. Then we took in a demonstration in kettle-drum making. Very interesting! After a break for a late lunch, we made a stab at seeing the many display rooms, but found it just too much for one day, so we got an extension on our tickets so we could return another day — and we did!

    Looking at your post, I feel that some exhibits have changed or perhaps new ones added, so I guess it’s time for another visit.

  20. Kemkem
    Twitter:
    says:

    The first thing l thought of was The Gong Show when l saw that picture of you, so l was glad to read the caption. The Musical Instrument Museum looks like a fun place to visit. “Tiptoe through the tulips” will now play in my mind all day. πŸ™‚

  21. I like the idea that you can pick up the instruments and play them. So much better than those museums where you just have to look at the exhibits!

  22. We spend so much hiking when we are in Arizona or New Mexico that we don’t always opt for the museums. Thank you for introducing me to new places to visit on the next trip!

  23. I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting Phoenix, the museum looks like fun. I love that you get to play with some of the instruments instead of just viewing them behind glass. I think that makes for a much more memorable visit. I can only imagine what the gong sounded like up close. πŸ™‚

  24. noel says:

    THanks for the tour Doreen, this is one of the museums that was on my list, but I ran out of time to visit it. Looks like a wonderful place to learn and also use some of the instruments which is amazing.

  25. Kavita Favelle
    Twitter:
    says:

    I love unusual museums, this one sounds an interesting find. I think the potential for a jarring cacaphony in the room where you can try instruments may be one to avoid if you have a headache but it sounds super fun to be able to get hands on!

  26. Aditi Kapoor
    Twitter:
    says:

    Wow! A global musical instrument museum! That’s something new to me. I would love to visit it someday. Thanks for letting us know about it. πŸ™‚

  27. The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix does sound like a great spot to spend a few hours. I must say, you look a little crazed there banging that gong! Was it too much fun? πŸ™‚

  28. Sandy N Vyjay
    Twitter:
    says:

    The Muiscal Instrument Museum sounds like a melodious experience. What I really liked about the museum is that you actually get to play the instruments rather than be just mute spectators. Who doesn’t like to bang on a drum or blow a trumpet however cacophonic the noise produced! Elvis Presley and John Lenon’s exhibits is another section of the museum that I would love to see.

  29. Denny George says:

    Your excitement at banging on the gong is quite visible in the photograph! It is great to have a museum dedicated to musical instruments. I feel appreciation of music is the one thing that unites all global cultures and traditions.

  30. Rohan says:

    The museum looks very cool. I love to visit this place to check out the musical instrument. Thanks for sharing news about this place.

  31. Anil says:

    Indeed a best place to explore the musical instruments. There are lot to explore in this museum.

  32. I’ve never heard of the Musical Instrument Museum, but it sounds interesting and fun. I’m surprised they didn’t have more about Canadian music though. Did they have any First Nations instruments?

  33. What a wonderful place. I love history of all kinds. I am now trying to play a medieval instrument called a Hurdy Gurdy.
    I would love to go visit this place.

  34. Jackie Smith
    Twitter:
    says:

    I’m guilty of having passed that place several times on recent trips to the area and never made it a point to stop — now I will. Great review, Doreen.

  35. Way to get into the instruments Doreen. You and Laverne look like you really enjoyed the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale. Was striking the gong as fun as it looked? I’d be afraid I might walk around vibrating afterwards!

  36. kevinmain says:

    Wow! A global musical instrument museum! That’s something new to me. I would love to visit it someday. Thx

  37. Da lat nen
    Twitter:
    says:

    This museum is way too far for me to visit, what a pity!
    However, I’m eager to hear your future stories of your insights into music and culture.
    Looking forward right now!

  38. That is a really cool concept. We sometimes take for granted the history and development of the wonderful musical tools we have today. So easy to find a high quality guitar nowadays that we forget the craftsmanship that has taken place over the past couple centuries rot get us here. Thanks for the good reminder.

  39. Farenexus Nexus
    Twitter:
    says:

    Wow! A musical instrument museum! This is very interesting and something new to me. I would love to visit it someday. This is now in my bucket list.
    Thanks for sharing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge