Visiting the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix

People have been on the move throughout history, and music has always moved with them.

That statement is, perhaps, the best explanation for my deep love of both travel and music. As Robert Louis Stevenson said about travel, “The great affair is to move.” Music also moves, and I am passionate about both.

My recent travels found me moving from one end of the U.S. to another, as I departed East Tennessee for the desert Southwest. My son and I went out to Scottsdale, Arizona, to visist my dad. It was my son’s first trip out there – and his first airplane ride! – but my umpteenth. While visiting with my dad always is a treat, and his backyard pool is a welcome respite from those 100+ temperature days, on this trip I really wanted to explore the area a bit and take in some culture. At the top of my list was the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, the world’s only global musical instrument museum. I’d heard from Dad and a few others that it’s an exceptional place. Being the music maven and history hound that I am, I felt it was a place I needed to see.

Music is the language of the soul. | Musical Instrument Museum - Phoenix, Arizona

My dad had just dropped by the museum with friends a few days prior to my arrival, but he was more than happy to accompany my 2-year-old son, Anthony, and me on our first visit. Dad had warned me before we left that to really experience the entire museum, visitors need one full day at the very least. I knew my son wouldn’t last that long so I was determined to see as many of the exhibits as possible during our time there.

Of the museum’s five collections, my top priority was the Geographic Galleries. This is where visitors “travel the world through the magic of music”, each sub-gallery focusing on one of five major world regions. First one we stopped at was the United States/Canada Gallery. At the entrance of the gallery is a vast exhibit honoring the musical traditions and heritage of the Native American peoples of Arizona and the Southwest. Beyond there, the displays are organized according to musical style and region. The week before we went to Arizona, I was in Bristol, Tennessee, known as the birthplace of country music, where I learned about the history and evolution of the genre. The displays at MIM augmented what I’d discovered in Bristol by traveling even deeper into the history of American music. You may know by now that I’ve been taking banjo lessons for a few months, so I was particularly interested in the bluegrass and banjo exhibits at MIM. I was rather surprised to learn that the banjo as we know it today evolved from a more primitive instrument first played by African slaves. In fact, the banjo was played primarily by African Americans until the 19th century, after which the instrument’s popularity spread throughout Appalachia. Moving over to the Africa and Middle East Gallery, we saw even more examples of banjo precursors in displays of instruments from places like Senegal. I am completely fascinated by the banjo’s story and now it provides me with a further appreciation of the instrument and the music it produces.

Musical Instrument Museum | Phoenix, Arizona

Banjo & bluegrass displays

We made it through all of the Geographic Galleries and I excitedly snapped photos of and listened to samples of music from places I’m enamored with, most notably Scotland and Italy. Before Anthony became too tired, I wanted to make sure we got to spend time in the Experience Gallery. It’s an area on the museum’s lower level where visitors of all ages are invited to touch, play, and hear an assortment of instruments from around the world. First thing I spotted when we entered the gallery was the rack of acoustic guitars and banjos in the corner. I rushed over and noticed that the banjos are the same as the one I have, a Deering Goodtime banjo! I grabbed one, plopped on the floor, and began picking away. There I was, a grown adult in the middle of a swarm of school kids on field trips, in my own little world. Eventually, I took notice of the fact that my son was wholly uninterested in what I was doing so I returned the banjo to the rack and followed him around as he played and discovered. The hands-on activities of the Experience Gallery held his attention for a fair amount of time, but when he realized he was tired, I realized our visit was over. He’d had enough so we headed out, even though we didn’t make it to the Artist Gallery and the Mechanical Music Gallery.

Anyone visiting the area who is even slightly interested in music, history, geography, and even travel, must visit MIM. As Dad warned, we didn’t get to see everything in the few hours we were there, so I’m already planning a return visit for the next time I’m in Phoenix. MIM is absolutely kid-friendly as evidenced by the numbers of elementary school students on field trips, but it may not be very fun for the younger children. As I mentioned, my son is 2 and aside from the Experience Gallery, there wasn’t much else for him to do. I am not discouraging anyone from visiting because it’s such a wonderful place; just know that the wee ones may not get as much out of the experience. Unless, of course, you let them bang the gongs the whole time.

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12 Responses to Visiting the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix

  1. the lazy travelers November 12, 2015 at 9:17 am #

    first and foremost: how did anthony do on the plane?! also, between finding out you play the banjo AND are some sort of fly fishing aficionado, we feel like there’s a whoooole other side of francesca we don’t know about! xo
    the lazy travelers recently posted…travel announcement (part two)! a week in switzerland for the winoMy Profile

  2. lola November 12, 2015 at 11:14 am #

    so fun, Francesca!! I love how you always find great things to discover.

  3. Beth | Adventuring the Great Wide Somewhere November 14, 2015 at 12:01 am #

    Oh my goodness, that video is too cute! I agree though, this particular museum seems like it would be more interesting to adults. Lots of reading and video-watching involved to truly appreciate the exhibits!
    Beth | Adventuring the Great Wide Somewhere recently posted…Disney Day, Take Two!My Profile

  4. Svetoslav Dimitrov November 14, 2015 at 1:30 am #

    Geographic Galleries – what a great way to travel the world.. of music 🙂

    Thanks for the great ride throughout the history, especially banjos!

  5. mark November 14, 2015 at 3:44 am #

    Wow seems like an interesting museum for music lovers. The banjo’s look cool and bet would sound fantastic.

  6. Sarah Ebner November 15, 2015 at 2:16 pm #

    I really love the sound of this unusual museum – it sounds great and really different. My daughter loved visiting the musical instrument museum in Vienna, but this sounds on a much larger scale. It’ll be great to take your son again as he grows older and can try out more and more things, in the future. Lots to look forward to!
    Sarah Ebner recently posted…Luxury: flying first-class on British Airways from London to Washington DCMy Profile

  7. Meg Jerrard November 15, 2015 at 11:11 pm #

    Would you believe I was in Phoenix for the last 6 months and I didn’t manage to make it to MIM! We’re going back next year to visit my Aunt, so I’ll make sure I don’t miss it a second time. Thanks!
    Meg Jerrard recently posted…Tips For Booking Accommodation in the HolidaysMy Profile

  8. Jo November 16, 2015 at 1:28 am #

    I love quirky museums- they have a real sense of humour and spirit to them. This one looks terrific- music is something that almost everyone can reminisce about and remember. But I suspect being kid friendly doesn’t extend to eye rolling teenagers!
    Jo recently posted…Earning frequent flyer miles 2015 editionMy Profile

  9. Jolanta | Casual Traveler November 16, 2015 at 7:50 pm #

    That looks like a great museum! When we visited the Kopernik (Copernicus) Science Museum in Poland they happened to have a music exhibit, and the kids loved it. Kids and music. Somehow they always love things that make different noises, don’t they?
    Jolanta | Casual Traveler recently posted…Visiting Chichen Itza: An overview and tips for visitingMy Profile

  10. Traveling Ted November 17, 2015 at 8:56 pm #

    This looks really amazing. I really enjoyed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum while in Cleveland, so I know I would love this one too. Awesome that you got to rock out on the banjo.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…Aglow in the glory of glamping at Tayrona Tented LodgeMy Profile

  11. Shannon Entin November 17, 2015 at 9:47 pm #

    I’m not a big music person, but I love the geographic element – cool idea. My husband and daughter play various instruments so I’d definitely take them if we’re in the area.
    Shannon Entin recently posted…Epic Winter Adventures Made Easy at Smugglers’ Notch Ski Resort in VermontMy Profile

  12. Mary November 18, 2015 at 5:12 am #

    Oh I think my kids would love this. They love to play guitar and listen to music but we are also always intrigued by the different instruments or older antique instruments we run into around the world. Cool museum!
    Mary recently posted…Hanalei Colony Resort, a great spot to unplug and unwind in KauaiMy Profile

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