The Magical World of Music Museums ✨

With the school holidays just around the corner, we looked into some music-based activities to inspire, amaze and motivate young musicians. Introducing the magical world of music museums!
All over the UK, there are buildings full of the history of local and global music-making. From self-playing instruments, a piano with six pedals to Bob Dylan’s guitar and Elgar’s gramophone, there’s a lot to discover.  
You may find a local museum to you or maybe one will catch your eye and you’re able to travel further afield to explore these fantastic finds… 

Explore the regions below and click the images to visit the museum websites for more information.

THE NORTH

Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum – Northumberland

FREE

  • This lovely 13th Century listed building boasts a treasure trove of instruments to be enjoyed. There are over 120 sets of pipes to discover from all over Europe, plus regular live performances and sessions;  ‘Learn to Play in a Day’, and ‘Meet the Piper’! 
  • Look ahead to see what they have coming up by clicking the image above.

St Cecilia’s Hall – Edinburgh, Scotland

FREE 

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  • St Cecilia’s Hall is the oldest purpose-built concert hall in Scotland which is now owned by The University of Edinburgh. It’s home to four museum galleries, an education room, and the 18th century concert room which is the perfect size and setting for performances on the instruments in the collection! 
  • You’ll see a range of early instruments and with their new app you can hear what they sound like if you’re not able to hear a live performance!

RNCM Collection of Historic Musical Instruments – Manchester

FREE

  • In the basement of the Royal Northern College of Music you’ll find a collection of over 300 instruments from all over the world including violins by Stradivarius and instruments over 250 years old! The opening times often coincide with lunchtime recitals and concerts so be sure to check the Autumn 2019 opening times here.

British Music Experience – Liverpool

£14 per adult, £9 per child under 16, free for under 5s, family ticket available 

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  • Find out the story of our more recent British music through costumes, instruments, performance and memorabilia! There are outfits worn by Freddie Mercury, Dusty Springfield, the Spice Girls and more. 
  • Activities include learning steps to different dances in their ‘Dance the Decades’ experience, and learn to play the guitar in the ‘Gibson Interactive Studio and vocal booth’.

The Beatles Story – Liverpool

£17 per adult, £10 per child under 16, family tickets available

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  • This is the world’s largest permanent exhibition devoted to the lives and times of The Beatles. They also have a children’s Discovery Zone, with a range of interactive music/Beatles based activities, including a giant floor piano!

The Beatles Childhood Homes – Liverpool

National Trust member: £9.50 per adult, £4.75 per child
Non-National Trust Members: £25 per adult, £12.50 per child
Free for under 5’s

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  • If you’re already in Liverpool, why not pop over and visit Forthlin Road and Mendips. Discover where John Lenon and Paul McCartney grew up, and where some of the first Beatles songs were made!

THE MIDLANDS

The Coventry Music Museum – Coventry

 £3 per adult, free for children under 16

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  • As Coventry famously gave 2-Tone music to the world, it follows that this museum has a specific interest in 2-tone and Ska music – but you’ll find lots of other things to learn about here too, including 90s Bhangra!

The Firs, Elgar’s Birthplace – Worcestershire 

£8 per adult £5.10 per child, free for National Trust members 

  • The Firs is the family home and birthplace of Sir Edward Elgar. You’ll get to see (and even play!) the pianos where many of Elgar’s music was conceived, see Elgar’s HMV Gramophone, as well as his two beloved bicycles!
  • There’s very often live music events on here – have a look at their ‘50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾’ at The Firs’.

THE EAST

The Grange Musical Collection – Suffolk

FREE

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  • Long before the invention of recorded sound, many mechanical devices existed for producing live music without the need for musicians. The Grange Musical Collection is a collection of self-playing musical instruments. 
  • This is a private collection but there are regular open days and tours with demonstrations and educational talks that can be attended by appointment.

The Red House – Aldeburgh Suffolk 

£8 per adult (valid for one year), free for under 16s

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  • Benjamin Britten put Aldeburgh on the map with the Aldeburgh Festival. His house shared with Peter Pears for almost 20 years is full of charming snapshots of their life. From the composition studio to the library, gallery and archive, there’s so much to see and learn about here. 
  • There’s lots on, from ‘Mini Music Makers’ workshops, to discoveries of new works. Check out what’s on before going.

THE SOUTH WEST

Holst Museum – Cheltenham 

£6 per adult, £2 per child under 16, free under 5s, family tickets available 

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  • This historic house is a time capsule of 19th century life,with a working Victorian kitchen! You’ll also discover Gustav Holst’s music room with the piano on which he composed The Planets. 
  • Lots of interactive activities and events on – be sure to check the website.

The Bate Collection – Oxford

FREE

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  • This collection owed by the Faculty of Music at Oxford University is the most comprehensive collection in Britain of European woodwind, brass and percussion. They run family handling sessions and tours for life-long learners, but these visits must be booked in advance.

The Portsmouth Music Experience – Portsmouth

FREE

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  • The Portsmouth Music Experience gallery not only features spectacular touring exhibitions, but visitors are also able to enjoy rooms that reflect on Portsmouth music and the history of the Guildhall, and how this all fits into a wider historical context. Features of an evolving display include recollections of outrageous stories from moments such as when The Beatles played in the Guildhall to references of Pink Floyd premiering Dark Side of the Moon in the very same building!
  • Make sure to double check opening times here as the space can be used for events.

GREATER LONDON

Royal Academy of Music Museum & Library – London 

FREE 

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  • Discover behind the scenes stories from the UK’s oldest conservatoire. Items include a violin by Stradivari once played to Queen Marie Antoinette, and a Viennese piano from 1815 with six pedals! 
  • They regularly hold free public musical and lecture events, museum tours, and offer children’s trails with quizzes and puzzles.

The Musical Museum – Brentford, London

£11 per adult, £5 per child (under 16), family tickets available 

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  • This is a magical music museum of self-playing instruments! Their interactive exhibits tell the story of how music has been recorded and reproduced, from mechanical inventions (such as reproducing pianos and orchestrions), to the present day. 
  • Guided tours and instrument demonstrations happen three times a day. 
  • There’s also a lovely cafe with views of the river and of course lots of events including concerts throughout the year.

Handel & Hendrix – London

£10 per adult, £5 per child (16 and under), free entry for children on Saturdays

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  • As the name suggests, this museum celebrates two rather different musicians: George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix. Although alive centuries apart, they happened to live just next door to each other in the heart of London’s West End. Both residences have been restored to how they would have been at the time each musician was living there and have temporary exhibitions which focus on aspects of their lives. 
  • They often have events including concerts, guided tours and guitar workshops so be sure to check the website!

The Vault, Hard Rock Cafe – Old Park Lane, London 

FREE

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  • Dubbed London’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum’, there’s more to this Hard Rock Cafe than burgers and fries! Down in the vaults (accessed via the cafe’s shop), there are over 200 pieces of exclusive music memorabilia including guitars owned by Bob Dylan, Jeff Beck, David Bowie, Kurt Cobain and more. Guided tours run every 20 minutes, and for a small fee you can pose for a souvenir photo holding one of the famous guitars!

Fenton House & Garden – Hampstead, London 

£9 per adult, £4.50 per child, family tickets available, free to National Trust members 

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  • Fenton House sits in a stunning garden with a 300-year-old apple orchard, but we’re most interested in its 17th-18th centry harpsichords, virginals and spinets! You can explore the house and garden but also request to play the Benton Fletcher Collection of early keyboards, plus take part in the introduction with the curator there.  
  • Music Wednesdays – Join an early keyboard expert each week to explore a different aspect of the Benton Fletcher Collection. 
  • They often hold concerts here too – check what’s coming up on their website above.

Horniman Museum & Gardens – Forest Hill, London

FREE

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  • The Hornium museum is home to one of the largest musical instrument collections in the UK. The instruments come from all over the world showing off a broad musical and cultural context including the oldest pair of bone clappers in the form of human hands made in Egypt around 3,500 years ago! They also have over 40 instruments on loan from the V&A museum currently on display too. 
  • A couple of their music gallery displays include:
    • At Home With Music: a new display for 2014 which tells the stories of the keyboard instruments we have invited into our homes
    •  Trading sounds: the migration of people and musical instruments, from the African diaspora to the music of the Americas
  • There’s always lots of interesting things to see at The Hornium Museum so check out their upcoming events and pop along!

Museum of Army Music – Twickenham, London 

£5 per person

  • Kneller Hall, where this museum is held, has been the home to British Military music since 1857 when the Royal School of Military Music was established. This small but fascinating collection holds memorabilia associated with military music from the last 200 years, including a bugle that sounded at the Charge of The Light Brigade! 
  • Opening times can be checked here. Visitors are adivsed to call ahead to let the team know they are coming in case the museum space has been booked.

Eel Pie Island Museum – Twickenham, London

£3 per adult, under 16s free (when accompanied by an adult)

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  • Eel Pie Island is known for its unique working boatyards and the fantastic musical history made on the little island! The Eel Pie Island Hotel Museum encompasses and celebrates it all. The Hotel played a big part in the British Blues Explosion of the 1960s and helped superstars such as The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart kick start their musical careers.
  • Check opening times here – normally Thursday to Sunday.

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