Rock Your Vacation By Visiting These Music Museums

These four music museums offer a rich mix of fascinating history and pulsing rhythms.

A performance at the National Blues Museum. Photo by H&L Partners; Copyright St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission.

Move to your own beat at America’s music museums. Listen to legendary performers, learn about genres, and create your own music at these hands-on facilities. Immerse yourself in the Blues at St. Louis’ new National Blues Museum, rock at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, world rhythms and instruments at Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum, and pop music and fantasy at Seattle’s EMP.

National Blues Museum, St. Louis

Compose your own musical riff at the National Blues Museum. The facility, which opened in April, explores how the Blues developed from the roots and rhythms of the Deep South to become the bedrock for 100 years of American popular music. As you move through the facility, lay down your own Blues riff by getting hands-on with the museum’s innovative technology. You create words at one station, add piano at another, then harmonica and guitar. At the Mix It Up room, blend the components, hear your personal Blues sequence and take it with you by emailing the piece to yourself. The 23,000-square-foot facility showcases B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry (a St. Louis native), and other Blues stars and hosts live performances.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as seen from Lake Erie.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland

What do music lovers find under the museum’s iconic glass pyramids? Through videos, artifacts, instruments, and music, the museum interprets the impact Rock and Roll has had in the US and internationally, while showcasing various artists and their backstories. The Beatles exhibit features one of the most comprehensive collection of Fab Four artifacts, including a George Harrison electric guitar, John Lennon’s 1979 Yamaha piano, and Ringo Starr’s 1964 bass drum set. Learn about and listen to Fats Domino, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and other legends.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as seen from Lake Erie.

Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix

Get into the beat of international music at the Musical Instrument Museum. Experience cool Jazz, classic singers, hot Hip Hop, Rock, and rhythms from around the world. Billed as the only global musical instrument museum, the facility displays more than 6,500 instruments from 200 countries and territories.

The cleverly designed exhibits, organized by region and also by topic, showcase the instruments and the music. At each area, you put headphones on and watch videos of people in their countries playing the instruments and sometimes dancing. In the hands-on Experience gallery, you can play a Burmese harp, beat African drums, and strike a huge gong from Thailand. The Artist Gallery presents changing exhibits on music icons. Past exhibits have focused on such diverse artists as John Lennon, Pablo Casals and Taylor Swift.

The Roots and Braches sculpture at EMP in Seattle.

EMP Museum, Seattle

What began as Experience Music Project, a museum devoted to detailing the roots, legends, and trends in American popular music, is now EMP, “dedicated to the ideas and risk-taking that fuel contemporary popular culture.” With this expanded scope, the museum looks at science fiction (a current exhibit showcases Star Trek), horror films, as well as video games. At Indie Game Revolution, explore new game technology as you play your way through the game’s fantasy world. The facility still presents plenty of music and related artifacts. Browse 55 guitars from the 18th century to the present at Guitar Gallery, perform a song before a virtual audience at On Stage jam with friends at Sound Lab and catch performances at Sky Church stage. Changing exhibits highlight different musicians and trends. Wild Blue Angel: Hendrix Abroad, 1966-1970, a current exhibit, features rare Jimi Hendrix soundtracks and interviews.

What are your favorite music museums and meccas? Share your thoughts with me on Twitter, @familyitrips.