London's Museums of Music & Musical Instruments

Relive favourite rock and pop moments and see iconic memorabilia, pay homage to Handel at the two collections devoted to him, or try something new such as an early keyboard instrument recital or a performance on the 'Mighty Wurlitzer'.

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London's varied museums of music cover a wide range of genres and instruments, and offer environments where visitors can not only look and listen, but in some cases can play instruments too.

Return to London's museums grouped by theme

The Museums (in alphabetical order)

Benjamin Franklin Museum

The 'Historical Experience' tour of the world's only remaining Franklin home explores the many interests of Dr Benjamin Franklin - including music. Visitors can view and sometimes play a reconstruction of his intriguing Glass Armonica, which he invented in 1761 after attending a performance using water-filled wine glasses. The armonica consists of 37 bowls mounted on a metal spindle, which are turned using a foot pedal and played with moistened fingers. Many composers, including Mozart and Beethoven, composed works for the armonica, but by the early 19th century the instrument had fallen completely out of fashion, many believing that the sound could drive performers mad!

British Music Experience

An interactive museum of British popular music which uses state of the art effects and cutting edge technology to show how rock, pop, dance and many other genres were formed and have influenced the last sixty years of British culture. See fantastic music memorabilia, learn about British music's influence on art, fashion and politics, try out your skills on guitar, bass and drums, dance through the decades, and feel the thrill of being in the crowd at a legendary gig. The museum also pays homage to international artists who have found their inspiration or audience within the UK.

Fenton House

The Benton Fletcher Collection of early keyboard instruments is housed in a beautiful 17th century merchant house on the edge of Hampstead Heath. The remarkable collection comprises harpsichords, virginals, spinets, clavichords and pianos, many of them extremely rare, dating from the 16th to 19th century. Displays explain how they work and tell their remarkable stories. All 19 instruments in the collection are maintained in playing condition, and it is possible to attend lunchtime and evening recitals, take a demonstration tour, and even audition to play the instruments yourself.

Foundling Museum

Britain's original home for abandoned children and London's first-ever public art gallery is also home to the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, an internationally important collection of material relating to the composer George Frideric Handel and his contemporaries. Handle was a Governor and benefactor of the Foundling Hospital, and he bequeathed the score of Messiah to the hospital in his will. Items on display in the collection's exhibition gallery include manuscripts, libretti, printed books and music, works of art, memorabilia and ephemera. The Foundling museum hosts regular concerts and musical events and is home to The Foundling Community Choir and the London Community Baroque Orchestra.

Handel Hendrix House (formerly Handel House Museum)

25 Brook Street was home to the great baroque composer George Frideric Handel from 1723 until his death in 1759. It was here that he composed his greatest music, including Messiah and Music for the Royal Fireworks. The museum hosts displays and exhibitions related to Handel and his world, and portraits of Handel and his contemporaries are hung in the house's beautifully restored Georgian rooms. The museum has a composer in residence, and hosts many musical events, concerts and rehearsals.

Handel & Hendrix

In a thought provoking musical juxtaposition, the house next door to the Handel House Museum (23 Brook Street) was once home to Jimi Hendrix. The flat he lived in from 1968 to 1969 is now the administrative office of the Handel House Museum, and the museum held a 'Hendrix in Britain' exhibition in 2010 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Hendrix's death. The house is marked with a Blue Plaque, and is occasionally open to the public, usually as part of the annual Open House Festival.

Horniman Museum & Gardens, Forest Hill

This lovely museum's music gallery displays a nationally designated collection of instruments from around the world in a family-friendly hands-on setting. The collection of 1,600 instruments is the largest in the UK, and includes the Carse Collection of brass and woodwind instruments, the Dolmetsch Collection of early English keyboards, the Wayne Collection of concertinas, and the Boosey & Hawkes collection. Other exhibits include such treasures as 3,500 year old Egyptian clappers, a 1937 Carlton jazz drum kit and recent acquisitions from Uzbekistan. Displays explore the important place of music in the lives of people around the world, sound stations allow visitors to hear many of the instruments being played, various instruments can be played in the sound room, and there is also a performance and demonstration area.

Museum of Army Music (currently closed)

The collection of the Royal Military School of Music has a wide range of military instruments - modern and historic, from bugles and fanfare trumpets to saxophones - plus many related objects, artworks and photographs. Look out for the alpine horn and model soldier musicians in formation. The museum is open by appointment, and prior to Kneller Hall Concerts.
By appointment only

Museum of Instruments, Royal College of Music

An outstanding collection of over 800 instruments and accessories from all over the world, including a clavicytherium of circa 1480, probably the earliest surviving stringed keyboard instrument. Around 700 of the instruments are European keyboard, stringed or wind instruments, and around 100 are Asian and African instruments. The collection also includes a number of important music-related paintings. There are regular tours of the collection with live and recorded demonstrations.

Musical Instruments Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum

The V&A's Gallery of Musical Instruments closed in 2010, and many of the exhibits are now on loan to the Horniman Museum (see above). However, music continues to play a part in the V&A's exhibitions and permanent displays. Numerous musical instruments are displayed in the British Galleries and the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, which also feature recordings of period music. Further instruments will be displayed in two galleries currently under development: the Furniture Gallery and the Europe 1600 to 1800 Galleries. Items not on display or on loan are accessible by appointment at the Museum's Study Collections and Archive at Blythe House, Kensington Olympia.

Musical Museum, Brentford

A musical journey into the world of automatic instruments, from clockwork musical boxes to barrel organs and the museum's 1929 self-playing 'Mighty Wurlitzer'. The collection is one of the foremost of its sort in the world, and includes sophisticated reproducing pianos, orchestrions, orchestrelles, residence organs and violin players. Many of the instruments have been restored to full playing condition, and the museum has its own concert hall hosting regular concerts and dances, plus silent films accompanied by the Wurlitzer.

Royal Academy of Music Museum

A world-renowned collection of instruments, manuscripts, artworks, teaching aids, objects and images. The museum is part of the Royal Academy's Centre for Performing History and forms an integral part of Academy life. The Piano and Strings Galleries feature rare and important instruments, plus varied treasures drawn from its collection. Temporary themed exhibitions celebrate composers, musicians and the history of the Academy. There are regular live demonstrations on the historic pianos in the Piano Gallery.

Sir John Ritblat Gallery, British Library

The 'Treasures of the British Library' exhibition includes a number of rare and wonderful music manuscripts, printed books, items and objects encompassing both classical music and English rock band The Beatles. Classical works on display include an early 15th century manuscripts of Chants for Mass, and score books, librettos and printed volumes relating to Purcell, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Elgar and other greats. Also on display are Beethoven's tuning folk and Mozart's marriage contract. Beatles fans will find a variety of treasures ranging from the original hand-written lyrics of iconic songs – including Ticket to Ride and Help – a photo of the original line-up, a London concert ticket and a Beatles Fan Club membership card.

'The Vault', Hard Rock Café

A great collection of memorabilia located in a former bank vault under the Hard Rock Café. It's a particular treat for guitar fans - there are guitars donated, and in many cases signed, by many of rock's finest including Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Kurt Cobain. Other highlights are Madonna's silver bustier from the 1990 Blonde Ambition Tour, John Lennon's hand-corrected lyrics for 'Imagine' and items associated with the Beatles, The Who and even Elvis!