The Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels

The Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels

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In what feels like another lifetime I used to play the piano. I wasn’t a fantastic pianist by any means, but I took piano lessons for over ten years. After playing piano for so long, I’m always fond of seeing pianos when I travel, whether that’s on the street, or in a museum. Luckily for me, the Musée des Instruments de Musique (French) Muziekinstrumentenmuseum (Dutch) or in English The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Brussels has pianos, and a lot more.

The Musical Instrument Museum collection has been housed in the Old England building since 2000. This art nouveau style building (built in 1899) was once a department store.

The MIM was the one museum I really wanted to visit on my short trip to Brussels. Established in 1877 the MIM is a museum that has thousands of musical instruments from around the world. There were instruments I’d heard of like pianos, guitars, cellos, etc. There were also instruments I’d never heard of before like a duda and an ocarina. Actually, I’d heard of an ocarina before (from playing the video game Legends of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time). I thought the instrument was something made up for that game, but it’s a real thing.

I don’t recall what all of these were, but they were all musical instruments at the MIM. Yes, even the bear suit.

This isn’t a museum where you only look at the instruments; you can hear many of them (almost two hundred) as well. When you come to the MIM, you get a headphone set. If you see an instrument with a number beside it you can enter the number on the headphone set. Then you’ll get to hear an audio recording of that instrument. There are written descriptions in French, and Dutch (two official languages in Belgium). Visiting a museum in a foreign country where you don’t speak or understand the language can be intimidating. Since you get to hear many the instruments being played this is a great museum to visit, no matter what language you speak (or don’t). It’s one thing to see a duda, but another entirely to hear it. A duda, by the way, is a Hungarian bagpipe. Yes, it’s not just Scotland that has bagpipes, several countries have them actually.

One of the harpsichords (a type of keyboard instrument) at the MIM. There were many elaborately painted harpsichords and pianos like this at the MIM.

Music is interesting to me because every culture has music in some form, but music varies differently from culture to culture. Visiting the MIM you see that drums/percussion instruments are found in almost every culture, but so are woodwind type instruments (like wooden flutes and oboes), bell and chime based instruments, and even bagpipes (like mentioned before). You may think if you’ve heard one bagpipe or one percussion instrument then you’ve  heard them all. Visiting the MIM, I was surprised at how different instruments in the same family (like percussion, string, etc.) can sound. Being in Brussels, there are also many instruments detailing Belgium’s musical history. Did you know that the creator of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, was from Brussels?

A variety of percussion instruments from across Africa at the MIM.

Taking photos at the MIM is hard as most of the instruments are behind protective glass cases, causing reflection and glare on photos. That said the MIM is part of the Musical Instrument Museums Online, which is a collection of musical instrument museums from around the world. They have a visual catalogue of all the musical instruments in the MIM. Unfortunately, there isn’t an audio catalogue, so it’s well worth visiting the MIM in person. You can learn about some new instruments, and hear some music you’ve probably never heard before (or may never hear again). It’s a great way to spend a couple hours listening to some unique musical instruments from around the world.

Things To Know
The Musical Instrument Museum is located at Rue Montagne de la Cour 2, 1000 Brussels, Belgium. Here’s a general map of the area. The MIM is open from 9:30am to 5pm Tuesdays to Friday, and from 10am to 5pm on Saturday, Sundays, and certain holidays. The MIM is closed Mondays, January 1, May 1, November 11, and December 25. Admission is €10 for adults 19-64, €8 for adults over 64, and free for those under 18. The MIM collection is on four different floors of the museum. Give yourself at least an hour in this museum (though I would suggest two or three hours). There is a restaurant on the top floor of the building that is free to get to, and offers a nice view of the city. The restaurant is only open during museum hours.
While in Brussels I stayed at the BRXXL5 City Centre Hostel, which was an exceptional budget accommodation option. A clean, modern hostel that’s close to the Zuid-Midi Metro station, and a 5-minute walk to the main centre of Brussels (Grand Place/Grote Markt). I paid for my stay here. If you are not on a budget there are a variety of hotels in Brussels you can book here.

Have you been to a musical instrument museum before? What’s the craziest sounding instrument you’ve ever heard?

11 thoughts on “The Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels”

  1. First of all, the building that houses the MIM is INCREDIBLE. What fantastic architecture! Also, that looks like a fantastic, out-of-the-ordinary museum. Adding it to the list for when we FINALLY get to Belgium 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  2. What a fascinating museum to visit. I have to say that the bear suit is one of the most impressive instruments that I’ve seen! I wonder what it sounds like. I love that the museum provides headsets so that you can listen to the different instruments, what a unique experience. Thanks for sharing, I won’t miss this the next time I’m in Brussels.

  3. I must have read dozens of blog posts about Brussels but this is the first time I have read about this place! What a fascinating museum, even the building itself is very unique-looking. I love the decorative harpsichord and thanks for educating me about some instruments I also never heard of – duda is a new one on me. Great post, really interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Ahh, a friend of mine just recently visited Brussels, she would have loved to visit this museum. However in saying that I have just bookmarked this post for when I eventually get to Brussels (one of those places that’s on the list but haven’t managed to get out there yet) A visit here would really be great. 😀

  5. The Musical Instrument Museum’s building is gorgeous! What an interesting bear suit. Wonder what kind of instrument that was? 🙂 The museum sounds like a great way to spend the day.

  6. I had no idea such a museum existed in Brussels. It seems quite interesting and even if you never studied music, I bet it’s still a very sensory and enlightening experience.

  7. I have not been to a typical museum related to music yet. But I am into a music a lot, and this one looks so interesting! Would love to visit some day! And good to know about the origin of the inventor of Saxophone!

  8. I’ve never been to a music museum but it’s certainly beautiful. This would be a wonderful place for a field trip for music students. There’s lots of history in this museum and I imagine there are some cool stories about music, instruments, and musicians.

  9. I’ve never seen a Hapsichord before. Wow that is incredible! The artwork is one of a kind. This place kinda reminds me of the Museum of Pop Culture museum in Seattle, Washington.

  10. Music is interesting to me because of the cultural side of it too! What a interesting display of instraments so much history. Thanks for the cool read

  11. What a fascinating museum, with unusual instruments, like the duda. I went to a similar museum in Paris and it is amazing listening with the audio and hearing the sounds from the past. It’s always interesting to step back and appreciate where we’ve come from. I’d love to visit this museum. Thanks for highlighting it!

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