Musical Playground for Children's Museum, Minnesota

A new musical experience opened earlier this year at the Minnesota Children’s Museum. Located in the new ‘Creativity Jam’ the musical playground, featuring five Percussion Play instruments, allows visitors to quite literally jam with family, friends and other visitors.

Seven Powers of Play

The museum was keen to incorporate more music into the museum, recognizing that through musical play kids not only have fun, but also build upon and develop important life skills.

All the museum’s exhibits are developed around the seven powers of play - the 7c’s - seven lifelong skills they believe children need to thrive, now and throughout their lives:

Creative Thinking - Critical Thinking - (Self)-Control - Confidence - Collaboration - Communication and Coordination

The goal for any new exhibit or program is to nourish the development of one or more of the seven powers of play in any way. Knowing that music helps develop confidence, creative and critical thinking, and communication skills, it made total sense to create a space for visitors to compose and play their own music in the new ‘creativity jam’ zone.

The design and development team began looking for large musical instruments that had pleasant tones and were easy to play, to build confidence and encourage a high success in creating music. They were also aware that the instrument they chose would have to hold up to the high numbers of visitors they see pass through their doors each year.

‘Percussion Play instruments met both these needs with the bonus of being aesthetically beautiful’. said Michelle Blodgett - Exhibit Developer.

The museum chose mainly stainless- steel instruments, many of which can be played with just the hands:

  • Tubular Bells– Big, bold bells that produce outstanding resonance and deep tones you can feel as well as hear.
  • Bell Lyre– Eight graduated stainless-steel bells create their own unique sound. Smaller bells at the top of the structure make gentle tones while the larger bottom bells create deeper sounds.
  • Large Babel Drum– Circular stainless-steel drums that are played with the hands and generate warm, mellow tones.
  • Harmony – Eleven thick aluminium tubes arranged lengthwise produce melodic sounds. This instrument is based on a traditional Vietnamese bamboo xylophone called a T’rung.
  • Cajon– Easy-to-play drums inspired by traditional Cuban/Peruvian Cajon drums. There’s a snare at the top and low bass sound around the middle. These drums also can be used as seats.

Museum Experience Lead Jenny Covey told us “Once I was walking through the area. I said 'Hi' to a little boy. He totally ignored me. I went over to one of the instruments, and I began to play. He wandered closer to me. I kept playing as I watched the child inch closer. Finally, he was right next to me. I held a mallet for him to take. At first, he backed up. He looked at me trying to figure out if I was OK to play with. He grabbed the mallet and started to hit the instrument. We played together for a bit. I started to leave. He said 'No!' and pointed at the instrument. He wanted me to stay and play!”

Another time, a grandfather and I were in the gallery with the child. I was talking about the musical tune the child had been creating earlier. The child ran back to the instruments and continued to play. The Grandfather said that it was so great that we had these here and what a great way it was for children to learn about patterns in sound.”

Asked how the instruments had been received by the museum’s visitors Michelle told us "We see all ages using and enjoying the instruments from the 1 year old to the adult visitor." She continued "They have great tones that are pleasant throughout the building. The instruments are sturdy and have held up really well. Everyone is successful when using the instrument, which encourages more musical exploration”.