Music Australia has identified four broad approaches to community music, drawing on the work of researchers Lee Higgins, Gillian Howell and Brydie Leigh-Bartleet:
Amateur music: This includes community orchestras, brass bands, and choirs. It provide participants with an experience similar to that of a professional ensemble with scores and parts, led by skilled conductors, and often has auditions. The music performed is often from the Western canon.
Communal music: This may involve community groups playing music from diverse cultures and traditions, ukulele groups, community choral groups and jam sessions. It is driven by participation, open access, shared connections, eclectic repertoire, relaxed views on musicianship and standards.
Music of a Community: This can be music of a particular ethnic community, or community of interest, and part of the expression of those people’s identity. It may be open only to members of that community, and knowledge of the group may be within the community.
Music Interventions: Activities that address community needs through music by fostering cultural engagement. Objectives may be to increase civic pride, community well-being, or social cohesion. They can offer learning and participation opportunities to marginalised groups, address issues of disadvantage or disengagement.
The first, second and third approaches are based around organically occurring activities, or the initiative of a committed individual, generally involving group music making. The fourth occurs when a proactive approach is taken with music in a community to achieve a broader social or cultural development outcome. There may be organisational and financial support from a third party, and activities are often free of charge to participants.
These categories are not values based, more a tool to understand differing approaches, and are generally determined by the goals, values and reason for existences that underpin a group. Groups can span more than one approach. All approaches can be valued expressions of a communities’ identity, traditions, beliefs, creativity and interests.
Examples of Amateur music
- Community orchestras
- Classical choirs
- Brass bands
- Pipe bands
Examples of Communal music
- Culturally diverse groups (e.g. Djembe drum group or multicultural choir)
- ‘Gypsy’ and Balkan Orchestras
- Ukulele groups
- Community jam sessions
- Community choirs and informal choral groups
Examples of Music of a Community
- Ethnic choirs (e.g. Croatian Choir, Korean Choir or Indigenous Choir)
- Non-western music groups (e.g. Chinese orchestra)
- Church choirs
Examples of Music Interventions
- Community cultural development projects
- Choirs with disadvantaged communities
- Music programs for people with a disability
- Informal music participation and learning programs
Music Australia is currently updating our community music information. You can still access the Music in Communities Network site for further information: