Community music is a term that has been interpreted in a variety of ways since its earliest documented usages, and it continues to be controversial. Notwithstanding historical disagreement or contested definitions, an inclusive and practical set of defining parameters is both possible and desirable for the purpose of this document. Indeed, to be useful, a contemporary definition of CM is necessarily more description of practice and activity than establishment of qualifying criteria.
Community music, as encountered in contemporary Australia, operates in three guises:

  • as a creative and performative activity,
  • as an educational process and mechanism, and
  • as a support resource for community music practitioners and facilitators.

As an activity, community music in Australia functions and thrives as intervention, cohesive socio-cultural practice, and as an opportunity for, and connection point to, open-ended cross-demographic learning.
Community music infiltrates the categories of making music, creating music, learning and teaching music, and the support of participation in all of these. The inclusive nature of community music as an accessible social activity means that it encapsulates and promotes informal, nonformal and semiformal learning, in their own right as teaching and learning mechanisms, and also as conduits and access points to formal learning environments and opportunities.
The term formal music education refers here to an established and state-recognised curriculum; nonformal music education to a loose, outcome-orientated curriculum or learning program that is delivered outside of a formal (state-recognised) educational institution; informal to learning that results from self- or peer-facilitated activity without an identified curriculum, syllabus, or structured learning program; and semiformal to education sourced by formal environments (schools, universities etc.) from third-party organisations or individuals outside of the formal system, supporting established student curriculum at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, and professional learning for non-music specialist school teachers etc. Semiformal best describes the educational model demonstrated by NSW regional conservatoriums, independent not-for-profit community music education organisations that operate as music education hubs across the greater portion of non-metropolitan New South Wales (Hanze University of Applied Sciences 2014; Sattler 2016).
The lens through which the following was compiled is that of professional educational and academic involvement in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan communities across NSW, and a practice that articulates with a range of semi-formal, non-formal, informal and formal music education environments.
The list below identifies some community music considerations that appear across more than one of the categories. While this is not a SWOT consideration that is unique to community music, it is important to note, as community music organisations, typically lithe and not weighed down by large administrative mechanisms, are able to be responsive in the face of challenge or change in community desires, developments, and other unexpected factors that can impact on their membership or operations. One example of this is the unconditional welcome (Higgins 2012); while presenting as a strength in enabling membership, social interaction and peer support, it is a weakness in that the potential acceptance of members at any time and standard could prove an impediment to group achievement.

SWOT Analysis


  1. Music is ubiquitous, the vast majority of humans ‘do’ music in some way. Most people listen, and/or sing along to or with music on a regular basis
  2. The increasingly researched and publicised socio-cultural/community/neurological/well-being benefits of music activity
  3. Making music can be cost-free
  4. Community music can take place in any group environment (workplace choirs, bands, talent quests etc.)
  5. Community music activity can and does take place in non-music-specific organisations and programs
  6. Community music is inclusive, the unconditional welcome and hospitality (Higgins, 2012) being major features of CM, taking precedence over demonstrated musical achievement or executive skill
  7. Availability, and increasingly, opportunity for commencement at any age
  8. Organised Community Music activity is usually low cost


  • There is no commonly held sense of identity or purpose
  • There is confusion/argument about what Community Music is
  • Community members who don’t identify as musicians fear the judgement of others, many have been convinced as children that they can’t ‘do’ it
  • A lack of a commonly known song repertoire across community
  • Inexpert leadership: leadership that lacks musical, pedagogical or communication confidence
  • Invisibility
  • thereby not always apparent to/for prospective members/participants
  • Inclusive nature of community music (acceptance of ebbing and flowing membership of groups and the unconditional welcome (Higgins 2013) can create an impediment to increasing artistic achievement, traction and satisfaction
  • Few community music leadership undergraduate courses available worldwide, none operational in Australia


  1. Development of public policy in the areas of health promotion (Wellbeing) and social inclusion
  2. Shift in education perspective (multiple intelligences, civics, community engagement)
  3. Training environments for conductors/ensemble leaders and facilitators
  4. Scientific research (particularly neuroscience)
  5. Encouragement of informal, nonformal and semiformal music learning within schools and other educational institutions and environments
  6. Constantly evolving definition
  7. Increasing international focus on community music activity as focus of research
  8. Feel-good activity for local government cultural activity identification
  9. Community-based music education and activity hubs requiring leaders and facilitators of informal, nonformal and semi-formal music education activity


  • Commodification
  • in the sense that a community-generated activity, one that exists to serve the (existing or prospective) members, becomes attractive and identifiable as a product that can be sold or marketed by others – whether corporate or government entity
  • Trivialisation/marginalisation
  • Public outcome fetishism – product over process
  • the raison d’etre of a group being challenged by prospective or less-confident participants
  • possible clash of vision between support organisation and CM participants
  • in-kind provision of rehearsal venue etc.
  • Cultural appropriation
  • ‘Excellence’ obsession
  • musical/artistic excellence as an imperative rather than possible result
  • Institutional lack of recognition of musical and allied benefits
  • institutional awareness of community music as a valid environment for musical and socio-cultural activity (Sattler 2016)
  • Reliance on infrastructure support

Note: This SWOT analysis is based on a revision of one by John Hawkes previously appearing on this site.


Hanze University of Applied Sciences (2014). Lifelong Learning in Music. :// Retrieved from Hanze University of Applied Sciences website
Higgins, L. (2012). Community Music in theory and practice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Sattler, G. C. (2016). Community music: perceptions, expectations and conditions in non-metropolitan Australia<(Doctoral thesis, University of Sydney, Australia). Retrieved from


Dr Graham Sattler
Author of the initial entry (2008) was Jon Hawkes.
DATE October 6, 2017

Dr Graham Sattler is CEO of the Mitchell Conservatorium, Bathurst, one of the members of the regional conservatorium network in NSW.

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