top of page
  • Tarumusiikki

Community music

Updated: May 28, 2021

Community music eli vapaasti suomennettuna yhteisömusiikki on esimerkiksi Iso-Britanniassa ja Norjassa suosittu perinne ja toimintamuoto, joka painottaa yhteisöllisyyden ja yhteisen musisoinnin merkitystä ihmisten hyvinvoinnin tukena. Myös Suomessa yhteisöllinen musiikin tekeminen on noussut viime vuosina erityisen huomion kohteeksi ja ensimmäiset yhteisömuusikotkin ovat valmistuneet ammattikorkeakoulujen täydennyskoulutuksista. Tällä viikolla blogimme Vieraskynä-kirjoituksessa Hayley Jenkins ja Ryan Humphrey pohtivat yhteisömusiikin merkitystä ja esittelevät toimintaa omalla asuinalueellaan Koillis-Englannissa.

Community music is a popular tradition and alive practice e.g. in Great Britain and Norway. Community music emphasizes musicking together as a basis of social inclusion and wellbeing of the whole society. This week in our blog Hayley Jenkins, Lecturer of Music and Education at the University of Sunderland, and Ryan Humphrey, MA, Community Music research student at York St John University, reflect together aspects of community music in their local area in England.

Reflections upon where Community Music sit within the contexts of Higher Education and the community in the North East of England? Hayley Jenkins & Ryan Humphrey

The Community: Situating Community Music as a Discourse in Higher Education and as a Field of Practice (a history)

The writers, Hayley Jenkins and Ryan Humphrey

Community music or applied music practice has gained momentum in England since the 1960’s (Higgins, 2012: 25), some may argue before then. However, in recent years, Community Music Practice has received more attention regarding its legitimacy in the holistic support of mental health and wellbeing in the last 20 years. With professional bodies such as ISSME CMA Commision (1988) and SoundSense (1995) acting as advocates and support for practitioners in the field, and the first Journal of Community Music launched in 2007, the community of practice now has a solid foundation for practitioners and researchers to be heard.

However, there is still a disconnect between ‘practice’ and ‘academia’ which is something that is slowly starting to change thanks to HEI’s (Higher Education Institutions) including more ‘applied practice’ modules to programmes. Additionally, the launch of the International Centre for Community Music (ICCM) at York St John University (Anon n.d), in 2015, is acting as a portal of interchange between applied practice (practitioners out in the community) and academic research. This paper sets out some of the projects in the North East of England and their impact not just with regards to health and well-being, but also as a contributor to practice and the academic underpinning of Community Music.

Higher Education Programmes: Employability and Applied Music Practices

Studying music at Higher Education has changed dramatically in the UK in the past decade. More diverse programmes which reflect the changing nature of the industry (production, popular music, applied music practice) have been designed to support graduate outcomes and to reflect the changing landscape of the industry. Traditional programmes of study still exist, but the range and scope of the study are now giving graduates the opportunity to carve out their craft more specifically earlier on or alternatively experience areas of music that are not represented in compulsory education settings.

This is of relevance to those who identify as musicians across a full range of music genres and those who create plural and hybrid identities, which becomes more reflective of the employment options for graduates; gone are the day where graduates go one to one full-time job. As Gross and Musgrave (2017) argue, recent socio-political invitations to embody a belief in an entrepreneurialism renders music graduates particularly vulnerable (Gross and Musgrave, 2017:33).

Therefore, at the University of Sunderland and other HEI institutions, an effort has been made to make applied modules available to arts and performance students to give them experiences of alternative work- such as working in the community with vulnerable groups, education-based programmes, and therapeutic applications of their craft. This bucks the perception that many undergraduates have of narrow employment options such as performing or teaching and broadens horizons.

‘Employability of music graduates is particularly problematic  ‘from which few students transition to a traditional full-time position’. (Bennett et al. 2016)

These modules usually involve getting guest artists in from the local area which works with different groups in the community. For example, music practitioners working with dementia patients, early years practitioners, dance companies which work with the homeless, drama and music specialists taking clowning and play therapy into children's wards at local hospitals etc. They also require students to do work placements and develop workshops which focus on the needs of their participants- ultimately learning to adapt their skills for the context in which they are working.

This also applies to education based modules where they are encouraged to work in formal education settings for those interested in becoming teachers. This hopefully works to negate the issues that Gross and Musgrave (2017) identify by developing a range of graduate skills to help build more flexible portfolio careers, thus making more resilient and entrepreneurial practitioners.

‘A portfolio career in music requires a strong sense of identity and employability mindset’ (Bennett et al. 2016)

Further to this, the inclusion of applied practice into HEI programmes allows for the opportunities to explore the power of the arts and music through academic assignments and research.

Encouraging undergraduates to understand the theoretical underpinning of applied practices is essential to supporting students to understand good practices and enable them to see the potential impact of what they do. It is this impact that enables projects to continue as the measurability of a project is what ensures its funding. Thus, supporting future graduates/practitioners to engage in the discourse through conferences and journals, such as ISSME and SoundSense, ultimately strengthening the links between theory and practice.

‘Where field is in and of a situation and the wider environmental conditions’ which in turn, continue to re-configure the field itself. (Robine, 2011)

Below is an account of recent graduate and PhD candidate, Ryan Humphrey, about his experience of applied music at an undergraduate level.

A Graduate's Perspective: Practice and Further Research

Having graduated from a BA (Hons) in Community Music from the University of Sunderland, I have been able to form an understanding and the importance of having both the knowledge of community music theories and the practical experiences of delivering workshops, to establish myself as a practitioner in the field. The degree placed emphasis on giving students a real-life experience of applied music practices through ‘situated learning' opportunities (Lave and Wenger, 1991), where there were opportunities to explore the theoretical models in real life contexts.

There was an expectation that as you went through the degree that you would increase your leadership role within a project, going from being someone who helped set up the room and playing a backing instrument, through to leading full session by yourself. When I look back at my first time leading, I can see the progress I made regarding my confidence of leading a group, knowledge of activities and ways of supporting participants.

During my undergraduate degree, I had a wide range of experiences, such as; of working within a secondary school delivering band workshops focusing on diversity, delivering early years music making sessions within local nurseries and delivering weekly music making sessions with looked after children. Through having these experiences, I could develop both my theoretical knowledge of musical practice and practical skills of delivery, through working with other established community musicians in the field.

Having the opportunity to work with other musicians also provided an opportunity to network and establish yourself as a practitioner, as many of the musicians I worked with in these projects have since played a key role in helping me develop projects or gain employment following the degree.

Music making with looked after children became a particular interest spurred on by the work I was doing upon a project at Sage Gateshead, alongside the realisation that there was a lack of research on the impacts that community music may have for this community. This has led me to undertake an undergraduate dissertation focusing upon the ecological development (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) that music making may have for foster carers and foster children, through a case study approach.

Before recently undertaking a research masters at York St John in collaboration with the ICCM, focusing on the potential impact that music making may have for looked after children and their support networks, including children in residential homes, foster care and adoptive care.

One of the case studies I have been focusing on is the not-for-profit music organisation, SoundLINCS based in Lincolnshire. Set up in 1998, SoundLINCS currently provides a breadth of projects, ranging from early years mother and children music groups through to specific training programmes for music facilitators or care staff. The organisation works with several partners including; Youth Music, The Mighty Creatives and Lincolnshire Social services which provide funding and support for many of the projects. A project that has been of a particular focus has been their ‘Fusion Project' which has provided a training day for looked after children's support networks (foster carers, social workers) to help promote the use of music with looked after children.

The training day embedded with opportunities for support workers to trial out activities, develop their knowledge of how SoundLINCS may provide support and learn about the implications that music may have for individuals. Participants well received the training day, but it was interesting to note that with a lack of research to prove to managers the implicate that music may have for looked after children that staff believed they would struggle to gain support to implement music into their work.   

Another case I have been focusing on is the Sage Gateshead Loud and Clear projects, working with foster families and families going through the adoption process. Sage Gateshead is a music organisation based in the North East of England, which similar to SoundLINCS provides music making across a breadth of projects. Their Loud and Clear projects were set up in 2009 in collaboration with Newcastle and Gateshead Council. The project provides weekly music making for children in looked after care aged 0-5 years of age, which they attend with their carers or adoptive parents.

The project based on a songwriting approach with opportunities for children to play instruments, sing and socialise with other children going through a similar circumstance. Similarly, for the children's support networks the project has been seen to provide an opportunity for carers and parents to develop their knowledge of music activities, bond with their child and socialise with other families going through similar circumstances.

The project based around a social pedagogical approach (see the works of Cameron & Moss, 2012), asks for carers and adoptive parents to join in with the musical activity to help form a bond. Preliminary findings from my MA have found that participants attending the Loud and Clear projects have found that music has been useful for helping provide structure for looked after children, help settle them into their new environment and help develop musical and behavioural skills. In a similar vein to SoundLINCS, Loud and Clear participants have identified the need for research to help continue to gain funding and promote the implications of music making to draw participants to the project.

Community music needs research to continue to develop the practice further for it to be as impactful as possible for the communities that we work within. I have seen my practice develop through undertaking these research projects, through understanding how best to cater sessions to support looked after children through music making and how vital activities may be in supporting behavioural and social development. I aim to continue to help develop my practice and others within the field by continuing onto a PhD to further explore the practice and implications of community music.


Anon n.d. ICCM Website- Date Retrieved: 27th June 2018.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design. New Ed edition. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Bennett, D., Rowley, J., Dunbar-Hall, P., Hitchcock, M., and Blom, D. (2016)

Electronic portfolios and learner identity: an ePortfolio case study in music and writing. Journal of Further Education and Higher Education. 40 (1): 107-124.  

Cameron, C & Moss, P. (2012). Social Pedagogy and working with children facing challenging circumstances, where care and education meet. London; Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Higgins, L. (2012). Community Music in Theory and in Practice. Oxford University Press.

Gross, S.A. and Musgrave, G. (2016) Can Music Make you Sick? Music and Depression :

A study into the incidence of musicians’ mental health. Part 2: Qualitative Study and

Recommendations Music Tank: University of Westminster.

Lave, J & Wenger E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Robine, J-M. (2011) On the Occasion of the Other. Gouldsboro, ME: The Gestalt Journal Press.

100 views0 comments
bottom of page