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‘Starting a Music Group - A guide’ was developed as part of the Victoria Makes Music project, Community Music Victoria’s contribution towards expanding participation in and the availability of accessible community instrumental music making opportunities for all Victorians. It is hoped that the booklet will continue to enable ordinary people to take action and get started with their own group music making – no ‘experts’ required!  The booklet is also available from our store.

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Starting a Music Group

So you want to start a music group? Whether you’re interested in starting a ukulele group, strum club, drum circle, orchestra or anything in between… 

Well, you are not alone! Victoria is currently experiencing an unprecedented movement of community music making. So, chances are there’s something happening near you and if there’s not, there are most likely other people in your area who want to be a part of something too. 

Some people want to start a group because they just want to play - maybe they are interested in a particular instrument or style of music and can’t find a group to join close by. Others are interested in being a leader and perhaps earning some income by sharing their musical skills and passions. 

This Victoria Makes Music guide by Community Music Victoria has been compiled to help develop and support the burgeoning community music making culture within Victoria and to help individuals and groups to find, start, understand and participate in community music. We also want to encourage potential leaders to take the step towards becoming leaders and to help group participants and leaders overcome any hurdles that may be encountered along the way.

Planning and people 

If your new music group is going to involve the cooperation of others, especially if the aim is to promote a sense of community around a particular kind of music practice, then ultimately you will need to share the decision making process with other members of your group. 

Community music flourishes through active, voluntary collaborations and a shared sense  of ‘ownership’ of the project, so why not start at the beginning and involve others in the planning process. Group brainstorming over a cup of tea or a good meal will help define the scope of your project and may raise all manner of issues that you could not have thought of on your own. You may find that the original idea is still agreed on by everyone — or that you go on to something richer that you had not initially conceived.

What if there is an established group in my local area already? 

Talk to them. Think about how the groups can work together and support each other and both contribute to a greater whole. What are their different objectives? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a ‘rival’ situation. Many people may want to be a part of both. Maybe a new group isn’t necessary? Something you may need to consider is meeting/practice times and avoiding a clash. Good communication wards off opportunities for suspicion, animosity or negative commentary and could open up the possibility of collaborative projects later on. 


Once you know what kind of group you want to start, the next step is to see if anyone is interested in participating. To find other participants you could try:

Advertising on a community notice board, or with Community Music Victoria

  1. Placing a notice in local papers, newsletters and advertising on local radio/television
  2. Talking to people at community events, local schools, neighbourhood houses, churches.
  3. Going online and using social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, or joining interest specific community forums to find likeminded people in your local area.
  4. Bear in mind that it may take time for your group to grow. So, if initially you receive a minimal number of responses, persevere, more people will most likely hear about it and join in over time.

Basic Elements for Successful Music Groups

To begin with, here are some thoughts regarding running successful, inclusive, sustainable instrumental groups. 

Note that the ‘answers’ that are right for any particular group may change over time as the group evolves. It is worth considering that the dot points below should not be just the responsibility of the leader but of all the members of the group

  1. Active Welcome. Greet each person as they arrive. Have tea and coffee available and invite them to have a drink and make themselves comfortable.
  2. A team approach. The group will be more sustainable if a number of people are sharing the organization and the musical direction (and it is not reliant on a single person). This can really require effort.
  3. Communication. Open and clear systems of communication. Regular newsletter? Email group list? Facebook group?
  4. Defining the Nature of the Group. Collectively decide the boundaries of your musical exploration. Which instruments/genres are welcomed? Be open to this changing over time.
  5. Group Identity. Having a collective/shared sense of ownership and community is extremely important. You can contribute to this by coming up with a name for the group that gives members a sense of inclusivity, attachment and identity.
  6. Inclusivity. Is the group open to all? If the individual needs a certain level of instrumental expertise or repertoire knowledge to join, where can this be acquired? Is a buddy system helpful?
  7. Size of group. Does size matter? Is bigger better? Does limiting size impact on inclusivity?
  8. Safe and supportive environment. It is ok to make mistakes or play ‘wrong notes’; that’s how we learn. Turn off the judgement switch. It’s all about fun. Improvement comes with positive experiences. 
  9. Physical accessibility. Do individuals need help with transport, childcare or language? Is the cost prohibitive?
  10. Musical accessibility. Some people learn aurally and can’t read music. Some people feel threatened by learning aurally and are more comfortable with sheet music or tablature. Encourage learning aurally, but have sheet music available for anyone who’s feeling insecure (without sheet music) and for participants to take home as a mnemonic. Avoid using ‘technical’ speak. Try to have available as many different ways of learning the tune as possible. Explain in clear language. How your group learns repertoire is entirely up to you to decide either as a group or you individually. Use music? Learn by ear? Work towards learning by ear using music, memorising, using recordings etc.
  11. Venue. Centrally located? Kitchen facilities? Acoustics? Expensive? Help may be available from councils or other community organizations.
  12. Costs/Fees. How do you cover costs such as venue hire, coffee/tea/snacks, copying music etc? Should a leader be paid? Advertising? A leader who is starting a group as an income stream should, through Community Music Victoria, consult with other experienced leaders in a similar situation. 
  13. Resources. What do you need, where can you find it? Where can you get help with sheet music/tablature/recordings/instruments? Note how much repertoire and technique resources are on the web (esp. YouTube). Can you create a web page where all repertoire and other resources are posted e.g. Facebook? The Community Music Victoria website is a great place to find resources and network (
  14. Tuning. Before the session or part of the learning during the session. Do people understand the settings on their tuner (chromatic/instruments/440Hz)? Tuning by ear?
  15. Repertoire. Who decides? How is level of difficulty negotiated? How is varying musical taste negotiated?
  16. Dealing with varying levels of ability/experience. If there are some beginners and some more experienced, think of ways of catering to all levels. For example, varying levels of difficulty in repertoire, different ‘parts’ in more difficult tunes (e.g. some do simple chording, some more complex rhythms or melody). Improvisation and solos can be used for extension of skilled players.
  17. Group etiquette. Listening and sensitivity to issues of volume with mixed instruments. Respect for everyone’s individual contributions and diverse traditions. Give everyone a turn. Encourage questions. Give positive, encouraging feedback. Be open to everyone’s concerns and establish group ‘rules’ for dealing with issues.
  18. Social time/hospitality. Having time for a drink and a chat usually helps a sense of belonging to the group. Hospitality engenders a sense of generosity and shared ownership/identity.
  19. Performance. Collectively decide what role performance has with your group. When is it appropriate to perform? When is it positive and when is it damaging or counter productive? If you do perform, make sure people feel ok to not be a part of that if that’s their preference.
  20. Networking. What other groups like us are out there? How can we help each other? Where do we get our support?
  21. Leaderfulness. Acknowledge that different people in the group have leadership skills to contribute – cultivate these.
  22. Mentoring. Actively encourage other potential leaders within the group – show them how, give them a part of the session to lead.
  23. Recruitment, promotion and advertising. Another team activity – word of mouth, local newspapers, radio, facebook, fliers etc. There will be people in your group who know about this stuff.

Values that underpin these groups: 

  1. Community building through music/music making as an essential part of living
  2. Developing a group identity
  3. Appreciation of everyone’s contribution
  4. Collective ownership
  5. Succession planning/sustainability
  6. Inclusivity, welcome and the willingness to be and play together
  7. Creating a safe and supportive environment

Models of Leadership & Groups

The model and structure you choose for your group will have a direct bearing on the culture that evolves within the group and also the ongoing sustainability and life of the group. 

A number of factors will influence the model you choose: is the leader a volunteer or professional, is the group being run as a business or part of a business, is the group open and inclusive to all or an exclusive group targeted at specific instruments or skill levels? One thing is certain, the more thought that goes into the model you feel is most suitable the more likely the group will succeed and flourish into the future. Another important consideration is to remain flexible in relation to the model chosen. Often as a group evolves so will the model.

Committee of Management

Committee of management that employs the Leader/Conductor and makes all major decisions related to the group. This committee also administers finances, venue management, promotion and publicity.

The Lone Ranger

The soul operator who does everything from arrangements and conducting to providing the tea and biscuits. This approach requires a great deal of focus and organisation from the leader. This model could be appropriate for someone operating a business/as a private operator – however, just because someone may be earning an income stream from the group it does not exclude or diminish the importance of team building and group ownership.

The Team Approach

Different tasks are identified like musical leadership, venue, publicity, communication, refreshments etc and shared between the leadership team.


This could be where the leader is employed by an organisation (e.g. Neighbourhood House, welfare organization, hospital etc) or works in partnership with an organisation (e.g. the venue is provided free of charge and the publicity and promotion done by the organisation but the Leader charges per person on a user pays basis).

Types of groups

Single instrument (ukulele, mandolin), multi-instrument (brass, strings, reeds), voice plus instrument (strum club), particular music style (Irish, Scottish, Russian, Mexican), tunes swap, a cooperative session… or a mixture of all of the above! The possibilities are infinite.

Strategies for Sustainability/Transition/Evolution

The two major factors to be mindful of to ensure group sustainability are:

  •     Leader burn out
  •     Group stagnation

Depending on circumstances it is probably worth considering the long-term sustainability of the group by developing the following:


Any potential leader in the group is identified and encouraged to take on leadership roles with the support and assistance of the group’s leader. More than one person can be mentored at any time within the group. This is a good way to ensure that there is someone to fill in and take the group when the leader is unavailable and also provides options for the group if the existing leader decides to move on.  

Shared Leadership

Leadership of the group can be shared between two or more people. This ensures a variety of material and teaching approaches and alleviates the workload of any single individual leader. It’s great when all members of the group understand that they have a role and a responsibility in maintaining the culture and sustainability of the group.

YOU Can Be a Leader! 

Potential leaders and organizers often do not see themselves as leaders. Community Music Victoria wants to help those people to find and build the confidence to take that step.

Firstly, you don’t have to think of yourself as a ‘leader’ as such – maybe more a ‘facilitator’, ‘supervisor/organizer’ or ‘chairperson.’ Depending on the size and model of your group, really all you’re doing is guiding/directing each session or gathering for your group. Different kinds of groups require different kinds of leadership. A small tunes group or gathering may not require a leader at all. Larger community groups may require a leader/s who will most likely require payment.

Start out small. Teach a tune you know really well to a small group (2-5 people) of friends that you feel comfortable around. Your group could even start out as a ‘tune swap’ where each person brings along a tune and teaches it to the rest of the group. You will find that ‘leaders’ naturally emerge/develop through this process.

Gather resources and build your skills – go to as many workshops, festivals, camps conventions, tunes swaps etc. as you can. A good leader does not have to be the most experienced teacher or performer, but the more of these types of events that you have participated in the more you will learn and experience. Benefits include, observing different teaching/leadership styles, learning new tunes, potentially obtaining sheet music/arrangements, exposure to different music styles, new repertoire ideas and resources and, more importantly, it’s fun and inspiring!              

Key words for leaders;

  • Support/supportive environment
  • (warm, welcoming, safe)
  • Expression and movement [body language]
  • Patience
  • Trust
  • Experience
  • Energy (good/positive energy)
  • Content
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Direction
  • Organisation and preparation
  • Delegation and cooperation
  • Sustainability
  • Repetition
  • Identity

Setting up a Music Group How CMVic can help

If you or someone you know is interested in setting up an instrumental music group Community Music Victoria (CMVic) is here to help!

If you require help, we can:

  1. Help you connect with existing groups in your community.
  2. Put you in touch with experienced leaders.
  3. Offer facilitation, encouragement, advice and support.
  4. Advise you on ways of seeking out and gathering interested participants to the group.
  5. Put you in touch with specialists who can run leadership workshops, instrumental/tune learning workshops and taster sessions.
  6. Direct you to appropriate resources and repertoire.

If you require leadership training, we can:

  1. Outline the range of skills needed and regular tasks that need to be completed.
  2. Advise on leadership, group establishment and sustainability issues.
  3. Advise on opportunities for leadership training from CMVic and other appropriate sources.
  4. If you require a group leader, we can advise on how to find and contract such a person, or find a suitable volunteer.

We may be able to lead the first couple of gatherings with you but you should be mindful that your independence is of utmost importance.

Once the group leaders are actually leading the group, we may be able to assist you with on-going leadership advice by way of mentoring, shadowing, one-to-one exchange, more taster sessions, and also with organisational and repertoire issues as they emerge.

Once you’re up and running, we’ll still be there with more assistance, song/tune swapping, CMVic camps, networking opportunities and a place to turn to if you need advice, counsel or a sounding board.


Attached Files