The basis of this article is findings from the Music for Life Project which investigated the benefits and challenges of music activity participation for the over 50s in three case study sites in the United Kingdom. The paper uses a philosophical lens to explore the leaders’ and
participants’ views on the purpose of the activities, how learners are characterised, the role of the activity leader, and the use of assessment. Data from 147 participant and 13 activity leader questionnaires, from 28 participant and 13 activity leader individual interviews, and from
15 participant focus groups were analysed within a philosophical framework that refers to six approaches: liberal, progressive, behaviourist, humanistic, radical and analytic. NVivo and SPSS assisted with the quantitative and qualitative analyses. The analyses indicated that humanism was prevalent
although other approaches, particularly behaviourist and progressive, were evident. Activity leaders’ emphasis on humanism might lead to more concern with the comfort side of participation than with musical progression. There was very little use of formal assessment or feedback to support
progression. There was some discrepancy between purposes for participation between leaders and participants. There might be a need to clarify purpose, particularly if activities are part of adult education rather than adult social groups.