The South African College of Music, founded by a group of musicians led by Madame Apolline Niay-Darroll, opened in 1910 in Strand Street, Cape Town, with six students. In 1912 Mr W.H. Bell was appointed Principal and, in 1914, the SACM moved to larger premises in Stal Plein.

In 1920 Mr Bell was made Professor of Music at the University of Cape Town, where he held classes for degree courses. In 1923 the SACM was incorporated into the University and Professor Bell became Dean of the Faculty of Music. In 1999 the Faculty of Music was absorbed into the Faculty of Humanities.

Strubenholm, previously the private residence in Rosebank of Henry Struben, has been home to the SACM since 1925. It now houses administrative offices and lecture rooms as well as an exhibition hall for the world-renowned Kirby Collection of African, European and Asian instruments.

Two new buildings, linked to Strubenholm, were completed at the end of 1972. These contain the 160-seat Chisholm Recital Room; an opera studio, the Fiasconaro Room; nearly 100 teaching studios and practising rooms; and the W.H. Bell Music Library, which houses a range of reference and text books, periodicals, scores and records. In addition there are recording and electronic music studios and a listening laboratory.

The 638-seat Concert Hall in the adjacent Baxter Theatre complex, with its outstanding Von Beckerath organ, is an important performing and teaching venue for the SACM.