How We Work

Beyond the Bars is established to provide musical equipment and instruction for incarcerated youth in the Greater Philadelphia area. The program creates partnerships with university musical programs, church outreach programs and the juvenile court system. Beyond the Bars partners a talented musical instructor with a group of five to eight inmates as they prepare to perform songs together. Beyond the Bars has three distinct aspects to instruction:

Beyond the Bars instructors are all well versed on how to teach students how to play percussion, guitar, bass and piano. They help students find the instrument(s) that they are most passionate about and provide the instruction necessary for them to master it. Our strategy focuses on getting youth to perform music together and play complete songs in a performance setting. By having students see the reward of their work, this element of the program helps bolster self esteem within a population that has had it destroyed. In addition to learning how to play, our students also receive comprehensive music theory lessons.
Beyond the Bars has a number of talented professional audio engineers who work with the youth inside the prison to help develop recording and engineering skills. Because many music industry careers revolve around recording and live sound engineer, these talents will open up doors in the music industry to them down the line. We also have partnerships with WXPN that will allow the students’ music to receive air time, allowing them to share their talents and bolstering their self-esteem.
Beyond the Bars is dedicated to ensuring that the student’s’ musical education does not end when they leave the prison. We are committed to partnering our students with established after school musical programs and work opportunities. Whether it is through internships with sound companies or a placement in an after school music program, we works to ensure that our students continue to grow throughout their adolescence and that they are leaving the system with more opportunities than they had going in.
Beyond the Bars additionally teaches youth who have been indirectly affected by the prison industrial complex, especially focusing on youth with incarcerated family members. Through our partnership with The Center for Returning Citizens and a number of other organizations, Beyond the Bars brings music education to underserved youth inside and outside prison.

What does a session look like?

Beyond the Bars educates students in both in an ensemble and an individual setting. Typical sessions appear as follows:


  • Upon arrival, the ensemble practices a song from a previous session or jams on an improvised performance. This allows our students to express themselves without limitations and air out whatever emotions they are feeling. They warm up by entering into a musical space where they are free to explore.


  • After the students are warmed up, the ensemble practices or listens to a new song with specific musical elements that the students have not previously learned. This allows students to continue exploring while they identify musical that they do not yet know before easing into the individual lessons.


  • Students then divide into instrumental groups where they receive individualized instruction on the “song of the day.” This provides the student with a clear goal (learning the song), while also giving the teacher a reference point to show the student the techniques and theory elements of the song. This also allows for positive relationships and mentorships to grow between the teacher and student. During this time our teachers help the student to work through the difficulties of learning an instrument while actively showing them the immense talent and goodness that they already possess. These lessons allow students to make mistakes and learn from them in a setting where their peers are not judging them.


  • Students come together in an ensemble and perform a final performance of the song that they had been learning that day. This allows our students to see the fruits of their efforts from the day and work on building social skills. Through this area of instruction our students learn how to grow their self-efficacy and build their self-confidence as they perform songs that they have heard previously, making them their own with their newly found skills and voices.