Changing Tunes is a registered charity that uses music teaching, rehearsing, recording, performance, improvisation and composition to aid the rehabilitation of prisoners and ex-prisoners. We have been doing this work for over fifteen years. The common purpose of making music creates an environment for prisoners to improve self-esteem, build healthy relationships, and engage in an activity where hard work and perseverance brings rewards. These factors are major steps towards rehabilitation.

Each week we lead music sessions in prisons, enabling prisoners to learn, practice and perform music that inspires them. We see on average four or five prisoners at a time, often working towards performances or recordings that serve as milestones for each participant to measure how far they have come. Performances in front of other prisoners and staff are a chance to prove themselves and to celebrate the results of their hard work and practice. Recordings are made so that prisoners can critique their own work and take pride in doing it well. They can also be sent to family members as a way of connecting and showing what they have created. The best work is selected for entry into the Koestler awards – a national prison arts competition. In 2015 participants in our sessions won 41 Koestler awards.

Each Changing Tunes session is facilitated by a Musician in Residence, who is able to play at least two instruments to a very high standard, and to teach a number of other instruments as well as singing. Sessions are tailored to the needs of those involved and typically this results in most of the work involving tuition and band rehearsals, but we also see solo performers and other ensembles.

All our musicians are security trained and run sessions without officer support. They usually work in the prison chapel and are linked with the Chaplaincy team and/or Education, given the pastoral and educational elements of our work. Our staff regard this work as more than just a day job and bring a personal commitment to what they do.

Following release, we continue our work with those who want to, through concerts in the community, music sessions and pastoral support. In the last four years we have held over 1,100 post-release sessions with ex-prisoners, including 29 concerts/events. It is this ‘through the gate’ work, engaging both pre and post-release, that is the key element to creating lasting behavioural change.

“It is this through the gate work, engaging both pre and post-release, that is the key element to creating lasting behavioural change.”

While music cannot directly address many of the challenges ex-prisoners face it can make a significant impact by striking at the heart of underlying issues. Music is uplifting and can dramatically alter mood and perception of the world and self. Finding a sense of identity through music can significantly improve self-esteem and create the self-belief that is essential to re-habilitation. The anticipation of regular music sessions drives motivation, which carries over into other areas of life. Performing in front of an audience leads to improved presentation skills, and confidence in one’s own abilities.

Music is an inherently social activity and participants find that playing in a group can significantly improve interpersonal skills, communication and team-work. It creates a common ground to create friendships through a shared interest. It is accessible as a learning opportunity to those who would struggle to engage in formal education.

While the benefits of music are far-reaching, it cannot meet many of the day to day practical needs of ex-prisoners and we are proactive in signposting to other organisations who cater for this.

Ex-prisoners who actively participate in our programme have a re-offending rate of less than 15%, compared to a national average of 61%. The very high national average for re-offending clearly demonstrates the need for our work; just preventing 4.5 people re-offending per year would pay for our entire current programme!