CFA in Schools

Lead Guitar students from Amphi High in a Master Class with guest artist Carlos Bonell at Centennial Hall

Middle School students in the UpBeat Program

CFA in Schools students attend UA Presents' matinee by Dance Theatre of Harlem at Centennial Hall

UA Presents' guest artists Recycled Percussion give a workshop for UpBeat students

UA Presents guest artists Brasil Guitar Duo perform for Lead Guitar and fine arts students from the Sunnyside district

Music First students sing in English, Spanish, and Italian at Ocotillo Early Learning Center


UpBeat was established using Lead Guitar’s model of partnering with highly in-need public schools to build permanent music programs. Like guitar, percussion instruments have broad appeal; they appear in every imaginable genre of music and can be played effectively as a soloist or in ensemble. More importantly for our purposes, though, one can use them as a tool to teach the critical fundamentals of music to kids who are not signing up for more traditional in-school music classes and particularly in schools where no music classes exist at all.

The curriculum is based on a much-loved method The Snare Drum Plays the Zoo by Brian J. Harris. Brian rewrote and expanded the work into what is now the UpBeat Method Books and trains and leads the UpBeat team of instructors. The method links speech with hand drumming by assigning simple animal names to rhythms. It is a breakthrough way of getting young students playing and understanding music at an inspiring pace. UpBeat students develop a sense of accomplishment as they combine technique, music-reading, composition, improvisation, ensemble-playing, and performance skills on non-intimidating drums, body percussion, found-sound, and other percussion instruments.

A key to UpBeat’s sustainability is a system of co-teaching which pairs one of UpBeat’s Master Instructors with a Teacher-of-Record from its partner school. Weekly in-class co-teaching is supported by an annual two-day Teachers’ Workshop to ensure that, after two to three years of partnership, UpBeat schools and their staff can continue the program on their own.



UpBeat is a percussion-based music program

that helps students understand what it takes

to be an integrated, successful, and complete person.



UpBeat Principles:

  • Everyone plays, everyone creates, and everyone learns the fundamentals of rhythm
  • Clarity is reached when we openly discuss confusion and ways to improve
  • Engagement, honest self-assessment and repetition lead to mastery
  • We share our music with the world through recordings and performances

UpBeat Students Experience:

  • Heightened ability to be present and focused
  • Improved memory, recall, and spatial reasoning
  • Enhanced team-building skills
  • Increased levels of honesty, self-expression, confidence, and self-worth

The UpBeat Method Books:


The Snare Drum Plays the Zoo by Brian J. Harris, adapted for UpBeat Method Book I, links speech with hand-drumming by assigning simple animal names to rhythms.  It is a breakthrough way of getting young students playing and understanding music at an inspiring pace.

UpBeat Method Book II pushes students further through learning more complicated rhythms, frequent improvisation and composition exercises, and advanced percussion techniques.

Insights from an Administrator

Click the button at left to read more about Principal Paul Felix. Fully committed to bringing UpBeat to his students year after year at Nosotros Academy, Felix shares his powerful thoughts on the importance of the arts in at-risk schools during an interview with Brian J. Harris.



In 1999, Brian J. Harris felt that his beginning private percussion students could learn to hear, play, read, and write rhythms more effectively using a language-based method. For the next five years, Harris designed and tested materials which, in 2004, became his beginning snare drum method book The Snare Drum Plays the Zoo. By tapping into their natural language expertise, students transfer spoken animal names into musical rhythms on percussion instruments.

In 2013, Lead Guitar founder Brad Richter invited Brian to adapt his percussion curriculum for use in the UpBeat pilot program at Nosotros Academy, a Tucson charter school for at-risk students. Students and faculty at the school loved UpBeat, and the program was an immediate success. UpBeat grew exponentially during the first three years with programs in seven Tucson-area schools by 2017-18 as well as a pilot program for a city-wide percussion ensemble for exceptional UpBeat students.

Using The Snare Drum Plays the Zoo alongside other focused curricular concepts, Harris has continued to guide a number of his own private students to receive scholarships, performance opportunities, and top honors at the regional and national level.



Flowing Wells Unified School District

Homer Davis Elementary School

Laguna Elementary School

Richardson Elementary School

Walter Douglas Elementary School

Sunnyside Unified School District

Rivera Elementary School

Charter Schools

Las Puertas Community School

Nosotros Academy



Brian J. Harris

Brian J. Harris

UpBeat Director and Instructor

Brian J. Harris performed with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra in high school and was hired by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra as a sophomore at the University of Arizona. He has also performed with dozens of jazz, rock, heavy metal, funk, classical, Latin, and country acts in and outside of Tucson.

Brian began his private instruction practice at age 14, and was awarded the Distinguished Educator Award in 2012 by Arizona’s Flinn Foundation. His students are consistently present in the Tucson Philharmonia Youth Orchestra, Tucson Jazz Academy, and a variety of honor bands.  A number of students have won awards in various Tucson concerto competitions, as well as positions in nationwide programs including the Juilliard Percussion Seminar, Dave Brubeck’s Jazz Colony, the Stanford Jazz Workshop, Interlochen Arts Academy, and the Aspen Music Festival.

Brian has presented clinics, workshops, and lectures for Young Audiences, Tucson Unified School District, Amphitheater School District, Catalina Foothills School District, the University of Arizona Careers In Music program, and the Percussive Arts Society International Convention. He enjoys sharing his teaching and business ideas with future and fellow music teachers.

In 2013, Lead Guitar founder Brad Richter invited Brian to adapt his percussion curriculum for use in the UpBeat pilot program at Nosotros Academy, a Tucson charter school for at-risk students. Students and faculty at the school loved UpBeat, and the program was an immediate success. Brian adapted his method book The Snare Drum Plays the Zoo as the core of UpBeat’s curriculum, and the program has grown exponentially to serve seven Tucson-area schools during the 2017-18 academic year.

Michael Pratt

Michael Pratt

UpBeat Instructor

Michael Pratt is a highly inspirational performer, educator, author, collaborator, producer, and clinician dedicated to the teaching and advancement of percussion music. With multi-faceted talent and a sophisticated musical language, Michael personifies the total percussionist; skillfully adapting to any musical situation and engaging audiences nationwide. A unique blend of skill, discipline, and creativity has garnished Michael the ability to learn a vast array of percussion instruments and techniques. 

Michael’s percussion training has allowed him to successfully perform nationwide as a soloist, chamber musician, drum set artist, production assistant, clinician, and orchestral musician. He has won numerous awards as a performer and continues to collaborate within new and exciting artistic ventures. 

What sets Michael apart the most is his commitment to the success of his students. It is his vision to inspire creativity and holistic education through percussion performance; synthesizing techniques and rhythmic traditions from all around the world. 

Michael currently serves as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Arizona where he directs the Malleus Percussion Group. He has recently been awarded the Outstanding Graduate Achievement Award from the College of Fine Arts, and in 2016 he was the recipient of the Carpenter Endowment Fellowship. Michael teaches percussion through the UpBeat music program sponsored by UAPresents, serves as an advisor on the PAS Interactive Drumming Committee, as well as freelances teaching and performing in the Tucson/Phoenix area. He specializes in solo, chamber, drum set, world, and orchestral percussion.

Kevin Cross

Kevin Cross

UpBeat Instructor

Dr. Kevin Cross recently finished his DMA in percussion performance at the University of Arizona. Besides being an UpBeat instructor, Kevin works as a freelance performer and teacher in the Tucson area. A strong advocate for new music, Kevin has numerous premieres and commissions to his name. He has performed with many national touring acts including Johnny Mathis, Idina Menzel, Bernadette Peters, and several others. He appeared multiple times as a soloist at the McCormick Marimba Festival, and has performed and recorded with the McCormick Percussion Group, an ensemble dedicated to new music in the percussion ensemble idiom. He can be heard on numerous CDs playing with the MPG. Two of these albums have been lauded with Global Music Awards. He played in several world premieres of works for percussion ensemble by composers Baljinder Sekhon, Matt Barber, Dominique Jayles, and others. In addition, he was involved in the recording of works by Stuart Saunders Smith, Jean Barraque, Dan Senn, Johanna Magdalena Beyer, and more.

Prior to moving to Tucson, he earned his B.S. in Music Education from the College of Saint Rose and a M.M. in Percussion Performance from the University of South Florida, where he studied with Robert McCormick. Upon completion of his degree at USF, he studied privately with John Shaw, Principal Percussionist of The Florida Orchestra, and enjoyed teaching private students in the Tampa area. He has had the opportunity to conduct and direct percussion ensembles at USF and UA. When not practicing, performing or teaching, he enjoys being outside and running mountainous trails around Arizona.




"Today, I got to see passion, motivation, and excitement in the eyes of the kids from San Carlos; the feeling was completely indescribable. The program you have is amazing…so thank you for all you do."

Linda Beyley

Social Worker, San Carlos Secondary School

CFA in Schools programming is provided at no charge for schools at which 80% or more of students qualify for the federal Free and Reduced-Price Lunch program.

Schools with between 0 and 79% of students qualifying for FRPL pay a small fee along a sliding scale.

The remaining cost of a CFA in Schools program is paid for through individual and corporate charitable donations and granting organizations.

Please help bring CFA in Schools to even more deserving youth by making a tax-deductible donation!

3 Ways to Give


It was great to have students perform and represent the school off-campus and have the chance to improve the school's standing in the community. The audience was amazed that students could play at such a high level in a beginning class.

Juan Carbajal

Academic & Behavior Support Specialist and UpBeat Co-Teacher, Rivera Elementary School

Donate Online

Write a check


Please make it payable to "UA Foundation - CFA in Schools" and deliver to:


University of Arizona - CFA in Schools
Attn: Holly Holmes
University Services Building
888 N Euclid Ave, Rm 203
Tucson, AZ 85721


Give by Phone


Call the College of Fine Arts at 520-621-9057 to pay by Credit Card

Your gift through UA Foundation on behalf of CFA in Schools qualifies as a tax-deductible donation.

Please indicate whether you would like your gift to benefit CFA in Schools generally, or a specific program (UpBeat, Step Up, or Music First).

Thank you very much for your support!

Note: For donations to Lead Guitar, please visit the Lead Guitar website.