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 competence and 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 I Teacher Guide assists classroom teachers and their partner UpBeat instructors in ideas for how best to deliver the curriculum, including suggestions for games, small group activities, and pedagogy best practice.

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

UpBeat partner teachers: Contact your UpBeat instructor for the password to download Method Books.

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

Laguna Elementary School

Richardson Elementary School

Walter Douglas Elementary School

Tucson Unified School District

Kellond K-5 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.




Three of our UpBeat students found acceptance through belonging to the drumming team. The shared respect was obvious across the group. We believe that this program actually helped several students stay in school.

Pamela Cornell

Principal, Las Puertas Community School

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

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, family foundations, and granting organizations.

Please help bring CFA in Schools to even more deserving youth by donating today!

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.