Arizona Arts in Schools

2020 Virtual Showcase for UpBeat Online during Covid-19

UpBeat Instructors Brian and Wes use Found Sound to find a drum at home


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
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.



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.




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

Walter Douglas Elementary School

Charter Schools

Las Puertas Community School

Creighton Elementary District - Phoenix

Gateway School    

Isaac Elementary District - Phoenix

Esperanza Elementary    




Wes Hawkins

Wes Hawkins

UpBeat Instructor

Wes Hawkins: (AZPAS Secretary/Treasurer) is a Percussionist and Music Educator in the Phoenix area with a diverse array of experiences. He earned undergraduate degrees in Music Education and Percussion Performance (University of Arizona, ’97) and a masters degree in Music Education with a Jazz Studies emphasis (Arizona State, ’03). Currently Wes teaches Jazz History and Percussion at Phoenix College and is a teaching artist for UpBeat, a hand drumming program for Title I schools in the Phoenix area.

As a performer, Wes is exceptionally well-rounded in his musical activities. He has a wealth of experience in musical situations ranging from drum & bugle corps to symphony orchestras, from rock’n’roll cover bands to big band jazz ensembles, from high school musicals to professional opera companies. Currently, Wes leads the Rhythm Is Life Steel Band, performs and tours with the Phoenix Children’s Chorus, and frequently collaborates with several singer/songwriters and vocal ensembles in the Phoenix area as a percussion accompanist for live shows and studio recordings.

Wes has embedded himself in the fabric of the Arizona percussion community. He has served as a percussion adjudicator and clinician for ABODA and AMEA, and was inducted into the WGAZ Hall of Fame in 2015. He has served as Secretary/Treasure of the Arizona Chapter of the Percussive Arts Society (AZPAS) since 2002. He is the owner of the Rhythm Is Life Percussion Studio, and maintains an active roster of private students, many of which have gone on to receive regional, state, and national accolades, or have gone on to earn graduate degrees, teach percussion at the college level, or become professional performers. You can learn more about Wes at

Alana Wiesing

Alana Wiesing

UpBeat Instructor

Alana Wiesing: (is a multi-faceted and award-winning timpanist and percussionist from Phoenix, AZ. She holds a Master of Music degree in percussion performance from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, IN, where she also completed her undergraduate studies. Her major percussion instructors were Bill Wanser and John Tafoya, and she has completed additional studies most notably and extensively with David Herbert, Cynthia Yeh, Joseph Pereira, Ed Stephan, Markus Rhoten, Richard Weiner, Jauvon Gilliam, Eric Shin, Michael Spiro, Jonathan Haas, and Doug Howard. Alana’s summer festival activities include the Eastern Music Festival (2007, 2008), the Interlochen Arts Camp (2009, 2010), the Chosen Vale International Percussion Seminar (2011), the Indiana University Summer Music Academy (2013), the National Orchestral Institute (2015, 2016), and the Aspen Music Festival & School (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019). She actively performed, recorded, and freelanced with numerous orchestras and ensembles during her time in the Midwest, notably serving as the Principal Timpanist of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic and the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra as well as a regular substitute and extra percussionist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.

Alana is currently based in Tucson, AZ and serves as the Principal Timpanist of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. She also serves as an Adjunct Professor of Percussion at the University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music. In her free time, Alana enjoys hiking, biking, running, cooking, playing sports (notably tennis and ultimate frisbee), attending museums and concerts, playing board games and trivia, listening to all genres of music, trying new restaurants, and spending quality time with family and friends.

Michal Brauhn Damm

Michal Brauhn Damm

UpBeat Instructor

Michal Brauhn Damm is a percussion performer, arranger, published composer, and educator from southeast Iowa. She has performed and toured across the country with groups such as the Malleus percussion ensemble, Ottumwa Symphony Orchestra, and the University of Iowa Steel Band, where she played for small communities and school districts to help promote the education of steel pan.

Michal Brauhn Damm received her Bachelor’s degree in percussion performance from the University of Iowa, where she studied with Dr. Dan Moore and received her Masters in Percussion Performance at the University of Arizona with Dr. Morris Palter. As a Teaching Assistant for the percussion program, she taught the University of Arizona Steel Band, as well as undergraduate lessons.

Michal Brauhn Damm is currently a freelance musician in Tucson, Arizona. As a growing musician, Brauhn is always open to new performance and educational opportunities. She is well versed in arranging, transcribing, and composing for steel band, solo marimba, percussion chamber ensembles, and more.


Brian J. Harris

Brian J. Harris

UpBeat Founder and Curriculum Author

In 2013, Lead Guitar founder Brad Richter invited Brian J. Harris 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 many Tucson-area and Phoenix schools since its inception. Though Brian has stepped away from UpBeat to focus on his instrument-rental business and private studio, Brian remains a trusted advisor to the UpBeat program and family.

Brian 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.





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

Arizona Arts 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 an Arizona Arts in Schools program is paid for through individual and corporate charitable donations, family foundations, and granting organizations.

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

3 Ways to Give

Just a few weeks into seeing the UpBeat program in action with my general music students, I realized that we can do so much more by doing just one thing with them.  We can get under the hood of what music really is, rather than starting something different every couple of months.

Sean McComb

Certified Music Teacher and UpBeat Co-Teacher, Esperanza Elementary School (Phoenix)

Donate Online

Write a check

Please make it payable to “Arizona Arts in Schools – UA Foundation ” and deliver to:

University of Arizona – Arizona Arts 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 ARIZONA ARTS in SCHOOLS qualifies as a tax-deductible donation.

Please indicate whether you would like your gift to benefit Arizona Arts 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.