Arizona Arts in Schools

UpBeat students performing at Crowder Hall in the 2018 annual Showcase Concert


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

Tucson Unified School District

Holladay Magnet   

Miles Exploratory Learning Center   

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.

Carlos Solis

Carlos Solis

UpBeat Instructor

Carlos Solis is an Arizona native percussionist who graduated from the University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music with a Bachelor of Music Education. Carlos has performed with dozens of wind bands, orchestras, choirs, chamber groups, percussion ensembles, Afro-Brazilian samba ensembles, steel bands and jazz bands throughout Arizona. In addition to being an exceptional performer of the percussive arts, Carlos spends much of his time teaching classical percussion, Afro-Brazilian and Cuban percussion and drum set lessons ranging from a very young age up to collegiate level percussionists. 

Carlos is currently pursuing a Master of Music in Percussion Performance at the University of Arizona. He is a current member of the graduate percussion group Malleus. He is also principal percussion of the Philharmonic Orchestra and a longtime member of the University of Arizona Steel Band.

As an educator of percussion Carlos is committed to the success of each and every one of his students. His vision for his students is to create a deep understanding and inclusion of the many traditions and styles of percussion throughout the world. He believes that above all else, percussion should inspire students to develop a lifelong understanding and relationship with music of all kinds.

Suzie Bjork

Suzie Bjork

UpBeat Instructor

Suzie Bjork is a doctoral student in music education with a minor in ethnomusicology at the University of Arizona in Tucson.  Her research interests center on Latin music hand drumming and percussion. 

Suzie earned her Bachelor of Music at the University of Arizona and her Master of Music from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, both in percussion performance.  Prior to starting her doctoral program, Suzie served as adjunct faculty at Kaskaskia and Greenville Colleges in southern Illinois, teaching courses in percussion ensemble, lessons, and methods, and general education music. Suzie has studied both Cuban and Brazilian drumming along with Trinidadian steel drums.

Suzie currently co-directs the Chipo Mbira Ensemble and participates in the Son Arizona Latin American Ensemble and has participated in the Tíolacadh Irish Ensemble, all at the University of Arizona.  She currently teaches with the UA College of Fine Arts’ UpBeat outreach program and Mountain View High School’s marching and indoor percussion.

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.





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

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 “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.