Fun with Music Theory: Writing Better Chord Progressions


Authored by George W Russell Jr.


Course Code: OCOMP-010

Next Semester Starts
June 27, 2022

Level 1

Level 1

0-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Do you want your songs and compositions to sound more interesting? Do you want to understand why chords function the way they do and why they sound a certain way? This workshop is for musicians who want to tap into music theory concepts to create compelling chord progressions and explore how chords work within a composition. Through live online instruction, break-out groups, and weekly music projects, you’ll learn about diatonic chords (chords within the same key) and how they function. You’ll also learn how to add more tension to your chord progressions by using secondary dominant chords, and finally, you’ll learn what modal interchange chords are and how they can affect the sound of a chord progression. When you’ve completed this workshop, you will have composed an original 32-bar chord progression.

  • Weekly on Wednesdays, Starting July 20
  • Includes 3 sessions
  • 7 - 9 PM ET

Read More
  • How to define and identify harmonic function
  • How to write and play basic diatonic chord progressions
  • How to apply a secondary dominant chord to a common chord progression
  • How to apply a modal interchange chord to a common chord progression
  • How to identify commonly used modal interchange chords from a parallel minor
  • Read Less
    Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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    This first session will focus on diatonic harmony functions and how you can create harmonic progressions based on diatonic harmony. We will look at all seven diatonic chords in major tonality and discuss the tendencies of each chord. We will also look at typically used diatonic chord progressions to hear what these tendencies sound like in the context of creating music.

    Learning Outcomes

    • Define and identify harmonic function
    • Write and play basic diatonic chord progressions
    • Create an eight-bar progression with diatonic chords

    This session will explore secondary dominant chords. We will define what secondary dominant chords are and discuss how they create tension and release within a chord progression. We will learn how to recognize and implement secondary dominant chords within a major key.

    Learning Outcomes

    • Define a secondary dominant chord
    • Apply a secondary dominant chord to your composition
    • Write all the secondary dominant chords in C major

    This session will introduce modal interchange chords, which are chords borrowed from a parallel tonality. These chords are used to create different colors than that of the diatonic chords in the key at hand. For example, if I were in the key of C major, I could borrow a chord in the key of C minor. This is sure to add a little flavor to the progression.

    Learning Outcomes

    • Define what a modal interchange chord is
    • Apply a modal interchange chord to their composition
    • Identify commonly used modal interchange chords from parallel minor


    Recommended Materials and Prerequisite Knowledge

    • Completion of Developing Your Musicianship, offered by Berklee Online for free on
    • Working knowledge of basic music theory
    • Access to a keyboard or other musical instrument. If you do not have a physical keyboard or piano, you can use a virtual keyboard provided on the Berklee Online platform.

    General Course Requirements

    Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in live chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

    Mac Users

    PC Users

    All Users

    • Latest version of  Google Chrome
    • Zoom meeting software
    • Webcam
    • Speakers or headphones
    • External or internal microphone
    • Broadband Internet connection


    George W Russell Jr.

    Author & Instructor

    A native of Pittsburgh, PA, inspirational Jazz Pianist George W. Russell, Jr. is a performer, a composer, and an educator. His performances range from a solo piano, to a groove-oriented jazz trio, to a soulful, fresh-sounding larger ensemble that arouses the listener's intellect and, most importantly, touches their soul. His playing is filled with passion, fire, soul, and most of all, spirit.

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    Currently George is the Chair of the Harmony and Jazz Composition Department at the Berklee College of Music. Prior to becoming chair, he served as a professor of Harmony and Piano at Berklee. George has been awarded the Ted Pease Award for Excellence in Teaching, along with the Curriculum Development Award for the Writing Division. George has also been recognized with the highest award that Berklee gives to faculty, the Most Distinguished Faculty Award.

    He graduated with his B.S. from Duquesne University and his M.M. from the New England Conservatory of Music. Russell has performed with Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Ernie Isley, Cecil McBee, Semenya McCord, Bob Moses, Tiger Okoshi, Billy Pierce, Richard Smallwood, Stan Strickland, and Lenny White. Read Less

    What's Next?

    When taken for credit, Fun with Music Theory: Writing Better Chord Progressions can be applied towards these associated programs:

    Associated Certificate Programs


    Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

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