Guitar Chords 101


Authored by Rick Peckham


Course Code: OGUIT-120

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

Level 1

Level 1

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Many beginning guitarists have learned the basics of open and moveable chord shapes, but aren't sure how or why the individual notes within the chord work so well together, or the ways by which they can expand this chord knowledge to unlock the fret board of the guitar. Guitar Chords 101 presents Berklee's approach to the construction of chords, a method that focuses less on the shape of an individual chord, and more on the notes that the chord is based around. Students will learn to construct and play triads and basic 7th chords, as well as look at inversions and different chord voicings -- the basic foundations guitarists use to write or perform in any number of different styles.

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Students will gain more freedom and a greater feel for their instrument by learning how to visualize chord structures anywhere on the neck of the guitar. The course offers a rich learning platform, featuring Flash movies, interactive quizzes, instructional videos, guitar tablatures and practice mp3 tracks to get the notes under your fingers as quickly as possible, while allowing you the portability to practice wherever you get a few minutes with your guitar. Students will also benefit from personalized instruction and comments from Berklee's world-renowned guitar instructors on their weekly assignments as well as through weekly live chats. By the end of the course students will be able to add more dynamics and expression to their playing and gain an extensive chord vocabulary, which will prove invaluable in pursuing any style of music.

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Look at a lead sheet and play chord voicings in a variety of musical styles
  • Have a greater knowledge of constructing triads, seventh chords, some extended voicings, and inversions
  • Play and know the voicings of various chord qualities such as a major triad, minor triad, diminished triad, augmented triad, dominant 7, major 7, and minor 7
  • Play triads over bass notes and alterations
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Lesson 1: Triads

  • Playing Triads: Root Position Major Triads on 4-3-2 and 3-2-1
  • Minor Triads
  • sus Chords

Lesson 2: Triad Inversions/Other Triad Qualities

  • Inversions of Triads: Up the Fretboard
  • Inversions of Triads: Across the Fretboard
  • Augmented and Diminished Triads

Lesson 3: Barre Chords

  • Power Chords: Big Sound, Two Tones
  • Barre Chords: Big Sound, Three or Four Tones
  • Chord Quality Identification

Lesson 4: Seventh Chords: Drop 2s

  • Drop 2: Four Adjacent Strings
  • One Thing in All Keys: Dominant 7th Drop 2 Voicings
  • All Things in One Key: Other 7th Chord Qualities

Lesson 5: Drop 2 Crossovers

  • 9th Chords
  • Drop 2 Inversions
  • Interpreting Lead Sheets

Lesson 6: Summary 1

  • Chord Substitutions #1
  • Rhythmic Kicks in Guitar Charts
  • Ear Training with Drop 2s

Lesson 7: Seventh Chords: Drop 3s

  • Drop 3, Bottom String, Skip String, then Three Adjacent Strings
  • One Thing in All Keys: Dom 7 Drop 3s
  • All Things in One Key: Other 7th Chord Qualities

Lesson 8: More Drop 3

  • Diminished Voicings
  • Dominant 9 Voicings-Another Use for min7(b5)
  • Dominant 13 Voicings and Chord Tensions
  • Using the Chords-the Blues

Lesson 9: Using the Chords: Mixing Drop 2 and Drop 3 Voicings

  • Maj 6/min 6
  • Alteration of Dominant b9, #9
  • Alteration of Dominant b9, b13

Lesson 10: Guide Tone Chords

  • R37 and R73
  • Small Voicings, Big Sound

Lesson 11: Triads over Bass Notes

  • Triads over Bass Notes
  • Inverting Drop 2 and Drop 3
  • Inversions of G7, G-7, Gmaj7

Lesson 12: Putting It All Together/Final Project

  • Chord Substitutions #2
  • Inversions of G-7(b5)
  • Other Voicing Formulae
  • Harmonizing Melodies with Inversions


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Music for Beginners or Music Theory 101 or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. Students should have at least one year of playing experience and the ability to play some chords on the guitar. Guitar tablature and chord blocks, in addition to traditional notation, will be used throughout the course.



  • Students are required to record video while performing with a backing track for their assignments. Options for recording video include:
    • Smartphone
    • Digital camera
    • Webcam (using either video recording software, or the video recording tool that is built into the learning environment)


  • Electric or acoustic guitar


  • Students are required to capture their instrumental performance, as well as monitor audio output. Options include:
    • Input (one required):
      • Instrument connected directly to audio interface (recommended electric option; alternatively, the microphone options below can be used with amplified instruments)
      • XLR microphone and audio interface (recommended acoustic option)
      • USB microphone
      • Built-in computer/mobile device microphone
    • Output (one required):
      • Headphones (recommended option; required if multitracking and/or input monitoring a microphone)
      • Studio monitors and audio interface
      • Built-in or external speakers
  • Note: Depending on your setup, you may also need XLR/instrument cables and a microphone stand.
  • Recommended: Printer, if you would like to print out examples used in the course.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

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


Rick Peckham

Author & Instructor

Rick Peckham is an internationally known jazz guitarist and educator. He has presented performances and clinics on six continents and specializes in a unique blend of styles, including jazz, rock, blues, fusion and country finger style performance.

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Currently a full-time professor in Berklee’s Guitar department, Peckham has been a faculty member since 1986, and served as assistant chair of the Guitar department, with 1,100 guitar students and 60 guitar faculty, from 1992-2013.

The internationally released album, Left End, with drummer Jim Black and bassist Tony Scherr was named one of the best releases of 2005 by DownBeat magazine. He organized the college’s honorary doctoral tributes to Roy Haynes, Joe Zawinul, Jack DeJohnette and John Scofield, featuring then-Berklee students Kurt Rosenwinkel, Matthew Garrison, Antonio Hart, Abe Laboriel Jr., Melvin Butler and Seamus Blake. Several then-Berklee students he has coached include Lionel Loueke, Lage Lund, Frank Möbus, Jeff Parker, Matt Stevens and Nir Felder.

In 2007, the University Professional & Continuing Education Association awarded the Berklee Online course he authored, Berklee Guitar Chords 101, “Best Online Class.” He has also authored the DVD Modal Voicing Techniques, and Hal Leonard books Berklee Jazz Guitar Dictionary and Berklee Rock Chord Dictionary. Read Less

Scotty Johnson


Scotty Johnson is an Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music (since 1999) and an active musician in the Boston area. As well as recent tours in Florida and the midwest with the Boston Pops Orchestra, Scotty is an active pit guitarist with over 50 theater credits including The Lion King, Finding Neverland, Pippin, Memphis, Matilda, Motown, Beautiful, and If/Then. In the past, Scotty has toured around the world many times and recorded music with guitarist Paul Gilbert (Bee Hive Live, Alligator Farm), The Ford Blues Band (Fords and Friends with Robben Ford), The Blindside Blues Band, Dick Dale (Calling Up Spirits), Ansley Dunbar, and many others. Scotty's instructional video 'Accelerate Your Rock Guitar Playing' is available from Berklee Press / Hal Leonard / Rittor Music. Scotty is the co-author of the Berklee online course Steve Vai Guitar Techniques and an instructor for Guitar Chords 101.

Bruce Bartlett


Bruce Bartlett has been an associate professor and clinician in the Berklee College of Music Guitar Department for 15 years. His band, the Bruce Bartlett Trio, has played nationally and internationally and released three albums.

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Bruce began his career as a recording session guitarist at the age of 19, working for producer Arthur Baker in New York City. He played rhythm guitar for several underground recordings for R&B artists in the early 80s. More recently, he recorded a live performance DVD with John Blackwell (drummer for Prince). He also composed most of the material, along with being a featured soloist for Modern Drummer Festival 2000 at Montclair University in New Jersey.

His sideman and leader work includes performances at the Boston Globe Jazz Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival, Quebec Jazz Festival, and Indonesia Jazz Festival. Bruce has opened for Weather Report and Hirman Bullock, and performed with Chick Corea on Chick Corea Day, in Chelsea, MA, in 2001. Recently, Bruce performed with Zigaboo Modeliste (original drummer of Meters) and is in the process of recording his eighth solo record of original music. Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Guitar Chords 101 can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:

Related Degree Majors


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