Guitar Chords 101

Author: Rick Peckham   •   Course Code: OGUIT-120

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.

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

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

Rick Peckham

Author & Instructor

Rick Peckham is an internationally known jazz guitarist, clinician, composer, and writer. He has performed with George Garzone, Jerry Bergonzi, Mike Gibbs, and Dave Liebman, and recorded the album Stray Dog ( as a member of the notorious jazz collective Um, led by trombonist Hal Crook and occasionally featuring organist John Medeski. His most recent recording Left End—a set of original compositions mixed with collective improvisations—was recently recorded with drummer Jim Black and bassist Tony Scherr. In addition to extensive work in the U.S., he has led or played on tours in Ireland, Canada, Spain, and Germany.

Currently Assistant Chair of the Berklee College of Music Guitar department, Peckham has been a faculty member since 1986, and was integral to the development of Berklee's ear training and musicianship curriculum. 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. He is also a prolific and accomplished writer, recently releasing Modal Voicing Techniques, a best-selling DVD for Berklee Press.

For further information on Rick Peckham please visit his website at:

Bruce Saunders


Guitarist Bruce Saunders is a Professor at Berklee College of Music. With New York City as his base since 1988, he has toured Europe, South America, Australia, Japan, and the United States as a band leader and as a sideman. He has recorded with musicians such as Jack DeJohnette, Peter Erskine, Dave Holland, Kenny Werner, Bill Stewart, Michael Cain, Glen Velez, Harvie Swartz, David Berkman, Tony Scherr, Mark Murphy, Ben Monder, Steve Cardenas, and many others. He has four recordings CDs as a leader: Fragment (Moo Records, 2002); Likely Story (Moo Records, 1998); Jazz Hymns (1995 and 1998); Forget Everything (Moo Records, 1995).

Saunders has taught at Berklee since 1992. He has also taught at New York University and various clinics worldwide, including the International Jazz Seminar in Xalapa, Mexico, numerous times in Colombia, South America, and the Maine Jazz Camp. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree in classical guitar and theory from Florida State University, and a Masters in Jazz Performance from the University of North Texas, where he studied with Jack Petersen and Tom Johnson. He is the author of Pentatonics, Modern Blues, and Melodic Improvisation (all Mel Bay Publications). For further information on Bruce Saunders, visit his Web site at:

Scotty Johnson


Scotty Johnson has been an associate professor in the Guitar department at Berklee College of Music since 1999 and is a regular performer in the Boston theater scene. Scotty has toured the world many times and recorded CDs with 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.

In addition to winning the grand prize in the International D'Addario "Rockontest," Scotty is a former Blues Bureau International recording artist and was also the musical director of the long-running production show Madhattan in Las Vegas. Recent theater credits include Spamalot, The Lion King, High Fidelity, Sweet Charity, Smokey Joes Cafe, Footloose, The Full Monty, Annie, Memphis, and Fame.

Scotty's instructional video Accelerate Your Rock Guitar Playing is available from Berklee Press/Hal Leonard/Rittor Music.

Bruce Bartlett


Bruce Bartlett has been an associate professor and clinician in the Berklee College of Music Guitar Department for 15 years. He has taught groove ensembles in Italy, Argentina, Los Angeles, and on campus.

His band, the Bruce Bartlett Trio, has played nationally and internationally and released three CDs: Nasty Habits , Free for a Price (featuring Abe Laboriel, Jr., on drums), and Instant Gratification .

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'n'B artists in the early 80s. More recently, he recorded a live performance DVD with John Blackwell (drummer for pop legend Prince) for Hudson Music. 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. Currently, he is performing with Sam Kininger, the featured saxophonist on Soulive recordings.

For more information on Bruce Bartlett, visit his Web site at

Tim Miller


Tim Miller offers a distinctive voice to the world of jazz guitar. His career has taken him to Paris, New York, and presently, Boston, where he is currently an associate professor of guitar at Berklee College of Music. Guitar Player magazine characterized his playing as "pure melody consciousness with remarkable control, a breathy, violiny tone [and] bell-like consistency." Miller's music combines explosive raw energy that is artistically balanced with soulful melodic compositions.

While living in Paris, he played extensively with drummer Aldo Romano. This led to recordings and European concerts and jazz festivals. Miller later joined the faculty of Berklee College of Music in Boston and recorded Sides with saxophonist George Garzone. He also played in a quartet with fellow guitarist Mick Goodrick. In 2005, Miller released his first solo recording Trio, which has received critical acclaim. Recently, Miller has released his most personal recording to date, Trio Vol. 2, and he is performing his latest music throughout the US and abroad. His recent performances include concerts and festivals with Paul Motian, Randy Brecker, Mark Turner, Terri Lyne Carrington, Gary Thomas, Gary Husband, George Duke, Chris Cheek, Keith Carlock, among others. He is currently cowriting a music harmony book with Mick Goodrick to be released in 2008, while also composing new pieces for his next recording.


Completion of Music Foundations 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.

Required Textbook

Berklee Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary by Rick Peckham, Berklee Press/Hal Leonard

Software Requirements

A recording tool is provided within the course that will allow students to record videos of themselves playing for assignment submission. Alternatively, students can use a digital camera, smartphone, or tablet to record assignments.

Mac Users

  • OS X 10.9 Mavericks or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Windows Users

  • Windows 7 or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Hardware Requirements

  • A printer is recommended for printing music examples used in the course
  • A built-in microphone or an external microphone plugged directly into your computer (via built in ports or an external audio interface)
  • 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended)
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Webcam
  • Internet connection with at least 4 Mbps download speed ( to verify or download the Speedtest by Ookla app from your mobile app store)


Got a question? Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at We can also answer basic questions in the comments below. Please note that all comments are public.

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    12 weeks
  • 3-Credit Tuition
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