Guitar Fundamentals


Authored by Kim Perlak


Course Code: OGUIT-105

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

Level 1

Level 1

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Welcome to the guitar! This course is designed to get you playing right away, and set you up with the basic skills and knowledge that form the foundation for different styles of guitar playing. It recognizes that within a group of beginners there will be players of varying age and experience—from those of you who have just picked up the instrument, to those who come from a self-taught or lesson background and are looking to fill in your gaps. Each topic in this lesson includes conceptual information and a practice list that will be valuable to you at your level and experience.

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In this course, we’ll cover the following topics in depth:

  • Posture, Hand Position, Technique
  • Notes on the Fretboard
  • Reading: charts, standard notation, TAB
  • Music theory in practice
  • Pentatonic scale, major and minor
  • Modes of the Major scale
  • Improvisation
  • Triad and seventh chords
  • Chord progressions
  • 12- bar blues and blues scale
  • Strumming patterns
  • Fingerpicking patterns
  • Creating song arrangements
  • Playing with others

Guitar Fundamentals uses a multi-faceted approach, with video demonstration, recorded music, practice tracks, a variety of notated music forms, chord diagrams, and exercises designed to assist you as you deepen your knowledge of each topic. Listening examples and interviews embedded in each lesson are drawn from across the guitar world, from a variety of styles. In the Berklee guitar program, we value a core of musicianship and instrumental skill, respect for all styles, and the expression of personal creativity. This course is a guide that will last you through years of guitar practice as you build your foundation on our instrument. From here, you will continue to develop your skills and create — in the style of your choice and in your voice on our instrument.

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

  • Utilize basic techniques and posture for the right and left hand, including: pick-playing, strumming, and fingerstyle; hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends
  • Basic improvisation with scales: pentatonic, major modes
  • Read chord forms: open, moveable: power chords, triad shapes, barre chords
  • Read rhythmic notation
  • Read TAB and standard notation
  • Read song charts and arrangements
  • Discuss and define basic music theory concepts fundamental to a variety of musical styles
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: Guitar Basics, Part 1

  • Guitar Basics: Parts, Posture, Pick
  • Notes on the 6th String: Playing Bass Lines
  • Rhythm Basics: Playing “in 4”
  • Power Chords: Roots on the 6th String
  • Assignment 1: Songs using Power Chords

Lesson 2: Guitar Basics, Part 2

  • Pentatonic Scale: Pattern 1
  • Improvising with Pattern 1 of the Pentatonic
  • Notes on the 5th String: Playing Bass Lines
  • Power chords: Roots on the 5th String
  • Rhythmic Notation Basics
  • Basic “Down-Strumming Patterns”
  • Assignment 2: Rhythm and Melody

Lesson 3: Reading Basics

  • Notes on the Neck
  • Basic Standard Notation: Notes on the Staff
  • Reading Standard Notation: Reading in First Position
  • Reading Standard Notation: “Reading up”
  • Reading TAB
  • Assignment 3: Melody in 5th Position and TAB Writing

Lesson 4: Scale Theory (Major and Pentatonic) and Improvisation

  • Basic Scale Theory: Major and Pentatonic
  • Scale Patterns: Five Patterns of the Pentatonic Scale
  • Improvising Strategies: Connecting Patterns of the Pentatonic
  • Techniques for Tone: Parameters of Sound
  • Musical Examples for Practice, Improvisation
  • Assignment 4: Melody Creation

Lesson 5: Open Chords, Strumming Patterns

  • Open Chords: First Group [C, F, G, Am, D]
  • Open Chords: Second Group [A, E, Dm, Bm, F#m, C#m, B7]
  • Strumming Patterns in 4/4 : Split Strum and Folk Strum
  • Strumming in 4/4: Changing Chords (once and twice per bar)
  • Strumming Patterns in 3 /4 and 6/8
  • Changing Chords: 3 /4 and 6/8
  • Assignment 5: Chord Chart Reading

Lesson 6: Common Chord Progressions

  • Basic Key Theory: Building chords, “What is a Key?”
  • Chord Theory: Determining the Key of a Song
  • Common Chord Progressions
  • Transposing a Chord Progression
  • Musical Examples for Practice
  • Assignment 6: Common Chord Progression and Transposition

Lesson 7: Modes of the Major Scale: Patterns, Improvising, Vamps

  • Modes of the Major Scale
  • Scale Patterns: 7 Patterns – Modes of the Major Scale
  • Improvising over One-Chord Modal Vamps
  • Fretting-Hand Phrasing Techniques (Basics): slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs
  • Creating Riffs and Melodies with Three Common Modes
  • Two- and Three-Chord Modal Chord Progressions: Mixolydian, Dorian, Aeolian
  • Assignment 7: Short Song Creation

Lesson 8: Moveable Triad Chord Forms: Major and Minor

  • Major Triad Shapes on String set 3, 2, 1
  • Minor Triad Shapes on String set 3, 2, 1
  • Moveable Triad Shapes: Playing Charts
  • Arranging Rhythm Guitar Parts
  • Assignment 8: Three Rhythm Guitar Parts

Lesson 9: Dominant 7 and Minor 7, Barre Chords

  • Seventh Chords: Dominant and Minor
  • Seventh Chords: Open Chord Shapes
  • Barre chords: Shapes with Roots on the 6th strings
  • Barre chords: Shapes with Roots on the 5th string
  • Musical Examples with Seventh Chords, Using Open and Barre-Chord Shapes
  • Assignment 9: Open Chord Progression

Lesson 10: Basics of the Blues in A

  • 12-Bar Blues Form, and the “Shuffle” strumming pattern
  • The Blues Scale
  • Soloing on the 12-Bar form in A
  • Strumming Blues in A: Using Open Chords, Barre Chords
  • Assignment 10: Blues in A Song: “Baby, What You Want Me to Do”

Lesson 11: Chord theory – “the exceptions to the rules”

  • Slash Chords
  • “Sus” and “Add” Chords
  • Borrowed Chords
  • The Major 7 chord and Minor 7-- 4-note shapes (1 each)
  • Assignment 11: Song Example Performance

Lesson 12: Finger-style Techniques

  • Classical Right-Hand Position
  • Three Common Picking Patterns
  • Adding a Song melody to your Finger-Picking Pattern
  • Adding an Alternating Bass line to your Finger-Picking Pattern
  • Assignment 12: Song with Finger-Picking


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills

  • While this course does not require any prerequisites, it is a fast-paced, intensive, college-level curriculum. Students who are brand new to the instrument are encouraged to take a private lesson to orient themselves physically on the guitar. All students would benefit from an introduction to the basics of music theory, which are introduced in this course and covered as applied concepts.


  • 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
  • Guitar pick
  • Guitar tuner (software/app acceptable)


  • 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.


  • Metronome (hardware or software/app)

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 Classes. 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


Kim Perlak

Author & Instructor

Kim Perlak is the chair of the Guitar Department at Berklee College of Music, where she received the 2016 Berklee Chair Recording Grant. At Berklee, her artistic work to bridge styles includes collaborations with faculty composers, and in duo playing with master improviser and slide guitarist David Tronzo. Kim’s curriculum development for the department produced the book Classical Technique for the Modern Guitarist, which was published by Berklee Press/Hal Leonard in 2016.

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Kim holds degrees from the University of Texas at Austin (DMA ’08), Yale University School of Music (MM ’01), and Stetson University (BM ’98), and a certificate of completion from the Harvard University Management Development Program (2013).

Kim’s versatile and inclusive approach to guitar embraces new composition, education, and public service. Her recording for solo guitar, Common Ground, features the new compositions of five American composers. Her work combining performance, American music history, and outreach has been funded through grants from the Center for African American Southern Music and Yale Alumni Ventures. Kim’s collaborative guitar work with American veterans in the concert project “Ben & I Play for Peace” was honored by the PBS program From the Top as part of their Arts Leadership series, and was recognized by the US House of Representatives. Her playing has been praised by the Austin-American Statesman as, “thoughtful, enchanting, vivid.” 

Kim plays guitars by Thomas Humphrey and Kirk Sand and endorses D’Addario Strings. She currently serves on the board of the Boston Classical Guitar Society.  Read Less

Amanda Monaco


Grammy-nominated guitarist/composer Amanda Monaco has performed at venues such as Jazz at Lincoln Center, Birdland, Jazz Standard, and Flushing Town Hall. She has released five albums to date and her playing has been described by The New York City Jazz Record as “utterly unique, a breath of fresh air in the cookie-cutter climes of both mainstream and free jazz.” Before she began teaching at Berklee in 2011, she was a member of the faculty at New School University and the National Guitar Workshop. Monaco is the author of Jazz Guitar for the Absolute Beginner.

Robin Stone


Robin Stone is a professor in the Guitar department at Berklee College of Music. While she teaches many styles of music, she concentrates on the history and playing styles of classic rock guitarists, including Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and the Allman Brothers. She has taught at Berklee since 1990, when she became the second woman ever hired in the Guitar department.

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Stone is the managing editor and web designer of the Guitar department's online newsletter, "Open Position," which showcases the many talents of the faculty and provides an insider's look into the work being done in the school's largest department. She contributes articles under the title "String Theory," exploring harmonic concepts for guitarists. In 1993, she composed a piece entitled "Adagio for Oboe and String Orchestra," which was released on the MMC label. In 1996, she was awarded the Japan Foundation's Uchida Fellowship, allowing her to live in Roppongi, Tokyo, to study the traditional Japanese instrument, the Koto.

Stone received her bachelor's degree in professional music from Berklee in 1983. In 1988, she received her master’s degree in jazz studies from New England Conservatory, where she studied composition with William Thomas McKinley and George Russell.

Stone graduated from NEC with academic honors and became a member of Phi Kappa Lambda musical honors society. Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Guitar Fundamentals can be applied towards the completion of these related 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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