Music Theory 101


Authored by Paul Schmeling


Course Code: OHARM-101

Next Semester Starts
Jan 10, 2022

Level 1

Level 1

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


If you want to learn music theory, then pitch, rhythm, scales, intervals, chords, and harmony are foundational concepts that you need to understand and master. Music Theory 101 will set you on your way with 12 weeks of engaging and interactive music theory lessons. After more than 40 years at Berklee, Professor Emeritus Paul Schmeling has helped countless students learn music theory and build a solid base of musical knowledge. And he'll do the same for you with his online music theory course, supported by class discussions, interactive tools, and personalized feedback that will help you put music theory into practice every day. Join our community of beginning learners for a hands-on music theory course where you'll read, write, and truly hear the elements of music like never before.

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By the end of this course, you will:

  • Read and write musical notation
  • Play notes on a piano keyboard
  • Use scales, intervals, and chords
  • Write a melody
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Lesson 1: Rhythm Part I

  • Pulse
  • Meter
  • Notes
  • Rhythmic Notation Activities

Lesson 2: Rhythm Part II

  • Eighth Notes
  • Beaming, Dots, and Ties
  • Rhythmic Notation Tips
  • Rhythmic Dictation Activity
  • Rhythmic Notation Activity

Lesson 3: Pitch Notation

  • ABCs of Pitch Notation
  • Treble Clef Notes
  • Bass Clef Notes
  • Grand Staff
  • Octaves
  • Accidentals: Sharps, Flats, and Naturals
  • Enharmonics

Lesson 4: Major Scales

  • Half Steps and Whole Steps
  • Chromatic Scales
  • Whole Tone Scales
  • Major Scales
  • Other Major Scales
  • Key Signatures
  • Scales and Key Signatures

Lesson 5: Minor Scales

  • The Minor Scale Sound
  • The Relative Major/Minor Relationship
  • Parallel Minor
  • Harmonic Minor
  • Melodic Minor
  • The Descending Melodic Minor Scale
  • The Real Melodic Minor Scale
  • Minor Scale Key Signatures

Lesson 6: Intervals

  • Interval Number Names
  • Interval Sound
  • Unison
  • Perfect and Major Intervals
  • Major vs. Minor Intervals
  • Perfect/Major vs. Diminished
  • Perfect/Major vs. Augmented
  • Compound Intervals

Lesson 7: Chords I: Triads

  • Major Triads
  • Minor Triads
  • Diminished and Augmented Triads
  • Chord Symbols

Lesson 8: Triad Inversions

  • Triad Inversions
  • Bass/Chord Theory
  • Voice Leading
  • Parallel and Contrary Motion

Lesson 9: Chords II: Basic Seventh Chords

  • The Major Seventh Chord
  • The Dominant Seventh Chord
  • The Minor Seventh Chord
  • The Minor 7
  • The Diminished Seventh Chord
  • Chord Symbols and Review

Lesson 10: Inversions and Voice Leading of Seventh Chords

  • Inversions of Basic Seventh Chords
  • Positions of Basic Seventh Chords
  • Voice Leading Seventh Chords
  • Voice Leading: Two Ways

Lesson 11: Using the Lead Sheet

  • Harmonizing the Melody
  • Creating Harmonic Accompaniments
  • Voice Doublings
  • Increasing Activity in the Bass

Lesson 12: Melody Writing

  • Making Melodic Connections
  • Repeating Phrases
  • Sequences


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Take the Music Theory self-assessment quiz to determine your level.

Recommended Textbook(s)

Software Requirements

After enrolling, please check the Getting Started section of your course for potential deals on required materials. Our Student Deals page also features several discounts you can take advantage of as a current student. Please contact for 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


Paul Schmeling

Author & Instructor

Paul Schmeling is a master pianist, interpreter, improviser and arranger who has inspired countless students since he began teaching at Berklee in 1961. He has performed or recorded with jazz greats such as Clark Terry, Rebecca Parris, George Coleman, Carol Sloane, Frank Foster, Art Farmer, Herb Pomeroy, Phil Wilson, Dick Johnson and Slide Hampton. In the 1990s, the Paul Schmeling Trio released two inventive and critically acclaimed albums, interpreting the music of Hoagy Carmichael and songs associated with Frank Sinatra. Recently retired as chair of the piano department, he is co-author of the Berklee Practice Method: Keyboard (2001) and Instant Keyboard (2002) and the author of Berklee Music Theory: Book 1.

Steven Kirby


Guitarist, composer, educator Steven Kirby (“a guitarist of rippling technique and a poetic mind”- Downbeat) has built a reputation for performing exciting, melodic, lyrical and expressive jazz as well as being active as a performer in other contemporary styles. He has appeared on over 20 released recordings including three as a leader “Point Of Balance” and “North Light” (both on Challenge Records)—and “Illuminations” (on WCS records). “Illuminations” received Downbeat Magazine’s “Editors Pick” award. He has performed and/or recorded with many of today’ most respected contemporary musicians including Chris Potter, Mike Manieri (Steps Ahead), Joe Lovano, Steve Hunt, Allan Holdsworth, Matt Malley (of Counting Crows) and others. He has toured in the U.S., Canada, Caribbean, Europe, China and Africa.

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Kirby’s music has been played on over 100 radio stations in the US and internationally including features on NPR’s “Here and Now”, “Jazz with Bob Parlocha” and “Eric in the Evening”.

His jazz compositions have won awards in the International Songwriting Competition, the Billboard Song Contest and Downbeat. He is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and has a Masters degree in Jazz Composition and Arranging from University of Massachusetts  (Amherst). He is currently on the music faculty at 3 institutions of higher education: Berklee College of Music, Brandeis University, Wellesley College. Read Less

Debbie Cavalier


Debbie Cavalier was the co-founder of Berklee Online in 2002, and has been instrumental in transforming the online school of Berklee College of Music into a worldwide music education powerhouse. Under Debbie's leadership, Berklee Online has achieved many landmark firsts in the world of online education: in 2013 it became the first online music school to offer MOOCs; in 2014 it became the first online music school to offer bachelor's degrees; in 2017 it became the first school to offer an online bachelor's degree in guitar; and in 2018 it became the first online music school to offer online master's degree programs in music production and film scoring. Berklee Online boasts a 97 percent student satisfaction rate among its degree students, a benchmark that Debbie and her team have increased each year. Her dedication to music education is also reflected in the 100+ music education methods books and arrangements she has written for Carl Fischer, First Act, Alfred Publishing, and Warner Bros. Publications.

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She holds a Master's degree in Education from Cambridge College and continues to further her studies in music, business, and distance learning. Debbie also leads the children's/family music group Debbie & Friends, and is a Grammy award-winning songwriter with her song entitled "Walk Away" which was featured on the 2011 Best Children's album, All About Bullies. Known for their original cartoon music videos, Debbie & Friends has more than 18 million views on their YouTube channel, and growing.

Debbie is a Director on AVID's ACA Executive Board and recently served on the UPCEA Board of Governors and the Boston Higher Education Innovation Council. She has been honored with the She Rocks "Inspire Award" and Boston's "50 on Fire Award" for Education. In her spare time, Debbie is a volunteer musician with the "Musicians On Call" organization, singing Debbie & Friends songs bedside to brave young patients at Boston's "Floating Hospital for Children" at Tufts Medical Center. To help out during the COVID-19 crisis, Debbie performs weekly online sing-alongs for children via YouTube LIVE. Read Less

Roberta Radley


Roberta Radley is assistant chair in the Ear Training Department at Berklee College of Music. A Berklee graduate with a degree in composition, she joined the faculty in 1976. Since then, Radley has taught a wide range of ear training classes, using innovative methods to help students hear music more analytically, and earning recognition for outstanding achievement in music education from Berklee.

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Coauthor of the department core curriculum Ear Training 1–4 books, as well as author of the Harmonic Ear Training DVD, Radley has traveled widely on behalf of Berklee, holding scholarship auditions, working with affiliated schools, and presenting seminars across the US and internationally. Additionally, Radley is an active performer as a pianist and vocalist, and is an experienced private piano and voice instructor. Read Less

Russell Hoffmann


Russell Hoffmann is Assistant Professor of Piano at Berklee College of Music and is a pianist, recording artist, composer and arranger in many styles of contemporary music, including jazz, Latin, and pop styles. He has served as musical director for Concord recording artist Marlena Shaw and the University of Minnesota's "Twelve Moods for Jazz" Langston Hughes project. He has performed with many jazz luminaries, including Jack McDuff, James Moody, Billy Hart, Donald Harrison, Bobbie McFerrin, Peter Lietch, and many of Boston's finest jazz artists. As a clinician, Russ has appeared in Berklee's Italy summer program, Umbria Jazz Festival, Perugia, Italy; Berklee in Taipei; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Heineken Jazz Fest, San Juan, Puerto Rico; and the Berklee Annual Jazz Festival. He is the author of workbooks on keyboard comping, ensemble performance, and co-author of the Berklee Practice Method: Keyboard.

Dave Limina


Dave Limina is an associate professor in the Piano department at Berklee College of Music, where he received the Most Valuable Contribution to the Performance Curriculum Award in 2001 for his work in developing the Hammond organ program. An experienced session keyboardist, composer, and arranger, Dave has performed with Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, Lori McKenna, Duke Robillard, Gloria Estefan, Mark Murphy, Scott Hamilton, the first national touring company of the Broadway musical Rent, and many others. He received Boston Music Award nominations for his work with Courage Brothers, Ronnie Earl, and Mighty Sam McClain, and has played on several Grammy-nominated recordings. He played keyboards on Michelle Willson's Wake Up Call, which won a Boston Music Award in 2001. Dave does extensive session work in Boston, New York, and LA. He is the author of Hammond Organ Complete (Berklee Press) and the instructional video/DVD Accelerate Your Keyboard Playing. His playing is featured on many TV and film soundtracks.

Gaye Tolan Hatfield


Gaye Tolan Hatfield is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and a professor in the college’s Ear Training department. She has also taught in the Harmony, Voice, and Ensemble departments, and co-wrote and teaches the Berklee Online course Music Foundations. Her work outside of the college includes writing, arranging, transcribing, and performing locally as a vocalist, pianist, and flutist. She has assisted orchestrators for the Boston Pops, and in the summer of 2013, wrote a choral arrangement that was performed at the Pops 4th of July concert.

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Hatfield's compositions can be heard on a variety of television shows, including Navy NCIS, History Detective, The Young and the Restless, Revenge, NUMBER3, C.S.I. NY, Good Wife, and United States of Tara, in addition to the films Dear John and What To Expect When You're Expecting. She has also been a member of the Providence Singers, and penned an arrangement of "Someone to Watch Over Me" for their 2007-2008 Gershwin tribute concert.

Gaye earned 2015 and 2016 Daytime Emmy award nominations for her work as a member of the composing team for The Young and the Restless. Read Less

Vicente Avella


Pianist and composer Vicente Avella has been writing and performing internationally since 1998. Born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, he has scored numerous independent films, orchestrated and worked on music production for major network television shows including Family Guy (FOX) and American Dad (FOX), and written music for worldwide advertising including Intel (Saudi Arabia), Red Bull Air Race World Championship (Brazil), and official branding for FPC Sports Channel (Colombia). Avella also performs regularly as a piano soloist, accompanist, and in chamber groups.

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In 2013, Avella released his debut album, All the Days of My Life, produced by Grammy Award winner Will Ackerman, founder of Windham Hill Records. The record received multiple awards including Best Solo Piano Album from One World Music Awards and an Award of Excellence for Instrumental Performance Solo from Global Music Awards. The single "Bridal March" charted at no. 1 on iTunes; it is also the no. 1 "Bridal March" on YouTube.

In addition to teaching at Berklee, Avella is an adjunct professor at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, California, where he teaches music theory, musicianship, and piano performance. He is the recipient of a fellowship from Eastman School of Music, where he completed his master's degree in music composition; he received his bachelor's degree in piano performance from Indiana University. Avella currently resides with his wife and children in Los Angeles. Read Less

Melissa Howe


Dr. Melissa Howe is a violinist whose interdisciplinary training in music theory, cognitive psychology, and education has served as the foundation for a multi-faceted career in the arts. Howe served on Berklee’s Boston campus as faculty for many years in the Composition, Ear Training, and String Departments. Her performances span a wide range, from  food opera to  video game string quartet to Björk, Harry Belafonte, and Bruce Springsteen, as well the superlative orchestras of Boston’s leading arts organizations. Currently serving as Chief of Staff in the Office of the President, Dr. Howe works tirelessly to support innovation and excellence at Berklee.

Mark Zaleski


Internationally touring musician, Mark Zaleski, has distinguished himself as a uniquely dynamic soloist, multi-instrumentalist, and band leader.He has performed with a diverse group of notable artists including Dave Brubeck, Christian McBride, Ian Anderson, Connie Francis, Mahmoud Ahmed, Rakalam Bob Moses, the Either/Orchestra, Jason Palmer, and Matt Savage.  At the young age of 33, he has established faculty positions at Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory of Music, and Longy School of Music at Bard College.

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In 2017, Zaleski released his second record, “Days, Months, Years”, a record where Zaleski performs on alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, and double bass; one of the first of its kind in the jazz genre.

Additionally, Zaleski is active in many musical projects including the Omar Thomas Large Ensemble, The Brighton Beat, the Either/Orchestra, Nyota Road, a duo project with Glenn Zaleski, Chris Hersch and the Moonraiders, The Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra, Mehmet Sanlikol and WhatsNext, and plays bass in a popular Boston-area soul band he founded called Planet Radio. Read Less

Rick McLaughlin


Rick McLaughlin’s work has been heard all over the world. A band leader, side-man, and member of the Grammy-nominated jazz group Either/Orchestra, he has performed on stages and in recording studios in places ranging from greater Boston, MA to Los Angeles, CA; from Barcelona, Spain to Rome, Italy; and from Phuket, Thailand to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Dozens of CDs feature Rick McLaughlin, including his own debut as a leader, Study of Light, which garnered critical acclaim (“…illuminates your aural universe with singleness and sincerity.” – Marcel Polgar, Double Bassist Magazine).   He has shared the stage with a wide range of musicians, from jazz luminaries such as Don Byron, Steve Lacy, John Medeski, Danilo Perez, and John Zorn, to rock musicians Willie “Loco” Alexander, Morphine and Peter Wolf, and country music star Roger Miller. A frequent collaborator with musicians from all over the globe, McLaughlin has also performed with Ethiopia’s great singers Mahmoud Ahmed and Alemayhu Eshete, as well as the innovator behind Ethio-Jazz, Mulatu Astatke. 

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Although primarily known as a bassist, McLaughlin is a highly regarded teacher, most notably as Associate Professor of Harmony at Berklee College of Music, but formerly in a variety of faculty, administrative, and clinician positions at other music schools as well. These positions capitalize on the work McLaughlin has done in addition to his bass playing, as a published author, composer, and arranger. 

McLaughlin graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA with both B.M. and M.M. degrees, the latter he received with Academic Honors and Distinction in Performance. Former endorsements include AlterEGO instruments, Gallien-Krueger amplifiers, and Hohner Melodicas.  For more information please visit Read Less

Ayeisha Mathis


Ayeisha Dennise Mathis is a Boston native born into a musical family who exposed her to various instruments such as keys and guitar. At the tender age of 5 she fell in love with drums and percussion. Throughout her youth, her musical talents were nurtured and matured through playing at church. She quickly rose to become Boston’s sought after drummer showing extraordinary talent and a promising future in music. Before the age of 18, Mathis shared the worldwide stage with renowned artists and musicians such as Sheila E., Hugh Masekela, John Blackwell, Dennis Chambers, Vinnie Colaiuta, Dawaun Parker, and many others. She is the first recipient of the prestigious Berklee College of Music presidential scholarship, graduating in 2009 with dual degrees in Music Production and Engineering and Music Business/Management. Mathis has made the Berklee community proud, affectionately recognized as one of Berklee’s notable alumni, she lives up to that recognition. 

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Mathis is making a lasting impact on her local community. She is the Founder and CEO of Sound Doctrine Company, whose core business function is to support up and coming artists through music production, artist development, and education. She volunteers her time and talents for local clinics and masters classes for the City of Boston, Berklee College of Music, and many other community centers and music programs. In addition, she mentors numerous youth in and around the Boston area. She is the former music program director at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester and former team leader for the Music and Youth Initiative. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor at Berklee College of Music and a faculty member at the New England Conservatory. Additionally she is serving her community as the Program Director at the Boston Kroc Center. Read Less


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