Music Theory 101


Authored by Paul Schmeling


Course Code: OHARM-101

Next Term Starts April 8

Level 1

Level 1

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Pitch. Rhythm. Scales. Intervals. Chords. Harmony. If you're serious about music, these are fundamental concepts you need to understand and master. Music Theory 101 will set you on your way. After more than 40 years at Berklee, Professor Emeritus Paul Schmeling has helped countless students build a solid base of musical knowledge. And he'll do the same for you, supported by class discussions, interactive tools, and personalized feedback that will help you put these theories into practice every day. Join our community of beginning learners for an engaging, hands-on music theory course where you'll read, write, and truly hear the elements of music like never before. Enroll today!

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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



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

Recommended Textbooks

Berklee Music Theory: Book 1 by Paul Schmeling, Berklee Press/Hal Leonard

Berklee Music Theory: Book 2 by Paul Schmeling, Berklee Press/Hal Leonard

Software Requirements

Mac Users: Finale NotePad is currently not compatible with macOS 10.12 Sierra. It is highly recommended to not upgrade to this version if you plan on using NotePad. If you have already upgraded to macOS Sierra, we recommend downloading MuseScore or purchasing the full Finale version at a deep discount through the Student Deals page upon enrolling in the course. To check your OS version, click on the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of your screen and select About This Mac

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

  • 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)



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.



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.



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 College of Music. Co-author of the Department Core Curriculum Ear Training 1-4 books as well as author of the Harmonic Ear Training DVD on Berklee Press, Roberta has traveled widely on behalf of Berklee, holding scholarship auditions, working with affiliated schools, and presenting seminars across the U.S. and internationally. Additionally, Roberta is an active performer as a pianist and vocalist, and an experienced private piano and voice instructor.



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.



An assistant professor in Berklee's Harmony department since 1997, Alizon Lissance is a well-rounded musician with decades of experience as a multi-keyboard player, vocalist, songwriter, and arranger. She has earned regional and national accolades, ranging from critical acclaim in Musician Magazine to receiving a Boston Music Award as "Outstanding Keyboardist" in 1991.

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In 2005 Lissance released the CD So What About You, an eclectic collection of original material. She is a founding member of The Love Dogs, an established jump/swing rhythm & blues band that has released four CDs and has been touring in North America and Europe since 1994. She also keeps busy with freelance recording and performing engagements.

As an alumnus and faculty member of the Berklee College of Music, Lissance is thrilled to be a part of the extension school providing the "Berklee Experience" to people who might not otherwise have that opportunity.

To learn more about Lissance, including her performance schedule, visit Read Less



Michael Moyes has been working at Berklee since 2008. He has performed piano as a soloist, in combos, and accompanied by a full orchestra. In addition to piano and music theory, Michael teaches five string banjo and actively performs and records original bluegrass, country, and folk music. He is also the Associate Dean of Admissions Strategy and Operations for Berklee Online.



Melissa Howe comes to the Office of the President following many years on faculty and five years as chair of the String Department. Teaching has been an integral part of her life as a musician. "Performing music, teaching music, and reflecting on music create a very constructive and creative feedback loop," Howe says. Her evolving roles at the college have broadened her understanding of the meaning of music and music education in today's world. As faculty, her mission was to guide each student toward self-discovery and technical mastery. As department chair, she supported several hundred students and their faculty, seeking out the right tools to enable students to lay their foundation for their life’s work. Now, as chief of staff, she ensures that the mission and vision of Berklee—to educate, train, and develop students to excel in music as a career—plays out everywhere in the daily life of the college. To do this, she works as an active and integral link between President Roger H. Brown and the college as a whole, ensuring that the institution’s strategic initiatives are on track and executed efficiently and thoughtfully.

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During her tenure, she has actively engaged in the many faces of Berklee's contemporary music scene, having recorded viola for a food opera, presented Berklee's first Video Game String Quartet concert, and played concerts as diverse as the Beatles’ White Album, a Harry Belafonte tribute, and the Brahms Clarinet Quintet. Howe trained at Oberlin Conservatory and Boston University. Beyond her role at the college, she performs with ensembles such as the Boston Ballet, the Boston Pops, and the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, as well as with contemporary artists such as Björk, Aerosmith, Ben Folds, Amanda Palmer, and Rascal Flatts. Read Less


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