Music Theory 101


Authored by Paul Schmeling


Course Code: OHARM-101

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

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 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Take the Music Theory self-assessment quiz to determine your level.



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


Paul Schmeling


Paul Schmeling (1938-2024) was a master pianist, interpreter, improviser and arranger who 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. He was chair of the piano department for 40 years, and he co-authored the Berklee Practice Method: Keyboard (2001) and Instant Keyboard (2002) and on his own he wrote Berklee Music Theory: Book 1.

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 the Chair of the Piano department at Berklee College of Music. He is also the Director of the Bachelor of Arts in Piano Performance degree program for Berklee Online. In 2001 he received the Most Valuable Contribution to the Performance Curriculum Award 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.

Michael Hamilton


Mike Hamilton has been producing, writing, recording, and performing music for over twenty years. He was a member of the late night band for the BET television show Live from LA, where he wrote and produced hip-hop pieces for guest artists such as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, Warren G, Method Man, P. Diddy, and Mystical. He has produced recordings for Interscope, Island Def Jam, and BGP Records. His recordings include Heart and Soul with the Winans, Thus Spoke Z with CTI, and the solo albums Natural Attraction and Here Together. While the saxophone is his principal instrument, he also plays keyboards, bass, and drums.

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Hamilton has appeared and toured with multi-platinum recording artists such as James Brown, Tyrese, Savage Garden, Coolio, Joe, Ronny Jordan, Jonathan Butler, and Phil Perry. He has performed at the BBC London, the NFL World Bowl IX Halftime Show, the Turn Ben Stein On TV show, and the Today show. He has been featured at the Boston Globe Jazz Festival and the Santa Barbara Jazz Festival. He received his bachelor of music degree from Berklee College of Music, where he is now an assistant professor in the Contemporary Writing and Production department. Read Less

William Brinkley


Bill Brinkley is the developer and former director of the Center for Computer Aided Instruction in Music, Berklee’s first research facility investigating the use of computer technology in a music curriculum. A Berklee graduate with a degree in composition, Bill joined the faculty in 1976. During his 15 years at the college, Bill was also a highly respected professor, teaching ear training, solfege, arranging, harmony, jazz counterpoint, ensembles, and private guitar lessons, and authoring two jazz counterpoint courses and a music copying course. Bill started out as a rock and R and B guitarist in his native Georgia, eventually joining Motown to work with David Ruffin after the singer left the Temptations. He became one of Boston’s most proficient jazz guitarists, playing in numerous bands with top area musicians like Jerry Bergonzi, Grover Mooney, and Garrison Fewell. An in-demand music copyist and transcriber, Bill has worked for Harry Connick Jr., the Boston Pops, George Benson, Lyle Mays, and classical composer Thomas Oboe Lee. He continues to work as a musician, as well as a graphic designer and music technology consultant.

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

Gail McArthur-Browne


Gail McArthur-Browne is an assistant professor in the Contemporary Writing and Production department at Berklee College of Music. She is a saxophonist, composer, and arranger originally from Glasgow, Scotland. She has performed with many great musicians, including Benny Carter, Gerry Mulligan, Grover Washington, Don Cherry, Jackie McLean, Antonio Sanchez, Christian McBride, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Maria Schneider, The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, Vital Information, Dave Weckl, and Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez.

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McArthur-Browne has won many awards, including The Princes Trust Award, STUC James Milne Award, Scottish International Education Award, The Cross Trust Award, Mary Patton Rowan Award, and the Cosmopolitan Magazine and American Express Performing Arts Award. She has made several television appearances, including U.K. Channel 4 Television, "Down the Line," CNN's Berklee Special, WBZ4 News, and CN8 "Nitebeat." In 1999 and 2000, she was commissioned by the Scottish Arts Council and composed pieces for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. Read Less

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


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