Music Theory and Composition 1

Authors: Suzanne Clark, Kari Juusela   •   Course Code: OCOMP-110

In this music composition course, you will gain a solid understanding of music fundamentals while building your own musical language. You will receive a detailed look at the major and minor keys, as well as tools to help you comprehend scales and chords so that you can use them in your own music. An understanding of basic music theory will support you in all of your musical endeavors, eventually making the application of advanced topics much easier.

This course will to take you from rhythm and phrasing, through to scales and tonality, and then conclude with intervals and chord building. This course will also examine notational systems and the specifics of notating music, teaching you to put your own music into a form that will be transferable to others in the field. Advanced topics in this music composition course include modes, chord scales and tensions, as well as modal interchange and melodic and compositional techniques. In addition, there will be a focus on writing for the rhythm section.

One unique feature of the curriculum is its blend of both traditional and contemporary harmony, allowing you to receive a historical understanding of current topics—as well as an increased mastery of these topics.

On a weekly basis, you will be asked to engage with your classmates and instructor as you work your way through each lesson. To help you thoroughly experience and understand the material, you will be given activities and exercises to complete for each topic. There will also be weekly compositional assignments, giving you the opportunity to practice writing, with approximately half of these assignments scored to a visual media clip.

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

  • Compose your own musical ideas
  • Notate your own musical ideas
  • Construct chords and melodies and apply them to your writing
  • Apply advanced musical concepts to your own writing
  • Apply theoretical analysis to contemporary music and traditional classical music

Lesson 1: Introductions, Resources, and Rhythm

  • Pulse and Meter
  • Basic Rhythmic Patterns
  • Imaginary Bar Line
  • Rhythmic Phrasing
  • Notation Corner

Lesson 2: Melody and Tonality

  • Treble Clef and Accidentals
  • Tonality and Major Key
  • Leger Lines
  • The Movable “Do” Solfege System
  • Motif and Melody
  • Music Transcription
  • Notation Corner

Lesson 3: Intervals, Scales, and Keys

  • Melodic and Harmonic Intervals
  • Interval Qualities
  • The Bass Clef
  • Grand Staff, Interval Gymnastics, and Compound Intervals
  • Notation Corner

Lesson 4: Triads – Building Upon Intervals

  • Triads, Sus4 Chords, and Power Chords
  • Chords Symbols
  • Diatonic Triads in Major Key
  • Contemporary and Classical Harmonic Analysis
  • Notation Corner

Lesson 5: Chords in Motion

  • Harmonic Function and Progressions
  • Triadic Voice-leading
  • Figured Bass
  • Harmonizing a Melody with Triads
  • Notation Corner

Lesson 6: Minor Key

  • Relative Minor
  • Harmonic Minor
  • Harmonic Analysis in Minor Key
  • Harmonizing a Minor Key Melody
  • Notation Corner

Lesson 7: 7th Chords and Voice-leading

  • Building 7th and Other Four-Note Chords
  • Diatonic 7th Chords in Major and Minor Key
  • Harmonic Function and Voice-leading of 7th Chords in Contemporary Harmony
  • Classical Voice-leading and Figured Bass for 7th Chords
  • Notation Corner

Lesson 8: Writing for Drums and Bass

  • Drum Set Notation and Application
  • 4-String Bass Notation Application
  • Writing for Drum and Bass
  • Drum and Bass Groove Styles
  • Notation Corner

Lesson 9: Major Key Chord Scales

  • Relative Major Key Modes
  • Major Key Chord Scales and Diatonic Tensions
  • Major Key Modes and Chord Scales
  • Melody, Use, and Analysis of Non-Chord Tones in Traditional Harmony
  • Notation Corner

Lesson 10: Model Interchange

  • Parallel Modes
  • Modal Interchange
  • Voice-leading with Inversions
  • Voice-leading and Tension Substitution
  • Notation Corner

Lesson 11: Musical Composition Applied

  • Hybrid Chords
  • Introduction to Song and Instrumental Forms
  • Score Layout
  • Building Compositions
  • Notation Corner

Lesson 12: Blues

  • The Blues Melody and Lyric
  • The 12-Bar Blues and Form
  • Blues Scale and 7th Chords
  • Blues Scale and Tensions

Suzanne Clark


Suzanne M. Clark is an Associate Professor in the Harmony Department at Berklee College of Music and also teaches in the Songwriting Department and courses for Performance Health.

In 2010, Suzanne was the recipient of the Don Wilkins Curriculum Award, having authored five courses, including The Music of the Beatles, The Solo Careers of the Beatles, The Creative Flame, Integral Tai Chi, and Playing in the Key of Chi: Qigong for Musicians. She also teaches the Music of John Lennon. In 2014, Suzanne was featured in USA Today and on New England Cable News for the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles' appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. She also guest lectured on John Lennon for a Harvard University program.

Suzanne is a bassist, and throughout the years has played and recorded in a variety of genres including jazz, musical theater, world and contemporary music. She has performed and given clinics in New England, Pennsylvania, New York, and the Caribbean and Sweden. She was a guest lecturer at Northwood University's Creativity Conference where she focused on musical creativity. Currently, Suzanne also teaches an online graduate course, Seminar in Creativity, which focuses on creative blocks of creative artists and is based on research and studies related to her MA in Critical and Creative Thinking.

Kari Juusela


Kari Henrik Juusela is a Finnish-American composer, performer and educator who presently serves as dean of the Professional Writing and Music Technology Division at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. n addition to writing music in styles ranging from pop to contemporary classical, he enjoys playing and recording the cello, bass, guitar, piano, table, and the Finnish Kantele. His compositions have won numerous awards from such organizations as the Vienna State Opera, the International Trumpet Guild, the London Chamber Music Society, the Composer’s Guild, GASTA, and ASCAP. He has also won the International Red Stick Composition Competition, the American Songwriting Awards Contest, the San Francisco Art Song Competition, and the Aliénor Harpsichord Composition Contest. His works have been performed at many important venues including Carnegie and Tchaikovsky Hall by internationally acclaimed ensembles and performers, as well as by numerous rock, pop, and jazz groups. He is the author of over 20 college-level courses and is the author of the Berklee Contemporary Dictionary of Music.

Dr. Juusela holds degrees from the University of Maryland, Georgia State University, and Berklee College of Music. His music is published by ISG Publications, MuusJuus Music, and Yelton Rhodes Music, and is recorded on ERM, Beauport Classical, Lakeside Records, Capstone Records, and MuusJuus Music.

Vessela Stoyanova


A widely respected performer, composer, and educator, Vessela Stoyanova is a triple threat on the Boston music scene. Born and raised in Bulgaria, much of her original music is inspired by the folk music of the Balkans. Her compositions have been recorded by numerous ensembles and performed at major Boston-area venues including the Berklee Performance Center, Jordan Hall, The Loeb Drama Center at the American Repertory Theater, as well as at many smaller venues around the U.S. and Europe.

As a performer Vessela combines virtuosic mallet technique with the world of electronics, especially via her prototype instrument the “Marimba Lumina” -- a sophisticated mallet MIDI controller. Currently she performs and writes for two projects: Bury Me Standing (a gypsy dirge-core band) and Goli (a modern chamber music duo), both of which she co-founded. Vessela recently joined the Jazz Composers Alliance and has been a featured soloist for a number of their concerts.

Vessela holds a master’s degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory of Music. She is a faculty member at Berklee College of Music, where she teaches Harmony and Marimba during the regular school year, and a Balkan ensemble during the 5 week program.

George Russell, Jr.


A native of Pittsburgh, PA, Inspirational Jazz Pianist George W. Russell, Jr. is a performer, a composer, and an educator. His performances range from a solo piano, to a groove- oriented jazz trio, to a soulful, fresh-sounding larger ensemble that arouses the listener's intellect and, most importantly, touches their soul. His playing is filled with passion, fire, soul and, most of all, spirit.

Currently George is the Chair of the Harmony Department at the Berklee College of Music. Prior to becoming Chair, He served as a Professor of Harmony and Piano at Berklee. George has been awarded the Ted Pease Award for Excellence in Teaching, along with the Curriculum Development Award for the Writing Division. George has also been recognized with the highest award that Berklee gives to faculty, the Most Distinguished Faculty Award.

B.S., Duquesne UniversityM.M., New England Conservatory of Music

Performances with Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Ernie Isley, Cecil McBee, Semenya McCord, Bob Moses, Tiger Okoshi, Billy Pierce, Richard Smallwood, Stan Strickland, and Lenny White.

Randy Pingrey


Randy Pingrey is a Boston based freelance trombonist. He started playing professionally in the exciting indie rock scene of Eau Claire, Wisconsin and recorded with the Grammy-award-winning band Bon Iver. Randy now plays with his own band The Olson Pingrey Quartet, the Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra, Evan Ziporyn’s Critical Band, and many other exciting projects. He can be heard on CDs for the Tzadik, Saddle Creek, Red Piano, and Jagjaguwar labels. Randy also teaches harmony and music theory. He is a faculty member at Berklee College of Music and also at the New England Conservatory Prep School.


None required

Required Textbooks

None required

Software Requirements

  • Audio recording software that can import/export Quicktime movies such as GarageBand (Mac), Mixcraft (PC) or SONAR (PC)

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)


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.

  • Level
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    12 weeks
  • 3-Credit Tuition
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