Pop/Rock Keyboard


Authored by Dave Limina


Course Code: OPIAN-230

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 2

Level 2

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Learn to play authentic keyboard parts in a wide range of pop/rock styles, including rock 'n' roll, R&B, dance pop, classic rock, country, heartland/alt-country, and jam band. Pop/Rock Keyboard provides an in-depth, practical approach to playing pop/rock music in a band and for solo piano. The course explores how to play accompaniment parts and improvised solos, and how to read and interpret contemporary chord symbol lead sheet notation. 

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Each lesson features new techniques taught through video demonstrations of solo piano and full band performances, reading and listening examples, and practice opportunities using album quality play-along tracks. The course includes music examples and techniques from artists and bands such as The Beatles, Elton John, Alicia Keys, Demi Lovato, David Bowie, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnnie Johnson, Little Richard, Jamie Cullum, Fats Domino, Maroon 5, John Mayer, The Fray, Aretha Franklin, Peter Gabriel, Stevie Wonder, Adele, Prince, Rascall Flatts, Bruce Hornsby, Steve Earle, The Grateful Dead, Phish, and many others.

The course begins with instruction on triads, arpeggiated keyboard parts, voice-leading, and comping patterns - all of which are bedrock principles of many signature pop/rock songs. From there, you'll delve into dominant seventh chords, blues licks, and call and response techniques. You'll explore the influence of gospel music and techniques specific to sub genres of pop/rock music, focus on how to find the key center for improvisation, and learn the associated phrasing and grooving techniques to advance your improvisational chops. The course ends with performance considerations, including how to combine different pop/rock techniques, how to deal with performance anxiety, and how to work out the best possible practice routine. At the end of each lesson, students will record themselves playing along with band tracks for instructor critique. The course is equally beneficial to beginning keyboard students, or students with classical experience or contemporary jazz style training. This course will fill in any gaps in students' playing, and provide a strong foundation in pop/rock keyboard playing.

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

  • Construct various chord types used in pop/rock styles
  • Voice lead chords through chord progressions
  • Play rhythmic accompaniments that are appropriate for many pop/rock styles
  • Play improvised solos on pop/rock tunes
  • Use the improvisational (soloing) vocabulary used in pop/rock styles
  • Employ quarter note, eighth note, broken triad, and arpeggiated accompaniment techniques
  • Employ dominant seventh chord techniques and blues licks
  • Play minor seventh chords, major seventh chords, and the pop styles that use them
  • Play sophisticated add9 chords and fourths voicing commonly used in pop/rock styles
  • Read and interpret lead sheets
  • Play techniques borrowed from gospel styles, commonly used in pop/rock music
  • Use funky pop and dance grooves and related keyboard sounds and techniques
  • Play country and country/pop accompaniment and solos
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Lesson 1: Quarter-Note Triads in Pop/Rock Music

  • Triad Construction
  • Major Scale Diatonic Harmony
  • Major Triads
  • Minor Triads
  • Quarter-Note Rhythms in Pop/Rock
  • Quarter-Note Comping
  • Lead-Sheet Reading Tips
  • Pop/Rock Chord Progressions and Inversions
  • Voice Leading
  • Triad Inversions
  • Quarter-Note Triads

Lesson 2: Eighth-Note Comping Patterns in Pop/Rock Music

  • The Role of the Keyboard
  • Broken-Triad Comping Patterns
  • Eighth-Note Pattern Comping
  • The Left Hand
  • Lead-Sheet Reading
  • Two-Hand Patterns
  • Rock-and-Roll Eighth-Note Techniques
  • Rock-and-Roll Exercises
  • Rock-and-Roll Shuffles Exercises
  • Eighth-Note Techniques

Lesson 3: Arpeggiated Keyboard Parts in Pop/Rock Music

  • Major Right-Hand Comping Arpeggios
  • Minor Right-Hand Comping Arpeggios
  • Incorporating the Left Hand
  • Two-Hand Comping Arpeggios Across Chords
  • Major/Minor Arpeggio Exercises
  • 2-Hand Arpeggios
  • Lead-Sheet Reading
  • Arpeggio Patterns

Lesson 4: The Dominant 7th Chord and Blues Licks in Pop/Rock Music

  • The Dominant 7th Chord
  • Dominant 7th Harmony
  • Dominant 7th Rhythmic Exercises
  • Blues-Based Rock-and-Roll Comping
  • Rock-and-Roll Technique
  • The Blues Scale
  • Blues Scale Construction
  • Blues-Scale Licks The Pentatonic Scale
  • Pentatonic Scale Construction
  • Pentatonic Licks
  • Lead-Sheet-Reading
  • Call and Response Techniques
  • Improvisation
  • "Mustang Sally"

Lesson 5: New Chords and Styles for Pop/Rock Keyboard

  • Progressions Using Maj7, Min7, and Sus4 Chords
  • The Major 7th Chord in Pop/Rock Music
  • Major 7th Chord Construction
  • The Minor 7th Chord in Pop/Rock Music
  • Minor 7th Chord Construction
  • The Sus4 and Sus2 Triads in Pop/Rock Music
  • Sus4 Triad Construction
  • Dominant 7th Sus4 Chords in Pop/Rock Styles
  • Dominant 7th Sus4 Chord Construction
  • Lead-Sheet Reading
  • Chord Progressions Using New Pop/Rock Chords
  • 8-bar Progressions
  • Chord Types
  • "What's Going On?"

Lesson 6: Gospel Influences in Pop/Rock Keyboard Playing

  • Listening Exercise: Gospel Influences
  • The 2 Minor Triad
  • 2 Minor Triad Theory and Construction
  • 2 Minor Triad Skillbuilding
  • Gospel Walkdowns
  • Gospel Walkdown Theory and Construction
  • Gospel Walkdown Skillbuilding
  • Gospel Walkups
  • Gospel Walkup Theory and Construction
  • Gospel Walkup Skillbuilding
  • Gospel Pentatonic Fills in Octaves
  • Gospel Pentatonic Fills Theory and Construction
  • Gospel Pentatonic Fill Skillbuilding
  • Gospel Drop-2 Voicing Technique
  • Gospel Drop-2 Voicing Construction
  • Gospel-Drop 2 Voicing Skillbuilding
  • Lead-Sheet Reading
  • Gospel-Influenced Pop/Rock Songs

Lesson 7: Funky Pop/Rock Styles: Dance, R&B, and Groove

  • More Dominant 7th Grooves in Pop/Rock Music
  • Dominant 7-Based Keyboard Parts
  • Mixolydian Triad Construction
  • More on Dominant 7-Based Keyboard Parts
  • Syncopated "Pocket" Grooves: Time Placement in Pop/Rock Music
  • Eighth-Note Syncopations
  • Sixteenth-Note Syncopations
  • Pop/Rock Clavinet Technique
  • Two-Hand Clavinet Technique
  • Lead-Sheet Reading
  • R&B and Dance Grooves
  • Playing Parts
  • "Evacuate the Dance Floor"
  • "Emotions"

Lesson 8: Country Pop/Rock

  • Country Music
  • Traditional Country Pentatonic Fills
  • Slip-Note Construction
  • Slip-Note Pentatonics
  • Country Pop/Rock Comping
  • Country Pop/Rock Melodic Scale Fragments with Drone Notes
  • Scale Fragments Construction
  • Applying Country-Flavored Licks and Comping to Pop/Rock Tunes
  • Lead-Sheet Reading
  • "She Thinks I Still Care"
  • "Take Me There"

Lesson 9: Pop/Rock Improvisation

  • Improvisation
  • Using the Major Scale and Pentatonic Scale in Improvisation
  • Finding the Key Center for Improvisation
  • Grooving and Phrasing
  • Determining which Solo Material to Use
  • Lead-Sheet Reading
  • Soloing Expectations

Lesson 10: Pop/Rock Ballads

  • Musical Skills and Ballads
  • Pop Ballad Comping
  • Add9 Triads and Chords
  • Add9 Triad Construction and Skillbuilding
  • Pop/Rock Progressions Using Triad Inversions
  • Descending Line-Cliche Progressions
  • Ascending Line-Cliche Progressions
  • Using Fourth Voicings in Pop/Rock Ballads
  • Fourth Voicing Substitutions
  • Lead-Sheet Reading
  • Ballad Speed and Difficulty
  • Pop/Rock Ballad Performance

Lesson 11: Heartland Pop/Rock Keyboard and The Art of the Jam

  • Jam
  • Jam Band Styles
  • Heartland Pop/Rock
  • Heartland Rock Grooves and Sounds
  • Vintage Keyboard Sounds
  • Workshop: Lead-Sheet Reading

Lesson 12: Pop/Rock Performances: Putting It All Together

  • Performance
  • Combining Pop/Rock Techniques
  • Pop Ballads and Classic Rock
  • Playing Melodies in Pop/Rock Styles
  • Pop/Rock Etudes
  • Peformance Anxiety
  • 8-Bar Solo
  • Further Pop/Rock Practice Techniques
  • Classic Pop/Rock Keyboard Performances
  • "Let It Be"
  • "One and Only"


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Music Theory 101Berklee Keyboard Method or Keyboard for the Electronic Musician or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.


  • No textbooks required

Media and Subscriptions


  • Students are required to record video while playing along with a backing track for their assignments. Options for recording video include:
    • Smartphone
    • Digital camera
    • External webcam
  • Note: The camera view must be from above, recording the keys right side up. It is imperative that the videos show the student's fingerings. You may need certain accessories to accomplish this, such as a goose-neck camera holder, tripod, etc.


  • Piano or keyboard instrument with at least 61 keys and a sustain pedal
    • If using a MIDI keyboard controller, a high-quality piano software instrument is also required.
    • If using a digital piano or keyboard workstation without built in speakers, an audio interface or amplifier is also required.


  • Students are required to capture their instrumental performance, as well as monitor audio output. Options include:
    • Input (one required if not using MIDI and software instruments):
      • Keyboard connected directly to audio interface (recommended non-acoustic option; alternatively, the microphone options below can be used with amplified instruments)
      • XLR microphone and audio interface (recommended acoustic piano 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 computer speakers
  • Note: Depending on your setup, you may also need XLR/instrument cables and microphone stand(s).

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact support@online.berklee.edu 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


Dave Limina

Author & Instructor

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.


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at advisors@online.berklee.edu.

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