Barry Cleveland: Auditing Chords 101 at Berklee Music Online

Berklee School of Music is allowing me to audit Chords 101, which is an online course taught by Rick Peckham. 

Berklee School of Music is allowing me to audit Chords 101, which is an online course taught by Rick Peckham. I won’t be able to interact personally with the instructor or the other students, as I would if I were taking the course for credit—but I do have access to all course materials including instructional videos and various interactive media, and I can work at my own rate, which is ideal given my full-time job and many other activities.


The course requires that you know at least basic music theory (a remedial course covering elementary points is available) and can read simple musical notation.

The course is organized into 12 Lessons, and according to Peckham: “Upon completion of Chords 101, you will be able to look at a lead sheet and play chord voicings in a variety of musical styles. We will improve your capacity to construct triads, seventh chords, some extended voicings and inversions too. Chord qualities to be covered include: major triad, minor triad, diminished triad, augmented triad, dominant 7, major 7, minor 7, minor 7(Flat5), diminished 7, major 6, and minor 6. Some triads over bass notes and alterations will be addressed as well.”


Lesson1 is primarily about major and minor triads in root position, and includes an Introduction, ten pages of lessons, a Practice Workshop, four more lessons, and a Practice Exercise. Information is presented visually on screen via graphics with embedded audio files or video, and also via downloadable PDFs and mp3s, so there are numerous options when approaching the materials.

I reviewed the Music Theory Primer, the Introduction, and some other materials before diving into the first parts of Lesson 1. I got through Major Triads on various sets of strings, Cycle 4 (a.k.a. the cycle of 4ths), and Arpeggios in my first few hours. I used the onscreen materials mostly, though I also downloaded some charts as PDFs and opened them next to the material in my Web browser to get a better view.

Peckham has given this course hundreds of times and has it down pat. The materials are organized in a totally logical manner and the graphics and audio fully support each concept. For example, where there is a staff with a chord notated, or a standard chord diagram, there is almost always also a button you can click that will play an audio example. And although I wasn’t “live” with the instructor, the audio and video play-along instructions made it almost seem as if he were present. There are even downloadable music tracks that you can play along with to apply the concepts that you just learned. Very cool!

I am really enjoying this experience, getting a remedial education on materials that I am already mostly familiar with, as well as learning new things, or at least learning new ways to view and apply what I already know.


Based on what I’ve experienced so far, I can’t recommend this course highly enough—and I’m sure it is even better when you are actually “attending” it along with other students.