Developing Your Musicianship

Learn the basic concepts and approaches needed to understand, create, and perform contemporary music.

About The Course

If you have a passion for music and are curious about how it works, or if you are a musician who learned to play by ear without formal study, this course will provide you with an engaging introduction to key concepts and approaches needed to understand, create, and perform contemporary music. Taught by Berklee College of Music professor George W. Russell, Jr., the course includes six lessons that delve into harmony and ear training—two areas of intensive focus for every entering Berklee student.

The course will teach you the major scale and minor pentatonic scale, and how they are constructed. You will learn what intervals are, how to sing them, and how to find them in music. The course explores tonal centers and how to find the key a song is in, in addition to common time signatures such as 4/4 and 3/4. You will learn how to build chords—major and minor triads, and major and dominant seventh chords—and how to build a common chord progression—the I IV V. You will also learn how to recognize the blues and AABA song forms, and write a basic chord sheet to express your song ideas.

In addition to the video lectures, each lesson features Berklee student performances and interviews. The students share their musical journey and offer advice for those wanting to study music. The course culminates with an assignment that asks you to compose and perform a riff blues tune using the minor pentatonic scale. Above all, the course is designed to share the joy of creating music and sharing it with others.

Frequently Asked Questions


  • Do I need to have prior musical ability?
  • No. Experience playing an instrument is helpful but not necessary.
  • What do I need to take the class?
  • You should have access to a keyboard or piano. You will be asked to practice what you are learning on the keyboard for 15 minutes each day. If you do not have access to a keyboard, you can use one of the many keyboards available online (make sure it can play chords, or more than one note at a time), though an actual keyboard or piano is preferred in order for you to get the most out of the course.

    A digital camera to take pictures of handwritten assignments for review and grading by your peers.
  • What are the assignments like?
  • During the course, you will be asked to practice the major and minor pentatonic scale, triads, and seventh chords on your keyboard each day (no special fingerings are needed). The assignments will ask you to do such things as writing out a scale, finding songs that use a particular key or chord progression, and creating a chord sheet with a particular song form. The final assignment will ask you to compose a riff blues tune, and if you're able, perform the song for your classmates. You will also complete quizzes periodically throughout the course.

Recommended Background

The ability to play an instrument is helpful but not required. You should have a passion for music and a strong interest in developing your understanding of music and ability to create it.