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Lawrence Berk papers on the Schillinger System, circa 1930s

Identifier: BCA-007

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of 11 binders comprised of notes, formulas and other figures compiled and created by Lawrence Berk, founder of Berklee College of Music. Although materials are undated, it is assumed that these materials were produced in the 1930s as a result of Berk’s private study with Joseph Schillinger, creator of the Schillinger System of Musical Composition (SSOMC). Therefore, these papers presumably contain the foundation of Berklee’s early curriculum.

The materials in this collection include handwritten notes by both Berk and Schillinger, and lessons on various aspects of the Schillinger system: theories of harmony, rhythm, melody, counterpoint, pitch scales, permutations, and geometrical inversions. The final binder also contains an introductory course in arranging, presumed to have been authored by Lawrence Berk and possibly others.

Schillinger’s methods were later compiled and published posthumously as the Schillinger System of Musical Composition, consisting of 12 books presented over 2 volumes. See series-level notes, created with the assistance of independent Schillinger scholar Phil DiTullio, for information relating Berk and Schillinger’s notes to the corresponding book in the published version.


  • circa 1930s


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research by appointment. Advance notice is required for access because materials are stored offsite.

These materials have been digitized and are available online here

Biographical Note

Lawrence Berk (1908-1995) grew up in Boston’s West End and was the founder and first president of Berklee College of Music, a position he held from 1945-1979. Berk graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in architectural engineering in 1932. He was a pianist, composer, arranger and educator.

Berk was particularly influenced by Russian-born mathematician, music theorist, composer, and educator Joseph Schillinger (1895-1943), who developed a unique mathematical system of music composition and analysis known as the Schillinger System of Musical Composition (SSOMC). The SSOMC was utilized by various well-known popular musicians, including George Gershwin, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and others (Hazell, Ed, and Lee Eliot Berk, Berklee: the First Fifty Years. Boston, Berklee Publication, 1995. Print. p. 4).

Lawrence Berk worked as a composer and arranger for CBS and NBC radio in New York in the 1930s, during which time he studied with Schillinger. Berk went on to become one of a dozen instructors sometimes referred to as the “12 disciples” who were authorized to teach the Schillinger System of Musical Composition. In 1945, Berk purchased a three-story building at 284 Newbury Street and established his own music school based on these methods. Schillinger House soon became widely renown as an innovative school for jazz and contemporary music and was eventually renamed Berklee College of Music, as it is known today (Hazell, Ed, and Lee Eliot Berk, Berklee: the First Fifty years. Boston, Berklee Publication, 1995. Print. pp.10-11).


1 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



This collection consists of 11 series; with subseries assigned to Series I and IV as follows:

* Series I: Theories of rhythm, harmonization of melody, counterpoint, general harmony, instrumental forms of harmony

- Subseries 1: Theory of rhythm

- Subseries 2: Harmonization of melody

- Subseries 3: Correlation of melodies (counterpoint)

- Subseries 4: General theory of harmony

- Subseries 5: Elements of melodic figuration

- Subseries 6: Instrumental forms of harmony

* Series II: Theory of counterpoint

* Series III: Special theory of harmony

* Series IV: Theory of melody & pitch scales

- Subseries 1: Theory of melody (primary)

- Subseries 2: Pitch scales

* Series V: General theory of harmony

* Series VI: Pedal point, melodization, harmonization

* Series VII: Special theory of harmony

* Series VIII: Special theory of harmony

* Series IX: Permutations

* Series X: Pitch scales & geometrical inversions

* Series XI: An introductory course in arranging

The arrangement of this collection was based on the original order received, with series assigned to each of the 11 binders originally housing the papers. Subseries were assigned in cases where different books (in what later became the Schillinger System of Musical Composition) appeared to have been housed together.

Digitized Materials

These materials have been digitized and are available online here

Related Materials

Related materials may be found in BCA-006 (Jerome Gross and Bert Henry papers on the Schillinger System), which consists of correspondence coursework completed by Dr. Gross under Schillinger, as well as notes and other memorabilia created and compiled by Bert Henry, another authorized teacher of the Schillinger System of Musical Composition who briefly operated the Schillinger Center of Cleveland.

Processing Information

These materials were processed with interpretive and descriptive assistance from Phil DiTullio of the Schillinger Society, who provided the information included in series-level scope and content notes.

Lawrence Berk papers on the Schillinger System, circa 1930s
Nicole Lewis-Prawl (Simmons GSLIS intern) and Sofía Becerra-Licha (2013); revisions by Ashley Gray (2022)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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The processing of this collection and the creation of this finding aid were completed with support from a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Revision Statements

  • 2022: Revised by Ashley Gray (Processing Archivist) to include expanded description

Repository Details

Part of the Berklee Archives Repository

Berklee College of Music
1140 Boylston St
Boston MA 02215 USA