THE NASHVILLE NUMBERING SYSTEM


What Should I Know About the Nashville Numbering System?

I hate Country Music. I hate math. I’m not crazy about systems either.

#1 -It has nothing to do with Country Music. It was first developed by Studio Musicians. Nashville is a big Recording studio center. The Musicians more than likely had a Jazz or Classical background.

#2 -The “Math” is just numbering I-VIII. VIII and I are the same. There are 7 different notes in an Octave, the 8th is the first one repeated.

#3 -I wouldn’t even call it a “System” when looking at one specific key. It’s the way it makes all keys the same, that makes it a system. Wouldn’t you like to measure Chords, Scales and chord progressions on the the same yardstick? The system will show you WHY a particular song sounds different from another. Why one chord or scale sounds different, in ANY KEY!

When we take lessons and study Music theory, we learn to count the degrees in any scale, starting from the Tonic or *ROOT note(#1). It is natural for a beginner to focus on the notes themselves but looking at the distance between notes will teach you their relationships.

When you learn a C Maj chord is C,E,G you can play a C chord. When you learn ANY Maj/min chord is Built I,III and V, you can play any Maj/min chord in any key!

If you can use this system to Visualize Chord/Scales in 1 key, the relationship of Every key will make sense.

If you don’t know theory or read standard notation, this is probably the single most useful concept you can grasp. Seeing and feeling the I-IV-I-V in a Blues progression is a good start. Numbering allows us to be very specific about how a chord or scale sounds and feels, without using just one key as the example. Unless you read music or understand music theory, Notes have no quantity, Numbers do.

The easiest way to start learning the Nashville system is to start on the A(5th) string. Memorize the notes up to the 12th fret. A is open, B is 2nd fr, C is 3rd fr, D is 5th fr, E is 7th fr, F is 8th fr, G is 10th fr, A Octave is 12th. The Nashville system refers to the degree in the Major scale, so the Root/Tonic is A, it gets the number 1, B is 2, C# is 3, D is 4, E is 5, F# is 6, and G# is 7.

Looking at a scale this way allows you to visualize and compare, Chords, Chord progressions and melody’s or riffs. The degrees 1(open-A), 3(4th fret-C#) and 5(7th fret-E) make up an A Maj triad. The basic 12-bar blues pattern can be described as 1(A), 4(D), 1(A), 5(E), 1(A). A Country or Polka Bass-line A, E, A, E, can be described as a 1-5 bass-line.

Learning this system will allow you to transpose keys effortlessly. This is also important to understanding how all the keys fit together.

Here’s a diagram of all the keys. Memorize the one you use most(especially the Root, Fourth and Fifth).

key

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

A

A

B

C#/Db

D

E

F#/Gb

G#/Ab

A#/Bb

A#/Bb

C

D

D#/Eb

F

G

A

B

B

C#/Db

D#/Eb

E

F#/Gb

G#/Ab

A#/Bb

C

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

C#/Db

C#/Db

D#/Eb

F

F#/Gb

G#/Ab

A#/Bb

C

D

D

E

F#/Gb

G

A

B

C#/Db

D#/Eb

D#/Eb

F

G

G#/Ab

A#/Bb

C

D

E

E

F#/Gb

G#/Ab

A

B

C#/Db

D#/Eb

F

F

G

A

A#/Bb

C

D

E

F#/Gb

F#/Gb

G#/Ab

A#/Bb

B

C#/Db

D#/Eb

F

G

G

A

B

C

D

E

F#/Gb

G#/Ab

G#/Ab

A#/Bb

C

C#/Db

D#/Eb

F

G

I Do Not recommend memorizing this chart. If you can learn one key, and see the distances between notes, as a moveable pattern, every key will make sense, without memorizing sharps and flats for different keys. C is the perfect key, with no sharps or flats. If you can visualize the Intervals in the key of C, you can apply them as a Major scale in any Key.

Here are some good articles on the system

http://www.gospelmusic.org.uk/resources/nashville_numbering.htm

http://howmusicreallyworks.com/Pages_Chapter_6/6_4.html

Not very many people get this system right away. You need to play songs you already know and convert the Chord progression into numbers. I’d say it takes at least a week, possibly months of practice before you can easily start thinking in Numbers instead of letters.

When you do master this system, it will save you hours Transposing and learning songs. Don’t give up if this doesn’t make sense right away. Part of what makes this hard to grasp, is that the Intervals(numbers) apply to melodies, chords AND chord progressions(songs).

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