Country # System?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by footprints89, Apr 15, 2012.

  1. footprints89

    footprints89 Guest

    Dec 16, 2009
    terre haute, Indiana
    I was talking to my mentor the other night about how I was going to be joining a modern country group. The first thing he asked was if I knew the country number system. He explained it briefly, and we moved on to other topics. Can anyone explain this in further detail? Maybe throw out some examples.
  2. lowfreq33

    lowfreq33 Guest

    Jan 27, 2010
    Endorsing Artist: Genz Benz Amplification
    Commonly known as the Nashville number system. Each scale degree of the key signature is given a number from 1-7. There are a bunch of symbols that go along with it, some of which come straight from traditional notation. There are a few books about it, pretty sure Dave Pomeroy wrote one.
  3. The Nashville number system (do a Google) instead of listing the chord name will list the generic number of the chord in the key. Why? So when Sally Sue sits in and asks for the song to be played in A and your sheet music is all in G's, C's and D7's - not a problem as your sheet music does not use chord names, but, is numbered generically in the Nashville system, 1, 4, 5. So the 1's are played as A's, the 4's are played as D and the 5's are played as E's. Yes, you have to put to memory what the 1, 4 & 5, plus the 2 and 6 are in the keys that could be called for.

    Studio players who have to play the same song in many different keys came up with this system.
  4. I've actually learned a lot of that from reading MalcolmAmos' posts. For example, I've started to download a lot of chord sheets and come here to verify that they're in the right key for the version of the song I have BUT I also write a legend next to the verse/chorus so I know what numbering they're using..that way if I have a song in G but someone wants to do it in C, I can transpose on the fly (well, not on the fly, but I'm getting there)
  5. Beyond its utility in transposing songs, the number system is great at revealing the common patterns that so many songs share. I started using the system on my own as a teenager when learning songs without knowing the system already existed, it's just a logical way to abstract away from the specific notes or chords of any piece if music.
  6. JTE

    JTE Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    "Nashville Numbers" starts with the same concept a lot of theory books use anyway- the chord built on the first note of the key is the one chord, the one built on the second note is the two chord, etc. There's some major differences too, the most common being that most theory and jazz people use Roman numerals for chords (to distinguish them from scale tones which are commonly notated with Arabic numerals). But the basic idea is the same.

    C Am F G7 is the same as G Em C D7. In Nashville they'd write them both as "1 6min 4 5[SUP]7[/SUP]" and on a jazz gig you'd see "I vi IV V". Nashville Numbering also developed into a pretty complete short-hand system with certain stylistic notations, ways to show repeats, specific walk-ups, etc.

    I've seen a couple of good introductions. One was by one of the members of The Jordainairres, Johnny Cash's back up singers. David Hungate wrote quite a bit about it when he was writing a regular column in Bass Player Magazine a million years ago or so too.

    Very useful thing to have in your toolbox, no matter what genre of music you're playing!!!

  7. lowfreq33

    lowfreq33 Guest

    Jan 27, 2010
    Endorsing Artist: Genz Benz Amplification
    Another thing to remember is that minor key songs are written in their relative major key. So something in A minor would be written in C major, C would be the 1 and A the 6.
  8. Interesting, I never knew about that aspect of it.
  9. footprints89

    footprints89 Guest

    Dec 16, 2009
    terre haute, Indiana
    Thanks for all the input guys. I had all that down, I just thought it may go a bit deeper than that. I searched a chart the way a nashville number system would be used, and it was legible, but not typical.
  10. basspirate777


    Mar 21, 2009
    Latrobe, Pa
    One thing about numbers is that everyone has their own version of it...

    When I was in Nashville I used to play with dudes who did a lot of work on Broadway and they would literally call out songs on pickup gigs that would sound like house numbers "yada yada in A-1545!" The repetoire that a lot of pro country musicians possess can be mind boggling at times...

    I agree, you start to see how many songs have the same format. It was disheartening for me at first but learned your ear can really start to hear the nuances of the style, which can help you anticipate so much if you're learning on the fly. I credit my time playing straight ahead country music with helping me really start to truly understand relating chords, harmony and all that good stuff on a deeper all makes a new kind of sense when you're using numbers all the time.

    If you've got your scales and intervals in mind you'll be fine, just be a good communicator. Just some random 2 cents... 8) good luck!
  11. Our lead electric and pedal steel played the "better" honk-a-tonks in Houston and Dallas back in the John Travolta Urban Cowboy days. I am amazed at how many songs they can still play by ear.

    Another note. Back in my working days I worked with Jim Clack, Pro NFL Steeler and Giant. Jim was there to "talk a little ball" and let the guys see his two Super Bowl Rings. Jim could tell you something about every play he ever played.

    Seems that pro's are focused so tight they remember things we mortals just let slip away.