1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  

Nashville number system question

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by 1dreday, Jan 11, 2020.

  1. 1dreday

    1dreday Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2009
    Can someone explain what this is and how to use it
  2. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
  3. tshapiro

    tshapiro Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2015
    Jax Florida
    Assume key of A. In the typical blues pattern you'd be using the A (1 chord) D (4 Chord) and E (5 Chord). As in:
    A 1 chord
    Bm 2 chord
    C#m 3 chord
    D 4 chord
    E 5 chord
    F#m 6 chord
    G# Dim 7 chord

    Now, in the list above, the major and minor simply just follow the chords of the scale. So, if someone says go to the 6 chord you know that's F#m. The common major scale is also known as the Ionian mode. Now, if you're in a minor key, let's say we reference the chords above and say we are in the common F#m (also could be called the F# Aeolean mode). In this case, the 1 chord would be F#m, 4 would be Bm, 5 would be C#m. So, saying '5' is a lot easier than saying C#m. Also, referencing the relative chord position is easier to translate.

    One helpful trick to this is that the 1 4 5 always match being major or minor in the common major key (Ionian mode) and minor key (Aeolian mode).

    When I work with experienced musicians, they usually use the number system bc it's just easier... Like shorthand.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2020
    ibasso and DiabolusInMusic like this.
  4. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    Chillin' n Grillin' on the Best Coast
    Song Surgeon slow downer.
    Maybe @BassCliff will post a pic of one of his music sheets. :thumbsup:
  5. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    Call up some fake chord sheet music first. Chris Tomlin - Amazing Grace My Chains Are Gone (Chords)

    OK as the verse starts and stops with a D chord, it's in the key of D. Take a black marks-a-lot and mark through all the D's with a 1. The E's become 2. The F# become 3, etc. You now have a sheet of Nashville numbers -- with the lyrics.

    Then using the major scale box:

    G|-|--2---|-------|---3---|---4---| 1st string
    E|-|-------|---R---|-------|---2---|4th string

    Place the box's 1 over a D note on your fretboard then if your Nashville numbers indicate a 3, find the 3 with in the box.

    Takes about two minutes to transpose fake chord over to Nashville numbers. Yes helps if you can identify the key, if not ask the keyboard. Then just follow the numbers within your Major scale box.

    As Praise music is mostly just roots I transpose all my Praise over to NN. I like to have the lyrics shown as this helps me be with everyone else. If you need something more rely upon your knowledge that a 5 is up a string and over two frets, a 3 is up a string and back a fret. Nothing keeping you from adding a R-5 or a chromatic run if you like.

    Google Chas Williams book on NN.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2020
    ibasso likes this.
  6. chadhargis

    chadhargis Jack of all grooves, master of none Supporting Member

    Jan 5, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    Nashville Number System is all I’ve ever used. There are little bastardized versions everywhere depending on who wrote the chart.

    The best part about it is when the singer says, “Can we do this a half step down” and you shift your finger one fret and follow the chart.
    Dave3 and Malcolm35 like this.
  7. BassCliff


    May 17, 2012
    So. Cal.

    There are lots of resources online that talk about and explain the Nashville Number System. In a nutshell, The NNS is based on the triads built on scale tones. Using the numbers is a kind of shorthand musical notation. There are also other symbols used to designate breaks, holds, pushes, etc.

    If I say "This song is 1-4-5 in the key of A" what I'm saying is the chords are build on the first, fourth, and fifth notes in the scale of A. In other words, the chords are A major, D major, and E major because the A scale is A, B, C#, D, E, F#, and G#.

    As @tshapiro mentioned earlier the 1, 4, and 5 chords are major triads. The 2, 3, and 6 chords are minor triads. The 7 chord is a diminished triad. However, I have fount that, especially in country music, the chords that are normally minor or diminished might not actually be so in a particular song. Sometimes a dash or a superscript 'm' used behind a number will signify an actual minor chord...


    But I've found that there are a several variations and short cuts used by different musicians. Here is a Nashville Number Chart actually used in a Nashville studio by Nashville musicians for a song written by a Nashville cat.


    Each number represents one measure. IF there is a line under two or more numbers, they are all part of the same masure. The > symbol means the chord is "pushed", i.e. played on the upbeat (the eighth note before the beat). You also see some rhythmic notation written as notes above the number chords.

    When I write a number chart I tend to use staff paper incorporate a little more actual musical notation. Here's one of mine, a Garth Brooks song that we cover.


    My chart says "Long bars" while Jed's chart says "Fast bars". This means you count my chart in half time. Each bar is actually eight beats. That's why some of the rhythmic patters don't add up. It's just enough to keep me true to the recording.

    The really cool thing about number charts is that you can play them in any key, transposing instantly. If the singer needs to go up or down a whole step or a fourth, it doesn't matter. You can still use a number chart and play the song in the new key, just change the tonic (the first note of the scale of the key you're in).

    There ya go. Clear as mud, right? ;) Here's an intro by Chas Williams who wrote a pretty concise book about the NNS.

    This is a bit technical but tells you about how the scale notes (numbers) relate to the chords built on them: The Nashville Number System Simply Explained - How Music Really Works

    Thank you for your indulgence,

    ibasso, RDW and Wasnex like this.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.