NNS for minor keys?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by BasicJim, Dec 16, 2015.

  1. BasicJim


    Aug 11, 2015
    NW Ohio
    Is is possible to use NNS for a song in a minor key, like D harmonic minor?

    I am new to bass and Nashville Numbering System. I am taking bass lessons and, in my old age, I am having trouble remembering the notes to the songs we are working on. When I saw a post about the Nashville Numbering System, I knew that would be awesome to help me remember. I also play in a church band that frequently capo's songs, so NNS seems like a good way to deal with key changes too.

    I ask some questions in a different forum and nobody was very familiar with the Nashville Numbering System. A search here showed many bass players that swear by the NNS and think its great.

    There is a SKA song that I am working on and it seems that it is in D harmonic minor key where as everything I have seen written about NNS only deals with majors.

    Can I do a minor key with NNS and then instead of the W-W-H-W-W-W-H just remember W-H-W-W-H-W-W?

  2. I suppose Nashville numbers can be used with any scale/key. But, first understand Nashville numbers came into use by the 6 string guitar guys that strum the chords. Strumming and playing chord tone bass lines are two different things and we bass players must adapt NN to our way of playing. Granted most of what I use it with are major scale keys. Lets see how we could do this in a minor key...... I'm figuring this out as I type.

    The chords in D Harmonic Minor are: Dmin Edim Faug Gmin Amaj Bbmaj C#dim
    Transposing that to Nashville #'s........1......2......3......4.......5......6........7
    Click here Chords In The Key Of D Harmonic Minor this site will also give the scale notes.
    Chord progressions using the harmonic minor scale will often be mixed with chords taken from the other minor scales. It's common therefore to see something like i - iv - V7 (or in our case V {upper case thus Major}) progressions where the V7 is taken from the harmonic minor while the rest of the chords are taken from the natural minor. Should get this into the picture;
    D Major Scale notes = D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#
    D Harmonic minor =...D, E, F,.. G, A, Bb, C#
    The 3rd and 6th are flatted (lowered a semi-tone) in Harmonic minor.

    So on your chord chart, fake chord sheet music, whatever you have ----- mark through any Dm chords with the number 1. Any Gm chords become 4 and the Amaj becomes 5.

    And then we bass players because we play notes of the chord - and the chord is made from scale notes - we would have to use the Harmonic Minor box pattern instead of the Major scale box pattern - because the 3rd and 6th are lowered that 1/2 step.

    Major Scale Box.
    G~~|---2---|-------|---3---|---4---| 1st string
    E~~|-------|---R---|-------|---2---|4th string

    Harmonic Minor Scale Box.
    G~~|---2---|--3---|-------|---4---| 1st string
    E~~|-------|---R---|-------|---2---|---3---|4th string

    You do not have to use box patterns all that is necessary is you remember to lower the 3 and 6 a semi-tone. The Harmonic Minor box does that for me - so that is what I use. If you use something else keep using it.

    Anyone that does use Nashville numbers with minor keys chime in. I've never done it before. Pounding out roots no problem, however playing chord tones bass lines in Harmonic Minor from Nashville numbers; I'm winging it here......

    With a major key say my fake chord has a 4 and now I have a choice. I can pound out roots or do a R-5-8-5 or a R-3-5-7, because I know where the other chord tones are located within the box. I mentally move the box and I know that from the root a 5 is always up a string and over two frets, or down a string same fret. Same with all the other chord tones, I know where they are in relationship to their root note. Taking that to Harmonic minor I'll have to take into account the 3 and 6 being a semi-tone lower. As the only difference in the major scale and the Harmonic minor scale is the 3rd and 6th scale degree are lowered in the Harmonic minor scale -- this does not have to be rocket science. Just something I would have to get used to.

    Nashville numbers work great when you are strumming a chord, or pounding out roots. However when playing chord tones in a bass line you have to combine Nashville numbers and chord tone scale degrees. I do it all the time with Major keys. Minor keys I'd have to get comfortable with them as they are not part of what I now do. Country and Praise is what I normally play and Country and Praise is almost always in a major key.

    Here is what one of the experts have to say about NNS. FWIW I transpose all my fake chord over to Nashville numbers. NN work for me, see if it does for you.

    Last edited: Dec 17, 2015
  3. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    There is no key called "D harmonic minor" so I would start with a basic understanding of minor key harmony before I worried too much about notational shortcuts. If you are unclear on the haronic function of each note or chord, then it is much less ambiguous to simply notate the exact note or chord using standard notation.

    The problem, as I understand it, is that you are having trouble learning a ska song, and you think learning NNS will be an easy shortcut to learn that ska song? I hate to break it to you, but even musicians who have been using NNS for decades disagree on its nuances. And even if you are an NNS expert, it isn't used in the ska genre, and the bassist probably wasn't thinking in NNS when they played that bass line.

    On the other hand there is a notation system musicians have been using for centuries. It is called standard notation. In the time it took you to become an expert on NNS, you could transcribe 10 or 20 ska songs into standard notation and become an expert in ska.
    Pacman likes this.
  4. BasicJim


    Aug 11, 2015
    NW Ohio
    Your right, Sorry. That isn't the key, it is the scale that is used within the key. I AM, in fact, a new bass player and I am trying to gleen knowledge from more experienced players. My music theory isn't great, so when it comes to CHORDS within keys, I am pretty weak. I am trying to use NNS for bass which, as I currently can play it, only involves single notes, not chords!

    That is not the issue at all. I know how to play the song. I really enjoy playing the song. The problem is I have a poor memory and will forget HOW to play the song in a month or so. I am sure more experienced players could easily remember common patterns and riffs that would make it easy for them but as an inexperienced bass player, I don't have that tool in my toolbox yet. I am trying to overcome a failing memory that gets worse with age. I am just trying to find a quick way to get the music down on paper, so yeah, a shortcut to notation, not to learning. I am hoping I don't need to have more of a basic understanding of minor key harmonics in order to notate the music I am playing!

    I know standard notation and have for over 20 years. I don't do much in the way of transcribing, just reading. The problem is it is tough to take quick notes when listening to a song and transcribe it using standard notation. NNS, from what I read, is designed to enable more of the transcription.

    I appreciate your advice and see you are not a proponent of the NNS!


  5. BasicJim


    Aug 11, 2015
    NW Ohio
    That is AWESOME! Thank you for taking the time to explain that! Good video, too. I just ordered the Chas Williams book! Most of my playing has been, to this point, Pop (in major) and Praise (in major, but changing key depending on what the singer feels like on any given day). This is the first Minor I have run across and it is hard wrapping my head around the transcription.

    Thanks again for getting me on the right track!
  6. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Sorry if that sounded negative, I was on my first cup on coffee. ;) I personally use the Roman numeral system (iimin7-V7-Imaj7 for example) which isn't actually all that different from NNS, now that I think about it! So I guess it is six of one half dozen or another, or more than one way to skin a cat. I'll go watch Malcolm's video (he always has great advice) rather than criticize something I don't understand.

    The other advice I can give is singing. Songs I used to sing years ago, even decades ago, all I need to do is hear the first couple bars, and it all comes flooding back to me. When I need to truly memorize a song, I loop it on my iPod or car stereo and sing along, over and over and over.
  7. viper4000


    Aug 17, 2010
    I personally prefer the Roman numerals as well.

    Upper Case = Major
    Lower case = Minor
  8. BasicJim


    Aug 11, 2015
    NW Ohio
    It's cool! You seemed like you had an opinion, that's all!

    I know it's important to further my knowledge of theory. I know that will make me a better musician all around, but as a beginner, how important is it to know that it is a iimin7 chord when all I am playing is a "D?" I am guessing I would have a lot more options if I knew all of the notes that make up a iimin7, but as a new guy just trying to 'pound out roots, 5ths, and triads,' wouldn't just having a simple NNS sheet saying it's a "2" be adequate for the time being, though?

    It is the simplicity of the NNS and the ability to be more complex as required that I really am drawn to!
  9. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    With all due respect to the NNS, it seems to me that if your goal is simply to write something down to help remember the song a month from now, it would make more sense to just write "Dm."
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  10. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    To me, it is totally valuable/useful to know that the ii chord is a Dmin7 chord (as opposed to some other kind of chord) because iimin7 is the expected chord in major-key harmony. A lot of musicians will just say "two" and the rest of the band knows it is implied iimin7 (or iimin7b5 in a minor key).

    ii-V-I (Dmin7-G7-Cmaj7 in the key of C) is a common "harmonic phrase" that my brain can process as 1 thing instead of 3 things. So it is 3x easier for me to memorize the song if I know what a ii-V-I progression sounds like. If you say "two-five in C," that has meaning to me.

    If the ii chord is something other than min7 (maybe D7 or II7 for example) then that is useful information too, because it lets my brain know that what comes next is probably NOT a ii-V-I. For example the D7 might be a "secondary dominant" acting as V7 of G). In a jam/improv situation, it could even be, that the guitarist is playing D7 instead of Dmin7 specifically to signal to me, the bass player that a key change to G is coming.

    So yes, I do think it is important to recognize the sound of common chord qualities (major, minor, 7th, diminished, etc.) and to know what the guitarist is playing. Even if I am just playing roots on the bass, understanding the harmony helps me know what is next and not lose my place in the song's form. Am I good at it? No, I have a terrible ear. But I keep trying, a little bit every day. ;)
  11. I'm one of those guys that like knowing all this theory stuff, but, most of the time playing a 2 is adequate..... Yes, NNS works great with rhythm guitars strumming the chord and bassist pounding out roots. Later on when you need some of the other chord tones added; time then to get into those other chord tones. In the mean time help yourself to some roots, find the groove and have fun.

    One more point - I have never had a band director hand me a sheet of standard notation sheet music. Fake chord is what everyone, including the keyboard, is going to use in the World I play in. If we want to play with a band that uses fake chord sheet music we better know our way around fake chord sheet music. And that entails coming up with a way of composing a bass line --- from the chord name listed on the fake chord sheet music. Short of tabs, IMO anything that works for you is fine with me.

    Nothing wrong with standard notation, we all should have it in our tool chest as it is the universal language used in this music thing we all love. But, some time just a 2 fits fine.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2015
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  12. BasicJim


    Aug 11, 2015
    NW Ohio
    I thought that would be the advantage! It is just a bit beyond me at the moment! I am trying to put time into theory as well as playing. I am not great at either, but "I keep trying, a little bit every day!" Thanks!
  13. BasicJim


    Aug 11, 2015
    NW Ohio
    So far, all I have gotten is the lyrics sheet with a chord name written above the word where it changes to that chord. It's not terrible, but it sure leaves a lot up to the musicians to decide!

    I am hoping to be able to do some of the notation so we can remember how we "played it that one time when everyone thought we sounded so good."

    Thanks for the wealth of practical advice!
  14. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    As usual, I agree with pretty much everything you said (here and elsewhere), but in the present context I want to offer a defense of tab. Tab is (justifiably) frowned upon by many of us because (I think) it is too often used as a substitute for learning and understanding a particular song (or music in general). In the present case, as I understand it, OP's primary concern is simply that he'll forget how to play a song a month from now, and wants to annotate it somehow to help him remember later. For this particular purpose, it seems to me that writing out some tab could be very useful. There are many disadvantages of tab, but one of the advantages is that it specifies the exact fingering of the notes. Once you've created or learned a particular bass line -- including a particular fingering for it that you like -- writing out some tab could be exactly what's called for in terms of providing cues to remember how to play it.
  15. It's Saturday morning and I usually go over Sunday's songs on Saturday morning. So I've got my sheet music out, but, checked in before getting started. Yep lyrics and chord names do leave a lot up to us. Here are a few hints...

    With the fake chord on the music stand and your bass on it's stand, have a number 2 pencil, with the big eraser handy; then ask Google for a video of the song. Listen to the song and get the beat down first - is it fast or slow, etc. Then see if you are going to be able to make the chord changes dead on the lyric word's syllable - that's kinda important - listening to the video you may have to move the chord change over a little, one way or the other, so the change accent the correct syllable. Typed fake chord music normally will have the chord spacing move when printed, i.e. it's not where it is supposed to be on the printed copy. Courier New font does the best job of having the two printed lines line up.

    I also like to see if there is a place for a bass line walk or run that can be added IF it really adds to the song. Most time less is actually more. Praise music lends itself to roots to the beat. Don't make it complicated; a lot of good Praise gets played with just roots. One of the Christmas songs we do, I think it was Joy to the World, has 10 words in the first line and 8 chord changes - roots to the beat is all the notes you have time for...

    Some songs the beat will be 8 to the bar and it's here that we lock with the drummer's kick drum pattern. That kick drum pattern is the pattern for our bass line groove. If he is doing a boom, boom, de boom we should also. Then on some songs, slow ballads for example, we will be using one root note at the chord change and nothing more till the next chord change. Leave the beat to the drummer and we accent the lyric message with these well placed whole (4 count) root notes. Prayer songs go well with this technique. And then with some songs you just need to lay out. When the drummer gets his brushes out, you probably will do the song a favor if you sit this one out.

    After listening to the song and making notes in the margins - now get your bass and play-a-long with the video. Yep, a lot of this stuff is left up to you.... Ever wonder why fake chord sheet music is called fake chord? You are given the chords and you fake the rest. That is what makes it fun. It's going to be a journey, little today, little more tomorrow...

    Good luck.
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2015
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  16. Lownote38


    Aug 8, 2013
    Nashville, TN
    Unless someone decides to change the key for a vocalist. That's why the Nashville number system is the way it is. It's so things can be transposed very quickly.
    Lobster11 likes this.
  17. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Yes, of course -- I agree 100%. In fact, I remember thinking about adding "....assuming you'll be playing it in the same key next time" to my post, but I left it out because I didn't get the sense that was likely to be an issue in OP's case.
  18. Once you transpose to Nashville numbers your chord chart is in the key of 1. Place 1 and the other chords await you.
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