Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 25 of 44

Thread: Nashville Number System

  1. #1

    Default Nashville Number System

    Any good print resources on this? I've seen it referred to a number of times, but no in-depth description. I'm new (not yet, actually) to Mandolin and theory . . . I've got a vague feel for the Circle of Fifths (vague being an overstatement) . . . but the Nashville Number System is not something I'd heard of before joining this site.

    I'd like a recommended print book. Old fashioned, I guess.

  2. #2
    Notary Sojac Paul Kotapish's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Location
    Alameda, California
    Posts
    2,446

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    If you really want a book, there are plenty of them out there, including this one, which comes with its own website: http://nashvillenumbersystem.com/

    In a nutshell, instead of tying a song to a specific set of chords, the systems refers to chord relationships that can be transposed to any key on the fly.

    Once you know a bit more about keys and the basic chords that go in each key, this will make more sense, but if you are in the key of G, the I, IV, and V (or 1, 4, and 5) chords are G, C, and D. These are the chords based on the number corresponding to the degree of the notes in the scale in each key. (G A B C D E F# G for G, etc.)

    Or in other keys:

    I IV V VI
    G C D Em
    D G A Bm
    A D E F#m
    E A B C#m . . . and so on.

    With the Nashville system, instead of using standard notation or telling the players that the song goes from G to C, back to G, to D, back to G, they might just say, one four one five one with a two in the chorus. or write it I IV I V I.

    As noted above, this system has the advantage of allowing the session to change keys on a dime without having to rewrite any charts. This is handy if the singer decides his/her voice can't handle a certain high or low note or just plain sounds better in a different key.

    Some session leaders take the shorthand even further and just say something like eleven-eleven (for four bars of I), forty-four (for two bars of IV), eleven (two bars of I), fifty-five (tow bars of V), eleven (back to the one for two bars).

    Some charts adhere to Roman numerals, but in Nashville, Arabic numerals tend to rule. Here's a fairly details chart using the system:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	1306574_f496.jpg 
Views:	10241 
Size:	49.9 KB 
ID:	81191

    There are additional symbols that have specific meanings in the system, too, such as diamonds, which indicate that the chord should ring out, and other symbols to indicate chokes, diminished chord, no third in the chord, and so forth.

    More than likely they'd also use some other shared nomenclature for well-known forms, like "'round the clock" for playing through the circle of fifths, etc.

    There are some good explanations and examples here:

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

    and here:

    http://nvsongwriter.hubpages.com/hub/nashvillenumbers
    Last edited by Paul Kotapish; Jan-19-2012 at 1:04am.
    Just one guy's opinion
    www.guitarfish.net

  3. #3
    NY Naturalist BradKlein's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Lehigh Valley - Pennsylvania
    Posts
    2,074

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Nice post, Paul. I hadn't realized the system had evolved so far beyond simply noting chords I - VII!
    BradKlein
    Morning Edition Host, WLVR News
    Senior Producer, Twangbox
    Twangbox Videos

  4. #4
    Registered User mando1man's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    goodlettsville TN
    Posts
    146

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Cool, check out my Nashville Number Chart software. I believe I have the only software for making pro charts on a computer:
    http://www.robhainesstudio.com/numchart/index.htm

  5. #5
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Location
    Nashville
    Posts
    4,922

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    It seems everyone has their own variation on the number system as well. They are very similar, but may have slight differences. It does not take long to figure it out if you know the basics. I often have to play with nothing... not even being told what key. I prefer a chart so we can at least have a path to where we are going. Playing by ear is great, but the charts just put everyone on the same page. Unless you have to have heavy orchestration or have to play a particular note at a particular place I prefer the number charts to sheet music. But, as discussed in another thread, all methods are important in the right place at the right time.
    Have a Great Day!
    Joe Vest

  6. #6
    Registered User wildpikr's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Louisiana, USA
    Posts
    696

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Paul,

    I've heard of the Nashville Number System but never committed it to memory. I'm confused by the example and some of the terms, 4/6 b7, 6-7, 5-7, etc. Are there a lot of 7th chords in this tune? Would you mind translating a couple of lines from your example?

    Thanks and sorry for the confusion.
    Mike

    Those who think they should think, like they think others think they should think, need to think out their thinking, I think.

    No envejecemos, maduramos. -Pablo Picasso

  7. #7
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    40.1646 N, 74.2083 W
    Posts
    24,253

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Just to give those that are unfamiliar with how widely used the Nashville numbering system is, many years ago at the Windgap Bluegrass festival Harry Grant managed to get Chris Hillman, Herb Pedersen and Peter Rowan on stage together. I can't recall the bass players name but he was unfamiliar some of the songs, one being Sin City. I have a picture of Herb counting out the chord changes with his fingers so that the bass player can hang in with them. It is widely used.

  8. #8
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Location
    Conneaut Lake, PA
    Posts
    4,090

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Does anybody realize that this so-called "Nashville" numbering system is actually lifted straight from classical music theory 101? If I had a nickel for every time I've had to harmonically analyze music this way in my college days I'd be a millionaire! I think it's funny that bluegrass players think they invented it. The harmonic numbering system based on degrees of the scale goes back to the 1600's. No bluegrass then! The only thing original about this is its application to jams. Pretty cool in that aspect. It makes you think about the structure of the song and how it's put together. Anyone who can deal with this system, understand it, and use it will end up a better and more knowledgeable musician.
    Don

    2016 Weber Custom Bitterroot F
    2011 Weber Bitterroot A
    1974 Martin Style A
    Fender Octave Mandolin c.2004-2008

  9. #9
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Location
    Northwest
    Posts
    780

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    The numbering system is universally used, whether you are in a college music theory class or in a Nashville recording session. The differences are, as Paul mentioned, the symbols used, such as Roman vs. Arabic, but if you understand how one works, you can generally figure out the others. Usually when Roman numerals are used, major chords use upper case and minors are lower case, but often there are variations for descriptions of chords with added notes, depending on the author, but it will still understandable. I maj7 , I #7, 1 #7 all are the tonic chord with an added 7th tone one half step below the octave. i.e. G chord with an F# added in the key of G. If you have a basic understanding of one system, you should be able to manage with another.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    Does anybody realize that this so-called "Nashville" numbering system is actually lifted straight from classical music theory 101? If I had a nickel for every time I've had to harmonically analyze music this way in my college days I'd be a millionaire! I think it's funny that bluegrass players think they invented it. The harmonic numbering system based on degrees of the scale goes back to the 1600's. No bluegrass then! The only thing original about this is its application to jams. Pretty cool in that aspect. It makes you think about the structure of the song and how it's put together. Anyone who can deal with this system, understand it, and use it will end up a better and more knowledgeable musician.
    That's kind of why I want to learn it. Seems like a good way to learn music theory basics but in an immediately applicable way.

  11. #11
    Registered User swampy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    Brookfield, New Hampshire
    Posts
    322

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Pop music, it's as easy as 1, 4, 5!

  12. #12
    Registered User Chip Booth's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Hailey, ID
    Posts
    2,111

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Learn it everyone! I have never met one single pro caliber player that didn't speak this language.

  13. #13
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Berkeley, CA
    Posts
    1,629

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    At the risk of misinterpreting Paul's chart:

    5-7 is the minor seventh of the 5 chord (e.g., Gm7 in the key of C);
    6-7 is the minor seventh of the 6 chord (e.g., Am7 in the key of C);
    b7 is the flatted-seven chord (e.g., Bb in the key of C);
    4/6 probably means a four chord followed by a six chord (e.g., F to A in the key of C).
    EdSherry

  14. #14
    Registered User Chip Booth's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Hailey, ID
    Posts
    2,111

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    For more information there have been some pretty good, long threads discussing this topic in the Music Theory forum.

  15. #15
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Upstate New York
    Posts
    23,440
    Blog Entries
    53

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Quote Originally Posted by Chip Booth View Post
    Learn it everyone! I have never met one single pro caliber player that didn't speak this language.
    I learned it from a tenor banjo player. The hard part is getting started. Seeing the same old thing in a new way. But really, its just a different way of organizing what you already know.
    Having something to say is highly over rated.

    The entire staff
    funny....

  16. #16
    Registered User stratman62's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    nc
    Posts
    269

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    This might help
    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	3-key-chord-chart.jpg 
Views:	5229 
Size:	74.4 KB 
ID:	81204
    dwight in NC

  17. #17
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Location
    North Carolina
    Posts
    12,194

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Many of my picker friends don't know this. Maddenning. 2nd nature to me.

  18. #18
    Notary Sojac Paul Kotapish's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Location
    Alameda, California
    Posts
    2,446

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Don,

    I don't think anyone in Nashville would claim to have invented the system from scratch, but the particulars of the system--using Arabic rather than Roman numerals, the clumping without reference to bar lines, and the specific set symbols were unique to Nashville and other country-oriented recording studios. In L.A. or NYC the session player were much more likely to get conventionally notated sheet music or a fake-book style chart with specific keys (and associated chords) called out. Any transposition would require the musician to make the mental leap from key to key. Not necessarily a big deal for experienced players, but prone to confusion. The value of the Nashville approach is that it is key independent and allows quick transitions between keys if needed.

    And it was Nashville session players, including early adopters and refiners like Charlie McCoy and the Jordanaires, not bluegrass musicians, who developed the current system.

    Mike,
    I think Ed has it right in his post above. If I saw a 4/3, though I'd have to clarify whether that was referencing chords changes or a IV chord with the third in the bass (in the key of D that would be a G chord over a B note in the bass).

    I've never worked in Nashville, but I've talked with a bunch of folks who have--and do--and it's not unusual for the session producer or songwriter to just talk through the changes rather than hand out charts, so that each musician would either just scribble their own charts or do it from memory and by ear.
    Just one guy's opinion
    www.guitarfish.net

  19. #19

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Quote Originally Posted by EdSherry View Post
    At the risk of misinterpreting Paul's chart:

    5-7 is the minor seventh of the 5 chord (e.g., Gm7 in the key of C);
    6-7 is the minor seventh of the 6 chord (e.g., Am7 in the key of C);
    b7 is the flatted-seven chord (e.g., Bb in the key of C);
    4/6 probably means a four chord followed by a six chord (e.g., F to A in the key of C).
    Agreed, except I think the 4/6 is a four chord with the 6 in the bass. I.e., in D Major, that would be a G major chord with the B in the bass. Also the underlined pairs indicate two chords per bar, as opposed to the single numbers which are for full bars.

    Cheers
    MRT
    Altman F5
    - Website
    - YouTube videos

  20. #20
    Registered User SincereCorgi's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Location
    Bay Area, California
    Posts
    2,128

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Robertson-Tessi View Post
    Agreed, except I think the 4/6 is a four chord with the 6 in the bass. I.e., in D Major, that would be a G major chord with the B in the bass. Also the underlined pairs indicate two chords per bar, as opposed to the single numbers which are for full bars.
    That's why I like Roman numerals, you can't get mixed up as easily when things get complicated. That chart of Paul's really puts the system to the limit.

  21. #21
    Registered User blmjr's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Location
    Austin, TX
    Posts
    41

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    That's a good version of the chart - thanks!
    Billy Lee Myers, Jr.
    Austin, Texas

  22. #22
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Upstate New York
    Posts
    23,440
    Blog Entries
    53

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    What confuses me is that sometimes II refers to a major and sometimes a minor. I worked with a guy who liked I ii iii IV V vi vii I. That just makes sense to me.

    Best to get clarification.

    From an operating point of view what is cool is that you can assign closed chord shapes to each number, and be free of key signature. More than that, you can assign cool closed form double stops and turn arounds to each number, and my gosh you are off to the races.
    Having something to say is highly over rated.

    The entire staff
    funny....

  23. #23
    Notary Sojac Paul Kotapish's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Location
    Alameda, California
    Posts
    2,446

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Robertson-Tessi View Post
    Agreed, except I think the 4/6 is a four chord with the 6 in the bass. I.e., in D Major, that would be a G major chord with the B in the bass. Also the underlined pairs indicate two chords per bar, as opposed to the single numbers which are for full bars. MRT
    Mark, This is a confusing part of the system, I think.

    When most folks I know chart a chord/bass symbol, the bass part of the equation often references the notes of the chords--not the key, so a G over B would be written as 4/3, at least in my experience. A 4/6 would be G/E, which would be pretty unusual, but apparently a lot of the Nashville guys notate it that way.

    It's certainly not a hard-and-fast system, and the rules change.
    Just one guy's opinion
    www.guitarfish.net

  24. #24

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post

    From an operating point of view what is cool is that you can assign closed chord shapes to each number, and be free of key signature. More than that, you can assign cool closed form double stops and turn arounds to each number, and my gosh you are off to the races.
    I'm sure that will be cool to someday . . . but today it is just random words on a page . . .

  25. #25
    Notary Sojac Paul Kotapish's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Location
    Alameda, California
    Posts
    2,446

    Default Re: Nashville Number System

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    What confuses me is that sometimes II refers to a major and sometimes a minor. I worked with a guy who liked I ii iii IV V vi vii I. That just makes sense to me.
    This can be a point of confusion. Some guys insist that when using 1, 4, 5 instead of I, IV, V then all chords are major unless otherwise indicated (2m or 2-). Other guys claim that you always assume that the 2 and 6 are minor. Scholars differ, so . . . ask.

    I agree that the Roman numerals a clearer with the lower case indicating minors.
    Just one guy's opinion
    www.guitarfish.net

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •