The Nashville Numbering System

The Nashville Number System is a way of describing music chords by denoting the scale degree on which a chord is built. By writing chords as numbers, music may be transposed into different keys easily. It only requires a rudimentary background in music theory. It allows chord to be communicated mid-song by holding up the corresponding number of fingers.

You may also be interested to check out our music education section which includes more info on chords & scales.

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History of the Nashville Number System

The Nashville Numbering System was developed by Neal Matthews, Jr. in the late '50s as a simplified system for The Jordanaires to use in the studio and it was further developed by Charlie McCoy. It is like the Roman numeral and figured bass systems traditionally used to transcribe a chord progression.The system is simple and flexible, and can be embellished to include more information (such as chord variation or to denote a bass note in an inverted chord).

The Nashville Numbering System is used extensively by professional and amateur musicians. It's based on the positions of the notes of musical scales.

For example, the scale of C is:

C     D     E     F     G     A     B

Here is the same scale with position numbers above the notes:

1     2     3     4     5     6     7
C     D     E     F     G     A     B

We can omit the last note ("C") as it's simply the first note repeated. So using these numbers, if you know the chords of a song in the Key of C, it's easy to change them to the numbers: E.G. Chord of C would be 1, D would be 2, E would be 3, etc. and sevenths and minors etc can also be added so G7 can be written 57, Fm would be 4m. Bb7 would be 7b7, etc. The table below shows the numbers for the most common keys.

KEY

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

C

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

D

D

E

F#

G

A

B

C#

Eb

Eb

F

G

Ab

Bb

C

Db

E

E

F#

G#

A

B

C#

D#

F

F

G

A

Bb

C

D

E

G

G

A

B

C

D

E

F#

A

A

B

C#

D

E

F#

G#

Bb

Bb

C

D

Eb

F

G

A

B

B

C#

D#

E

F#

G#

A#

If you know in what key a song is being played then just knowing the number of the chord tells you what you should be playing. Next time you go to a live music show watch out for finger signals from the musicians, you will find this most commonly happens when a band invites a guest musician to play with them a quick show of fingers behind the back or whatever is enough to show the guest what chords to play.

To buy chord books and charts check the Chords Collection at Sheet Music Plus.




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