The Nashville Number system is a shorthand for naming chords in a single framework that you can use for any key. It was developed by musicians in Nashville as a way to quickly communicate chord changes. So if you are a keys player, bassist or guitarist this is an amazing tool to help you whilst playing live, in rehearsal or in the studio. We have made a video to introduce the Nashville Number System along with some resources below. Enjoy!
So how does it work?
The Nashville Number System is based on the major scale which is made up of seven notes plus the octave of the root note. The distance between the notes of the major scale is always the same and we use the formula below:
Step 1 – Tone (T) – whole step
Step 2 – Tone (T) – whole step
Step 3 – Semitone (S) – half step
Step 4 – Tone (T) – whole step
Step 5 – Tone (T) – whole step
Step 6 – Tone (T) – whole step
Step 7 – Semitone (S) – half step
In the video we play a C major scale using the pattern above and number each note 1 – 7 ending on the root note (1). Below we have drawn out a C major scale and a G major scale with the notes of each scale numbered. Although we use different notes to make each scale, the distance between those notes is the same following the pattern above – T, T, S, T, T, T, S which allows us to number the notes. We can see that regardless of the key the numbers stay the same.
How does the Nashville Number System help us understand Chords?
The lowest note in a chord is called the root note. Each note in the major scale can be used as a root note, giving us seven possible chord options and we refer to them by their number for example – 1 chord, 4 chord or 6 chord etc. The most simple chord we can play is a three note chord called a triad.
To build the 1 chord triad we take note 1 of the scale C and use that as our root note. Then we skip note 2 of the scale and play note 3 – E. Finally we skip note 4 and play note 5 – G to complete the triad. This gives us our 1 chord triad which is a C major triad.
- 1 Chord – 1, 3, 5 – C E G = C major
We use the exact same pattern to create the 2 chord. We play note 2 – D as the root, note 4 – F and note 6 – A forming a D minor triad. We continue to use this method to construct all seven chords shown below:
- 1 Chord – 1, 3, 5 – C E G = C major
- 2 Chord – 2, 4, 6 – D F A = D minor
- 3 Chord – 3, 5, 7 – E G B = E minor
- 4 Chord – 4, 6, 1 – F A C = F major (note we don’t play note 8 but we go back to the start for the last note – 1)
- 5 Chord – 5, 7, 2 – G B D = G major
- 6 Chord – 6, 1, 3 – A C E = A minor
- 7 Chord – 7, 2, 4 – B D F = B minor 7 flat 5
Hopefully you can follow how we can make seven triad chords, one built from each note of the scale. When we make chords in this way – using only notes from the scale – they are called diatonic – which means from the key. The brilliant thing about this is that the pattern for the chords from any major key is always the same. Take a look:
So regardless of the key you are in the 4 chord is always major and the 6 chord is always minor. In worship this can be super helpful to us for navigating songs as we often change the key or have fluid sections of worship where it is handy to be able to communicate the chord progression. So for instance in the key of Bb it’s much easier to say ‘the chords are 1, 4, 6, 5’ than trying to say ‘the chords are Bb, Eb, Gm and F’.
To help you get to grips with using the Nashville Number System when transposing have a go at some of the questions below:
1) What are the Nashville Numbers for the following chord progressions:
- In the Key of C – C G Am Em
- In the Key of G – C G Am Em
- In the Key of D – D G Em Bm
- In the Key of G – D G Em Bm
- In the Key of A – E A C#m F#m
- In the Key of E – E A C#m F#m
2) Using the Nashville Number system transpose the following chord sequences.
- From the Key of C – C G Am Em – To the key of G
- From the Key of C – C G Am Em – To the key of E
- From the Key of C – C G Am Em – To the key of D
- From the Key of A – E A C#m F#m – To the key of F
- From the Key of A – E A C#m F#m – To the key of G
- From the Key of A – E A C#m F#m – To the key of F#
3) Using the Nashville Number system to write out the following progression in the keys listed below: 2 6 4 1
- In the key of Bb
- In the key of G
- In the key of C#
- In the key of F
For the answers click here.
We hope you have found this helpful and inspiring! Please share and comment if you have any feedback. Thanks