Tutorial Tuesday: Understanding the Nashville Number System

You’re an engineer, what do you need to know about reading music?  Well, everything.  Especially if you want to become a producer.  To many of you the Nashville Number System is already second nature, to the rest, this is not a way of categorizing library books.  The Nashville Number System is a method of transcribing music so that a song can be understood and performed. Nashville chord charts substitute numbers for the chord letter symbols found in traditional music notation.  It was developed by Neal Matthews, Jr. in the late ’50s as a simplified system for The Jordanaires to use in the studio and further developed byCharlie McCoy. It resembles the Roman numeral and figured bass systems traditionally used to transcribe a chord progression.

The reason it is helpful to musicians is that they don’t have to think in terms of a numbers, not chord names, it is also a lot easier to read and figure out on the fly.  If you had to change the key with chord names, it could take a while to transcribe, but with numbers all you have to due is remember what chord is what number.  The reason it is important for you is you can easily follow along with tracking, when a session player says I want to go back he the 1144 in the second verse, you know exactly where he want to start.  If you don’t understand how to communicate with the musicians it is almost as if you are speaking 2 different languages.  The Nashville Number System also makes it easier for Non-Musicians to follow, since all you have to do is follow numbers instead of Chord Names and Roman Numerals.

How the Nashville Number System (NNS) Works

It is pretty easy to understand.  Let’s think in the Key of C.

C=1, D=2, E-3 and so on.  So if it says 1134, this means the chords are CCEF.  If it were the key of G it would be GGBC.  But the great thing is, you don’t need to know what the chord is, just the 1134.  There are also some common symbols used in the NNS.  Below is a chart of some of those Symbols.

Nashville-Numbering-System_Symbols (1)

There are also many symbols used for articulation, repeats and other directional and accidental markings.

Nashville Number System Symbols

Have you ever used the Nashville Number System Before?  Is there anything that you would like to add or ask?  Let us know in the comment section!



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