Continuing on from yesterday – let’s take a look at a different take on music theory notation, the Nashville Number System. As I’m writing this, I’ve decided to make this a mini-series for the rest of the week – as there’s a lot to cover.
Previously we have only looked at the classic Roman Numeral system of notating chords within the music. I want to spend some time in this post looking at the differences of the two and offer some thoughts as to the benefits and drawbacks of each.
Nashville Number System in Brief
The basic gist of the Nashville Number System is to simplify, simplify, simplify. It consists of numbers (obviously) that correspond to each chord of the scale. So, just like the notes of a scale these numbers range from 1-7 (and 8 for the repeated root note). So, if you’re in the key of C – the numbers would look like this:
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8(octave)
C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C
In this system, you need to know right away which chord is major and which chord is minor. The system assumes the diatonic (written within the key signature) chords when each basic number is written. So, if you see a 1, 4 or 5 – you need to know that it’s a major chord and if you see a 2, 3, or 6 you need to know it’s a minor chord. The 7 is a different story altogether. The system adds a capital ‘M’ if the chord needs to be change to a major chord.
The system will add suffixes to the chords if they need to be extended. For example, if you want to play a G suspended chord in the key of C, it would be written 5sus4. The system also allows for the ability to shorthand more than one chord in a measure. Extra chords within a measure are written in parentheses – (1 4) (1 5). In C, this would tell you to play C – F for the first measure and then C – G for the second measure.
There are a few more things to the Nashville Number system. I just wanted to give a very basic crash course for our purposes. A good, brief overview of more of the system can be found here. Tomorrow we’ll look at the classic Roman Numeral equivalent to the chords above and then Friday we’ll dive in to the benefits and drawbacks of both systems.