How to Play Faithful Nashville Chords

What is the Nashville Numbers System?

It is a short chord chart system based on the principles of diatonic music theory and specifically identified by the use of Arabic numerals to denote diatonic harmony (instead of Roman like everyone else since about AD 1800). But it's just a chord chart system for easy implementation, no replacement or the source of numerical analysis in music.

Numerical analysis has been around for centuries ... different styles of music have a form of it that specializes in that style ... most of them are older than me, I am not aware of others being declared as "systems" and marketed as replacements be for basic music theory; Some sources I found on it treat it as such (basic theory) ... here are some site links covering this "new math" ... If you read the comment sections on the various pages, you will find out that this is the case tends to generate these "religious" arguments.

Name the IV the 4 chord or the "4" chord or hold up four fingers ... or the hell ... I could do with |||| write a table for the four chords (like 1 = I = |, 2 = II = ||, 3 = III = |||, 4 = IV = ||||) I cannot draw a line over the 4 tubes to be displayed 5 (or V). It has been in use for centuries.

Why do I say this gives rise to "religious" arguments? Because even if each of these sources identified it as a charting and transposing system ... there is a large group of musicians who seem to believe that this is the one source of Concept is To denote chords by their number or diatonic function. Obviously everyone else in the world who is familiar with music theory knows this is wrong. It's like believing that the sun is the center of the universe. This is a quick and easy way to use basic theory (slightly non-traditionally written) to notate songs in an easy-to-transpose way. If you've never come across numbering chords before this one isn't from Nashville; This particular "style" did, but the concept of chord numbering didn't.

Calling the "IV" chord an "IV" chord isn't new just because you use "4" instead of "IV" ... people of all styles of music based on the 12-note western system call the IV chord the IV chord (or "4" ... "tomato = tomato", "a rose with another name is still a rose").

With these caveats aside, it's a commonly used method for country / western music. If your belief system encompasses this as the entirety of music, you might believe that this is actually music theory rather than a notation system. If you think so. .. that's theory. ("We have both types of music here, Country AND Western" - The Blues Brothers). It really only works well for simple songs that only use diatonic triads. There's a lot you can do with it, but it essentially ignores anything more complex ("there's nothing above the 5th of the chord here ... see ... there's nothing up my sleeves") when you change your 7th want 9th, 11th or 13th chords, they don't exist in that particular "religion" that doesn't seem to be "music" (I'm stupid to make a point ... don't try Coltrane's "Giant Steps" too note). Changes or Metallica's "masters of the dolls" using this, while the two are vastly different from each other, neither of the styles can be easily notated using the Nashville numbering system, however it is not made for that ... I can parse both of them with Roman number analysis. .. because it is actually a system of music theory analysis).

As you read through all of these explanations, keep in mind that it's pretty much limited to diatonic triads ... oh, he's got a vii7b5 (7-half-diminished 7th if you're not familiar with Roman numerals) that is a diatonic 7th chord, but every other thing is about just changing the triad. It introduces slash / compound chords for a little more complexity ... a 5/4 would be an IV7suss9 sound (5- / 4 would give us a b9 as a minor 3 in the V chord 1, m3, 5 of the "5" give - "Chord above the root of the IV chord finally! a chromatic change!).

There's an interview with Chas Williams (he also has a book about it) on

CHAS WILLIAMS I play guitar, slide guitars and dobro. After a few semesters at Berklee College of Music, I moved to Nashville in 1979. I learned the Nashville Number System while working in Steve Bivin's night bands and doing demo sessions. On a Writer's Night, the band supported 20 to 30 songwriters. We would play their original songs without a rehearsal, just with number charts. We wrote most of the charts ourselves and received great ear training dictated from thousands of song demos.

Check out the interview ...

Nate: What's one thing about the Nashville Number System that you think most newbies won't understand?

Chas: A lot of people assume that the chords 2, 3 and 6 are minor. like in a diatonic chord progression. However, in the NNS there is no minor chord unless you mark minor with a minus sign after the number.

That's interesting ... I wonder if this is the result of how a pedal steel guitar works. I actually studied with a pedal steel player (2nd guitar teacher) when we weren't ready. My point is that you'll find he's in the picture with a Dobro.

It is a system of short hand charting in a very informal way. It originated in the 50s as a quick way to sketch country / western / rock & roll songs. It was developed by Neal Mathews, Jr.

As a member of The Jordanaires, he has worked with artists such as Patsy Cline, Red Foley, Johnny Horton, Ferlin Husky, Jim Reeves and George Jones. The group also served as a backup vocalist for pop musicians such as Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Connie Francis and Julie Andrews. However, they are best known as backup singers for Elvis Presley for 15 years. Matthews and the group also toured extensively around the world, recording a number of their own albums and winning a Grammy Award for Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Album.

At this point, a few things should be highlighted depending on what style of music you like and learn. This may or may not work for you. If you are a slide player you will love this or if you play guitar where you switch keys with a capo.

This is a notation method that is really useful for transcribing songs of these styles and presenting them in a fairly informal short form as mentioned in the wiki article. This is similar to Figured Bass.

Figured bass, or introbass, is a type of integer notation used to indicate intervals, chords, and non-chord tones in relation to a bass note. Figured bass is closely related to basso continuo, an accompaniment used in almost all musical genres in the Baroque era, but rarely used in modern music. Other systems for denoting or representing chords include: simple notation used in classical music, Roman numerals commonly used in harmonic analysis, macro symbols sometimes used in modern musicology, and various names and symbols which used in jazz and pop music.

If you're looking to rock improvised baroque keyboard accompaniment, this is probably what you should check out.

If you are a jazz guy, you probably want to learn Roman Numeral Analysis.

In music, the analysis of Roman numbers involves the use of Roman numbers to represent chords. In everyday use, Roman numerals are used so that the musician can understand the course of the chords in a piece. The actual chord names (e.g., C, F, F♯, etc.) will be replaced in place of the Roman numerals once the key of the piece has been determined. In this way, progressions can be easily transferred to any key. Essentially, it's a way of abstracting a piece's chord structure.

Conceptually, they are all explanations of the same thing; The Nashville Numbering System and Figured Bass are both types of musical notation.

Roman numerals analysis, however, is an analysis, not a notation. conceptually something completely different ... but it's so related that all of these things fall under music theory.

In the end ... it's a basic system of shorthand for styles of music that comes from the Nashville tradition. The only criticism I have of some of the explanations for this probably comes from the marketing strategies that grew out of them. The basic theory behind the music is the same, this is in no way the source of the numerical analysis of music, but a chart style based on the analysis of historical numbers and specialized in a particular style of music. If you are really looking for a deeper fundamental understanding of music, the theoretical harmonic possibilities that are available ... then it's a little limited, that's not the purpose (to explain the theory), it just is a number of directions. (Don't let my use of the word "just" bother you; instructions are really important).

If you are drawn to this idea because of the analytical / theoretical ideas you may have come across, rather than an attempt to explore the "Nashville Sound", you may be genuinely interested in music theory and the Roman numeral historical analysis style.

If you just enjoy learning different styles of music and you tend to study them all, this is how the Nashville sound works. All styles of music tend to have some sort of shorthand charting style, especially for idiomatic instrumental oddities that vary from style to style, region to region.

In music, the concept of idiom has been applied to a wide variety of phenomena; However, the term is often associated with the use of certain instrumental resources. The mechanics of musical instruments usually influence the organization of music. Like spoken utterances, musical passages can be characterized as more or less idiomatic, depending on the extent to which the music is based on instrument-specific effects.
Ethnomusicologists often point out that instrumental idioms have significantly influenced the character of music-making in different cultures (e.g., Baily, 1985; DeWitt, 1998; Yu, 1977; Yung, 1980). Similarly, historical musicologists have often referred to physical characteristics of the performance, particularly in relation to arrangements of musical works made for different instruments (e.g. Dreyfus, 1998; Le Guin, 1997; Mohr, 1972; Morehen, 1994; Parkins, 1983; Shepherd) 1995; Shao 1997; Ung 1981). Jazz and blues musicians often emphasize the importance of idiomatic instrumental techniques for improvisation (e.g. Richardson, 1996; Sudnow, 1978, 1979; Walser, 1993). Electroacoustic musicians can identify the year of electronic works by the characteristic noises or gestures associated with certain hardware devices or algorithms that were previously popular (e.g. Henry, 1970). Musical genres have been identified in which the idiomatic aspects of one sound source are mimicked by another - for example, the vocal mimicking of the Greek Gaida bagpipes by traditional singers (Sarris & Tzevelekos, 2008). Musical idioms have been addressed in various descriptive and statistical ways by musicologists (Horton, 1986; Jiranek, 1971).

The point is ... every style of music and every instrument has its own "dialect" (metaphorically speaking) We all speak the same musical language (in the context of "Functional Harmony"); All of these different chart styles are like idiomatic dialects of functional harmony. They specify all the idiosyncrasies introduced by certain instruments and styles.

Learn what kind of notation is important to your genre ... but think about the big picture of music theory and don't confuse the two, just realize that they must correlate and agree, or that something is wrong somewhere in your understanding .

I originally came across looking for various ways to record music online. This bypasses the need for special software for really simple songs as you don't need notation for staff ... for the same reason it's pretty limited (but it's believed to be).

Why are all these people arguing about this and music theory in the comments on these pages? Because for those familiar with traditional music theory and roman number analysis ... this looks just like a poorly done harmonic analysis by someone who has never studied it (sorry, but at first glance I thought it was) , it is not so all ... unless that is the scope of your musical knowledge. In this case ... it kind of ... Here's a metaphor using computer programming as an example of a crazy old man like me arguing over a "technical" religious argument ...

("WTH! You can't call over-optimization OOP ... OOP means object oriented programing . ... it's the kind of programming that you get wrong because you don't know what it is, because you don't. "I don't know what it is. You screwed up your webpage and now you name it" Over-optimization "and want to these Call "OOP". Well, if you were even familiar with OOP (object-oriented programming). We wouldn't argue about why your website isn't showing up in Google. That's because you don't know exactly what OOP is and you screwed it up and now Google doesn't understand what you are. I'm trying to do ... it won't help getting a few people together on a message board and finding a new acronym for something that doesn't exist and discussing it instead of actually learning object-oriented programming. "NOTE * If your SEO guy thinks OOP means over-optimization ... at least fire him, send him to school, he misses the forest for the trees ...)


-1. Uppity, doesn't answer any question. From now on I will call fifths on a piano "Power Chords".

David Axtell Moore II

@ naught101 ... I actually came back that night to change my answer thinking I was a bit tough ... but someone had already voted ... so I left it alone. I'll add some examples to my answer above to show what I'm talking about. But he asked how best to notate music by function and not by absolute pitch (technically, that's what his post called for). The best way to learn more is to realize that you are asking about the "functional" theory, not the "Nashville Numbering System" (which quickly becomes a mess when you get into something that is not diatonic).


Confused by this answer. Roman numerals are the Nashville system.

David Axtell Moore II

That's my whole point ... it's not you, read the bass link shown, don't read any "western" harmony textbooks, the use of Roman numerals in musical harmony is a centuries-old concept. In particular ... the Nashville system only uses Arabic (no Roman at all). It's just a quick way to write down diatonic triads without getting caught up in a series of complex theories and having to explain the concept of Roman numerals. []