Remember last week, when I briefly explained the Nashville number system?

Several people replied to me mentioning that the Nashville system of using numbers is based on the centuries-old method of using Roman numerals for music notation. (I believe it’s called “figured bass,” if my music theory memory serves me correctly.)

In old Bach chorales and stuff like that, you can sometimes see melodies written on music staff with stuff like “I, IV, V/ii” written above it.

It allowed musicians like organists to play along with the melody, without the composer having to handwrite the entire part.

The Nashville Number system is certainly derived from this age-old practice of representing chords with numbers.

(One guy actually got really angry at me for making the claim that Nashville invented the whole idea of using numbers to represent chords.)

That’s not what I meant at all.

Many musicians refer to this as the “Nashville number system,” because it’s a unique twist on the age-old method of using numbers to represent chords. Rather than requiring a musical staff with notes and a melody, accompanied by numbers written above the chart, a Nashville number chart is just numbers written on a page.

Something like this:

6 (4 5) 6 (4 5)
6 (4 5) 6 (4 5)

6 (4 5) 6 (4 5)
6 (4 5) 6 (4 5)

In this instance, the parenthesis represents a “split bar,” where there are two chords being played over a single bar.

It’s not as precise as sheet music, but it’s MUCH more precise than a lyric sheet with chords written above the words.

It tells all the musicians the basic chord progression for each section of the song, and it also tells them how many bars each section is. (In this example, both the intro and the verse are 8 bars.)

If you’ve always been intrigued by the Nashville number system and want to see my spin on it (and how I used it to chart out the songs for my upcoming album), check out the latest VIP video here:

Joe Gilder
Home Studio Corner

P.S. And if you disagree with me and think I’m being intentionally misleading or pompous, please let me know. All I ask is that you be civil. If you resort to name-calling and cursing, I won’t interact with you.

  • Gabe

    I’m totally new to any kind of music theory, and I’d like to learn at some point. Any good resources you know of for that?

    • Yeeesh. Good question. I honestly don’t know of any!

      • Gabe

        Lol, no prob.

  • ksandvik

    Maybe you should update your posting then so it’s clear Nashville notation handles that.

    I’m kind of lazy and I’m nowadays using IReal Pro that could transpose any notation to any format in any key, including Nashville.

    • I include all that in the video I’m talking about in the post. Wasn’t meant to be an in-depth explanation. For me, I don’t mark normal minor chords, like 2, 3, and 6. I just assume they’re minor, but if you want to mark it minor, you use a dash. 2-. Major is usually something like a triangle (2∆), etc.

  • ksandvik

    The problem with this numbering scheme is that you don’t know if the chord is major, minor, seventh, augmented, diminished….