the Nasville number system explained

Why Learn the Nashville Number System

Why Should Songwriters Learn the Nashville Number System

What is the Nashville Number system? It sounds a little shady, but it’s really just a way for musicians to communicate with each other in a really efficient and streamlined way. The Nashville Number System is used by professional artists who are at the top of their game to casual artists who play with friends as well as studio musicians, songwriters, and bands. Learning the system is fairly easy to learn and once you do, you might never go back to charting music the same way.

The biggest benefit to learning the Nashville Number System (NNS), is that it allows you to change keys without having to rewrite your charts every time. This can save a lot of time (and money) in the studio when you want to make changes on the fly. You can use the NNS with any genre of music, including pop, country, and rock. Whether you need to sit in with a band at the last minute or change up the arrangement on one of your own songs, the Nashville Number System can help you as a singer-songwriter to learn new songs make changes to old songs, and collaborate with others. The best part is you don’t need to be a music major to understand it. It was actually created as a shortcut for musicians to avoid having to read music and create changes in the studio quicker and easier.

What Is the Nashville Number System?

The Nashville Number System uses numbers to represent chords along with a small number of symbols. By using the system, you will have a way to write out how a particular song should be played, even if you don’t have a degree in music composition. The numbers stay the same no matter what key you are in, so you can make key changes easily.

The system is popular and used by many musicians, so you will be able to share it with others. You don’t need sheet music because you can write the symbols on anything, and because there are no fancy symbols you can transcribe quickly. Songs will become much more portable and shareable when you master the Nashville Number System.

How Does the Nashville Number System Work? Man playing a guitar

The first thing to keep in mind is that the notation will always use chord symbols which represent the major key. So first you can figure out if the song is in E major or another key, and note that in the upper left-hand corner. Whatever key the song was written in, following that original plan will help keep the chart simple. If you didn’t start that way, you might end up using accidentals throughout the chart, which would be much messier. After the guide key, you will see the name of the song and the identity of the person who created the chart.

The chart with the notations will be broken into sections, including the Intro, the Verse, and the Chorus. There will also be a shorthand way of noting how the music is meant to be played, such as whether the part should be acoustic.

Within the sections, you will see groups of numbers which, represent the chords. For example, in the key of C, C would be 1, F would be 4 and G would be 5. It can get more technical but the general idea is to give each chord a number instead of a name. You just have to know what the key the song is in. That root chord is the 1 and so on. the Songwriter and musician Chas Williams wrote a very easy to understand book on this subject that might help explain it more in-depth. You can get an idea of the rhythmic values of the chords by looking at the lines under the numbers, which depict where the measures begin and end. So, for instance, if there are two chords above one line, those are meant to be half notes. However, if there is no line at all, that means that the note is meant to be a whole note.

How Can Songwriters Take Advantage of the Nashville Number System?

Learning the Nashville Number System can save you time, help you simplify your charts and make communicating with other musicians and songwriters much easier. By learning this universal system, you can become one of the many musicians and songwriters who use this popular and easy system to read, write and learn songs.

It can take a little practice, but you will eventually find yourself using the system with ease. It’s far easier than writing out music in the traditional way, but it is also flexible because you can change the scale easily when it’s written this way. It also makes memorizing your songs easier, as you can see the number pattern. You can also detect repetitive sections and see where you can add some different chords (or numbers) to add some variety.  If you find yourself rewriting your charts or you record with other musicians, we highly recommend taking some time to learn the Nashville Number System.

If you are preparing for a songwriting contest, you can write your music using the Nashville Number System and share it with others as you revise your work or use it to record your demo. Give it a try and let us know how it works for you!


About us: Foxhedge Music is a management company and recording studio located in historic Leipers Fork. Our mission is to support and encourage songwriters. We believe they are the backbeat of Music City, while we continue to invest our time and resources in the Music City community. Through the Music City SongStar Songwriting Contest, we want to give songwriters a chance to have their music heard. We’re believers in creativity, chasing dreams and getting the chance to pursue your passion.


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