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Country Vocals Lessons: Introduction to the Nashville Number System

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[MUSIC]
I'm gonna share with you something
that confounds even professional
musicians who are not familiar with it.
This is like an insider tip.
In Nashville, specifically,
the musicians there
developed an ingenious method of
writing music in a form that was so
easy to read, so easy to transpose, so
easy to use as a guide in a recording
session or a demo session.
That they could almost
instantly know the chord
that they had to play and
fill in the blanks from there.
It's called the Nashville number system.
And even experienced musicians
who are not familiar with it,
it's kind of a mystery to them.
What are they talking about,
those crazy Nashville players?
Well, I'm gonna tell you,
it's not that complicated, and
it's actually a very brilliant
way to notate music.
And it's something that we can
relate very easily to the fun
that we just had with Axis of Awesome and
the Four-Chord Song.
So, in this scale, as you just learned,
in your major scale,
we're gonna work in the key of C, again,
cuz it's a very simple, easy key.
It's all white keys, and
they're laid out very easily on the piano.
Here's our C major scale.
Remember the pattern,
whole whole half whole whole whole half.
[MUSIC]
The Nashville number system starts
with the key that you're working in,
the bottom note of the scale,
also called the tonic.
And they number each note of the scale
consecutively with a number,
so starting with, obviously, number one.
So that the note C is
designated by the number one.
And going consecutively up the scale, one,
two, three, four, five, six, seven, and
then back to one, an octave higher.
So let's sing that even, one, two, three,
four, five, six, seven, one.
One, two, three, four,
five, six, seven, one.
Okay, so we've numbered every
note of the major scale.
Well, you can build a chord
on each one of those notes.
So if we build a major chord on the one,
on the C, a major chord is made like this.
[SOUND] That's a C major chord.
[SOUND] Well,
in the Nashville number system,
they would call that the one chord.
And they would write it on
a chart very simply like this.
Let's say the first measure
of your chart of your music
that you're gonna play is a one chord.
Let's say the intro is four
bars of one in the key of C.
[MUSIC]
This is how you would write it.
And this is what the musician
would know to play,
some collection of this family
of notes in the C major chord.
So if you go from there, here's one,
C, two, three, four, five.
You can build a chord on the fifth tone,
or the five of that scale,
as well, one, two, three, four, five.
And if you build a chord on that note,
the five, or the G, you get this chord.
[MUSIC]
They would call that
the five chord, a G chord.
So if you had a bar of one,
you'd write a one.
[MUSIC]
And then it went to the G,
you'd write a five, like this.
[MUSIC]
So a one chord on the C, one,
two, three, four, five,
a G chord built on the fifth tone.
If you build a chord on
the sixth tone of a major scale
in the key of C,
that would be one, two, three,
four, five, six, or A, C, D, E, F, G, A.
The sixth tone, you build a chord on that.
[MUSIC]
It's a minor chord, this sixth minor.
[MUSIC]
That's what it sounds like.
It's built on the A,
[MUSIC]
using the notes in the C major scale.
And it's a sixth minor chord.
If you build a chord on the fourth
tone of a C major scale,
one, two, three, four, C, D, E, F.
[SOUND] You build a major chord on an F or
on the fourth note of the C major scale.
You get this chord.
[SOUND] That's an F major chord.
[SOUND] You've now built every chord
in the axis of awesome pattern.
And in the Nashville number system,
you would write it like this,
one, five, sixth minor,
four, one, five,
six minor, four, one,
five, sixth minor, four.
That's the four chords from
the axis of awesome progression.
And you just built those
four chords in a key of C.
Our backing track in our original
example of axis of awesome
was in the key of E flat.
Here's one on E flat, B flat,
which is the five, sixth minor,
which is a C minor triad.
And the four chord in E
flat is built on an A.
Here's the E flat scale,
[MUSIC]
one, two, three, four, five, six,
seven, one.
Here's the E flat one chord.
[MUSIC]
Here's the five chord.
[MUSIC]
That's the B flat.
Here's the sixth minor built on C.
And here's the four cord
[MUSIC]
four
[MUSIC]
A flat triad.
So the brilliance of the Nashville
number system is that
you can very simply write
the basic chords for
thousands of songs, and
you can easily move the key.
You can write one, five,
sixth minor, four, and say,
okay, guys, we're gonna play it in E flat.
[MUSIC]
And the singer goes, no, that's too high,
bring it down to C.
And boom, you can transpose it.
[MUSIC]
That is the beginning of the Nashville
number system.
We're gonna get into that in much
more detail later on in the course,
but that'll get you started.
[MUSIC]