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Nashvilleís Number System and Music Theory

Will Griffin   

Introductions

    It is recommended you go through each of these lessons one by one and in the order they appear, and not try to move on or too fast, until you understand everything in the lesson you are currently working and studying. 

    It is also OK, to move back a lesson and go over something again to make sure you understand it.  Learning this music theory and Nashville Number Code well is important...not how fast you do it.

    Nashvilleís number chart system is a shorthand method of writing musical arrangements that was developed by Nashville studio musicians. 

    It is a powerful tool in the written communication of music. Reducing a chord chart to a numerical expression, however, was nothing new. "Figured bass" was used in Bachís time, and the solfeggio (means sight singing) method, (the do, re, miís,) of Italian musical pedagogy performed a function similar to the number system.

 What these approaches share is the naming of scale degrees. Do, Re, Mi; one, two, three; tonic, super-tonic, mediant; and I, ii, iii all name the degrees of the diatonic scale. Therefore we begin with a definition of this scale.

    Diatonic means "through the tones." A vibrating string or horn naturally gives us a set of tones or notes we can use in melodies.  A diatonic scale has eight (8) notes or an "octave" A diatonic scale arranges these notes in ascending or descending order. A type of diatonic scale is called the major scale.

    The major scale is the cornerstone of Western music. (Itís the cornerstone of Country and Western too!) Simply put, itís the old standby:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8(1)
Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do

    So this is how we are going to start associating notes with numbers, because they are relative to each other, no matter what the key the song is in.

    This scale is made up of two kinds of steps, half steps (think black keys on a piano) and whole steps (white keys on the piano.

    The half step is the smallest distance between two notes, as from one fret to another on a guitar, or from one key to the very next on a piano/keyboard. The Italians used the "ee" sound to mark it. Mi to Fa (3 to 4) and Ti to Do (7 to 8 or back to Do) are half steps. In the table above these are shaded in the darker blue.

    Whole steps are the distance of two half steps, two frets, or two keys on a keyboard. Do to Re, Re to Mi, Fa to Sol, Sol to La, and La to Ti are whole-steps.

    Knowing that a half-step is between notes and chords 3 and 4 and 7 and 8 are important to know and to remember.


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