A Beginner’s Guide To Nashville Notation

The Nashville Notation is a system of documenting music that uses scale degrees to indicate the scale level on which harmony is based. Neil Mathews created it in the 1950s as a streamlined technique to utilize in the studios.

Charles Williams discovered and released the Nashville Numeral pattern in a pamphlet in 1988. It is similar to the Roman numerals and incorporates calculated bass formats to write chord progressions.

The Nashville Notation system is a method used by musicians to find chord changes quickly.

If you have a decent idea about how music works, it is a simple and effective technique to incorporate.

An Introduction to the Nashville Numerals

To comprehend the Nashville Notation, you must first understand which chords are commonly written as majors and which harmonies are primarily written as minors. 

You may have observed that some melodies in a regular progression incorporate significant notes. In contrast, others appear to use the minor key more.

For instance, C is an important note to include in your melodies if you’re performing a jazz tune in the scale of C major. If you alter the progression slightly, you can get a sweet melody using A minor, D minor, back to G major, and conclude with a C.

To specify the right chord; many compositions utilize an absolute method.

“C” denotes the playing of a C harmony (C-E-G). “D” indicates the playing of a D note (D F-sharp and A). 

The chord pattern helps the user determine which melody must be played next.

The Nashville Notation system (NNS) uses a comparative approach to assess chords.

Choose the appropriate chords. The initial key of the melody determines the chords to be played. As a result, the chord frequency must be converted according to the song.

Chord Frequency is noted to determine the exact chords needed to be played. Any alteration in the chord progression should be closely related to the song’s key, or it is going to sound off.

Let’s Understand The Nashville Notation

It’s always been a challenge for artists with individual vocalists who might be picky and wish to perform in a specific key. An experienced musician who knows all of the fundamental scales may easily alter the pitch of the tune. It is, for instance, relatively simple to shift the melody from the note of C to the note of F. 

However, this is not feasible in the case of harmonization. Shifting the key necessitates the printing of new musical notation to describe the new harmony. 

This arrangement is costly and can cause problems for the producer, significantly if the solo vocalist alters their mind once more. 

The Nashville notation solves this problem by enabling the singer to perform in their preferred scale without changing the base notations of the composition.

Although there is no internationally agreed symbolic representation for the Nashville notation, the symbols listed below are the most often used and should be recognized by all users.

As previously stated, the digits 1-7 define the fundamental chord basis. The kind of chord is specified by modifications to the basic harmonic source (as with absolute harmonies).

At the front of the core number, musicians can add two modifications. They are the letters “B” and the #sharp. Only two symbols can be prefixed to the Nashville notation system and are shown as superscripts.

Using only one to seven would result in only seven fundamental chords. However, five more potential basic chords (apart from B and E sharp) employ the flat and sharp notes and base notes.

Below are Five Ways in Which You Can Compose Chord Progressions Using the C Chord:

C sharp or D FlatCited as one#, or 2b
D sharp or E FlatCited as two# or 3b
F sharp or G FlatCited as three# or 4b
G sharp or A FlatCited as four# or 5b
A Sharp or B Flat Cited as Five# or 6b

With the Nashville notation modulator, there are four primary notes. They are written in subscripts and quickly follow the primary chord root. All remaining variables are attached to the base of the fundamental chords. 

The primary type often does not need the use of a modulator.

The Traditional Roman Numeral System

Now, let us begin with some musicology. Don’t worry, and fundamental music analysis is merely simple arithmetic. 

Each note on a range can be assigned a number corresponding to its place on the scale. Using the C Major scale:

C equals 1, D equals 2, E equals 3, F equals 4, G equals 5, A equals 6, and B equals 7.

The pattern above shows that the C chord is the octave’s first chord (or level). The D is on the second number on the scale, and so on. 

The above system helps create chord progression by determining and blending all the fitting notes.

All harmonies in a key have a numerical representation as well. And, yes, C is the first note, D is the second note, and so on. But there is one difference: when we discuss notes in a key, then we shift to Roman Numerals:

C represents I, D represents ii, E represents iii, F represents IV, G represents V, A means vi, and B represents vii.

What is the Purpose of Using The Nashville Notation?

  • It is Easier to Transpose the Chords.

We frequently modify the pitch of songs based on the vocalist’s capacity. Personally speaking, it is pretty normal to do this by glancing at the preexisting chord chart and applying a particular amount of number combinations to the original chord. 

However, it may not be easy, and certain harmonic progressions are more complex than others. It is highly enticing to use a system intended for this purpose.

  • Improve Your Understanding of the Chord Patterns.

It is always good to have a better sense of the functions that certain chords play in tunes by precisely notating them by their position on the scale. 

It is always good to have a decent sense of the distinct roles the tonic, subdominant, and significant chords play. But having it in front while a musician plays their song certainly won’t hurt.

  • It Helps You Acquaint Yourself with Scales.

Familiarity and regular practice is the secret to becoming a pro at using Nashville notation. You will be staring at paper sheets with random numbers written on them, for starters.   

Then your brain should be able to instantly recall which note to play in which key. 

With practice, it becomes instinctive and will require very little reaction time to process.

  • Aids You in Getting Acquainted With Chord Changes.

Several songs are created around well-known chord progressions. When compositions are in two settings, it is more difficult to notice the chord progressions that they share.

Nashville notation can assist you in becoming more comfortable with understanding chord progressions and identifying songs using that same progression.

  • Tunes Are a Lot Easier to Pick Up.

At this point, one can argue in favor of the fact that sequences of figures will be simpler to recall than lines of alphabets, particularly when sharps or flats are implicated. Learning 1 2 4 6# 5, for example, should be more straightforward than remembering F Bflat Dm and CMaj.

  • Conserve Resources.

Veteran musicians collect chord charts throughout their musical journey. They end up collecting tonnes of chord charts! Honestly, they become tough to handle after a period. 

According to popular belief, an indexed board approach will be far more manageable. And putting a few notecards on the flooring or Study seems a lot more practical than storing binders full of A4-sized charts of chords.

How Can a Guitarist Use The Nashville Notation?

How can you put this strategy into action in actual situations from a musician’s perspective? How does all of this work? 

As previously stated, each chord is converted into a Roman number based on the scale degrees of the base note in the particular key.

Consider the C major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B. When represented in the Number system, they are changed to I, II, III, IV, V, VI, and VII. 

So, if your chord sequence has C, F, and G, this will be represented as I, IV, and V, respectively.

The key is put down at the start of each song to understand which digit relates to which chords.

Another instance: if a song is composed in G major scale, a chord progression written as I, V, VI, IV would be Gmaj, Dmaj, Em, Cmaj.

Furthermore, this numeric system contains a few extra symbols that will help to help determine and identify specific notes. A diminished chord, for example, is denoted by a “-” sign or a small Roman number.

Major 7th harmonies have the letter “7” in their jargon, augmented melodies have the note “+,” and several other sorts of chords have their signs.

It is a practical alternative for often traveling and recording artists who do not have adequate time to study large compositions in a brief period. In these situations, the Nashville Number System comes in handy for guitarists.

Of course, as previously said, some fundamental music theory knowledge is required to appreciate the concept altogether. However, after you’ve covered that, even inexperienced musicians can rapidly adopt the method.

This approach has been used to write whole volumes of melodies and norms. “The Actual Handbook” of jazz standards, for example, employs the Nashville method for chord arpeggios as well as the conventional notation for primary melodies.

In this manner, you may start with a foundation of chord changes and tunes and then use the framework as your primary tool to construct your compositions.

Essentially, the Nashville notation System is enjoyable and straightforward to use. You may even utilize this before a live show or a band performance to help your band members pick up songs faster.


  1. “I was unfamiliar with the Nashville Notation. I have, nonetheless, read about and utilized a Roman number system to denote harmonic progressions that are not tied to a single key.

These two systems appear to have very similar goals. Are they the same or have different aspects?”

The genius of the Nashville Numerals is that someone may yell out the key or hold up a number to signify the key at the opening of a song.

One may even announce a chord progression amid a tune while everyone is in beat and key as if the synchronization is sorcery.

Even though the composer may alter the key and harmonies, the chord numbers remain unchanged. The principle is simple to comprehend, but it takes a lot of effort to become acquainted with this pattern. 

It takes some memory as well as some quick math in your brain.

I have personally observed it in action. The composers would yell out keys and broadly use numbers to find out which chords to utilize.

Often, during or after the song, they’d talk about it and focus on specific harmonies by numbers rather than chord titles.

They’d begin a song, and the vocalist discovered it wasn’t in his capacity, so he’d call out a different key, and everybody went along with it, and it sounded terrific. I tell you what. Those were a bunch of talented crazies.

  1. Are There Any Particularly Challenging Disadvantages of Using The Nashville Notation?

The Nashville Notation has a significant drawback in that you must already know whether particular chords are minor or major. An upper case number always denotes a major scale in the Roman numeral systems. In contrast, a lower case number always represents a minor tune. 

The Roman Numeral system contains multiple symbols representing various harmonies (augmented or diminished.) One must always write the kind of chord explicitly in the Nashville notation (aug, dim, maj7, min7.)

Nevertheless, one advantage of NNS is the capacity to notate measurements swiftly. I found the use of parenthesis to notate measurements to be helpful.

The calculated bass used for rearrangements can be challenging to interpret, which is one shortcoming of the Roman Numeral system. In contrast, Rearrangements in Nashville Notation appear pretty straightforward to grasp.