Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Diving in to NNS - learning chord numbers

Hi Gang,
So, still inspired by the Nashville Number System sessions at Cabin Camp, I am diving in to chord charting.

It seems like a real prerequisite is complete command of keys and which intervals map onto which notes/chords. That is, ideally, memorization of all intervals in all keys (starting with “common” bluegrass keys). So you immediately know that a “5” in the key of C is a G. (Obviously this is important to other aspects of music theory in addition to NNS).

Is this a correct assumption? That is, should I start by learning intervals, key by key, until they’re baked in?

Of course, approaches to learning vary, and what works for one student might not for another. Just looking for some suggestions.

Thanks, all, I’m very grateful to @BanjoBen for providing this forum, and to all of you for participating in it!



I’d say that’s a good plan. Having that knowledge under your belt can only help.

On guitar, I consider knowing patterns equally valuable.

eg. the minor pentatonic scale has five patterns that go all the way up the fretboard, and each one of them ties into the next. It’s priceless!

Googling “five patterns of the minor pentatonic scale” will show many diagrams.

Best to you.


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Awesome advice, Jack, thanks so much.

Trying to remember the NNS is something I still struggle with particularly when playing in a minor key. I am happy with the chord names its just the number system that my memory seems to block.

Well, on guitar you’ll most likely be playing out of the G, C, or D position if you’re playing lead, so first memorize those and the you can play any key with a capo. The A and E positions are also useful for backup.

Something that happened for me is that intervals became sort of graphical on the fretboard. On guitar, the fourth is up one string same fret… the fifth is up one string, up two frets. In other words, I couldn’t tell you in a nano second what the fifth is in the key of X, but I could play it. This may or may not be a good thing. It may be better to slog through learning a bunch of notes/keys, but for me it just happened a bit different. A little of both approaches is probably best.

What Gunnar said is helpful. Learn to play certain common keys and shapes, add a capo, and you have a great foundation.


I takes a little while to learn @Michael, but it will sink in. I had to run it through my head like math problems so I could have them by memory, though playing/reading/writing charts ingrains it the fastest.

I learned it the same as @Mike_R. I don’t always know what I’m playing, but I can play it

After ten years ???

This is one trick this old dog just cant master

A lot of great info given here. My addition is to check out a circle of 5ths chart. The great thing about the chart is that you pick a key, then 1 step clockwise is the 5th of that key and 1 step counter clockwise is the 4th. If you go 2 steps clockwise, you get the 5th of the 5th, which is also called the 2nd chord in the NNS.

Play around with it for a while and you’ll find every number in the NNS on the chart, and they’ll always be in the same place no matter which key you’re in.

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Great suggestion by @Mark_Rocka

Here is an online version of the Circle of Fifths that I use for quick reference.

It’s helpful to learn this pattern: in a major key, 1=M 2=m 3=m 4=M 5=M 6=m 7=dim. (M is major chord, m is minor chord, dim is diminished (dominant can work)) that’s a general guide, the exception is playing a 5 of a 5, in which case the 2=M and occasionally even a 7th chord

Great to hear. It’s a good system to communicate with band members regardless of what key their instrument is. When I play in Jazz Band or Polka Bands with my Trumpet,while we never referred to it as the “Nashville Number System”., but we did talk about chords in terms of the 1-chord, 4-chord, 5-chord, 1st, flat-3rd, 4th, flat-5th, 5th, flat-7th, etc… It’s a musical language that trancends instruments, keys & capo’s.

Happy Picking!!

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Man, great comments and suggestions from everybody! Looks like I asked the right group!!!

Thank you, all.