Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Nashville Number System

So @BanjoBen gave an great session on the Nashville number system that was a bit of a lightbulb moment. When I got home I came across this video that’s an awesome set to watch, but you can see a few examples of this being used on the fly which I thought was pretty cool. It’s really clear for the first time at the 6:25 mark. Just thought it was pretty cool.


Still a bit above my paygrade but Thank you for the video I really like what Billy does with his music. a very talented young man for sure. :sunglasses:


He’s way above a lot of pay grades. Besides just a cool video I just thought it was cool to see them running through the numbers on the fly like that after just learning about it.


I love how the Nashville Number System allows for learning a song on the fly!

When we were jamming the first night of camp, I think Jake or Justin called out a song that I hadn’t heard before. I said so, Jake said, “No problem, 1415 key of A,” we played one verse and I was able to take a solo. I was never able to do that with just tab arrangements, etc!


Well to be fair you’re the man!! It is cool though how universal it makes all those songs. Learning about that was one of the highlights of camp for sure.


The number system is not above anyone’s pay grade, it’s really simple. The only thing hard about it is to remember the sharps and flats associated with each key. The circle of fifths will help with the sharps and flats.


There is one thing I have a question about concerning the number system. Let’s pretend someone calls out 1145. I think that means two measures of 1, One measure of 4, and one measure of 5. How would you call out a split measure?


One of our camp band songs (hot corn) had an xtra beat/measure. Our instructor had it written with parenthesis around it and 2 dots above the #. So split measure would get ( ) as well when written - but called out, I don’t know, and now I’m curious…
good question!

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Ok so now with that all said my question is exactly where is the lesson in the tutorials on this subject matter we have been speaking??? I hate to be thick but I figured since the discution has gone there and now I need to know ( or at least start the learnin part) I still thought the vid was cool!!! and yes I to took notice of the on the fly learnin. Most interesting!!!:face_with_raised_eyebrow:

Yeah man I’ve watched a couple times too I think it’s pretty awesome. As far as the numbers I haven’t looked, but I don’t think it’s an actual lesson on the site, it was something he taught at the recent cabin camp. A way of numbering chords so that regardless of the key everyone can be on the same page as far as the changes go. One (1) is the root chord in any given key and so on and so forth.

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There is a chapter in the Earl Scruggs book but I was needin the video tutorial to help me get through the parts I’m not gettin ! Get it???:rofl: without somebody teachin me hand’s on I get kinda cornfused :upside_down_face::sunglasses:

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I just watched the Basic Chord Theory course in the basic checklist and that will get you most of it.


That’s what I was lookin for! I will check that out. Thank you. :sunglasses:


You would say, 11251 and then say, “and that 25 is a split measure” for example.


Pg. 31 of the Earl Scruggs Five String Banjo book has what you seek! the measure is written 2/5 or 2_5( the line would be under the 25 with a comma _, directly under the 2,5) Look it up in the book it gives an explanation way better than I’m explaining. This is still above my paygrade but it’s a bit clearer now. I’m just not that good yet!!! :smirk: Hope this helps. Let me know if I was way off so I may stand corrected and learnt the rite way before I pick up some of that sideways thinkin :upside_down_face: :sunglasses:


Yep, that’s how it’s done :wink:


Thanks Ben! I was beginning to think I’d been ghosted. So are the corresponding chords/notes and numbers always a set specific list or do they change according to the musicians attending the set? for example if i called out a 1144 = G G C C . would it be different for a different set of musicians ? or is this a standard for were ever or whom ever you would go and sit in with? :sunglasses:

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The song is always the song and has the same chord structure no matter who plays it. If the chord structure (numbers) changed, the song would change and it wouldn’t be the same song.

So to answer, the numbers never change no matter who’s playing it. The only thing that changes is what key it’s in, which defines what the “1” is.


And that is established in the tuning section at the start when your getting tuned up and ready to start Rite? I think I got the just of it. Thanks Ben Now I just need to learn it!!! Oh Boy Somthin else to practice!!! :laughing: :sunglasses:


No, this is different from tuning. Most everyone tunes to something called A440 ( All electronic tuners tune to A440 by default. This is not what is meant by the Nashville Number System.

There are 12 total notes in western music. That means a song can be in any of these keys. For fiddle tunes, this key is usually set. For instance, “Whiskey Before Breakfast” is always played in D, “East Tennessee Blues” is played in C, and so on. Banjo tunes are similar–Foggy Mountain Breakdown is played in G. The key that a song is in is called the root, and that root is what is referred to as the 1. The root note of Foggy Mountain would be G, and it’s referred to as the “1”. The root note in Whiskey is a D, and it is referred to as the 1.

There are also all the black notes on the piano that are referred to as flats or sharps. We play and sing in those keys, too, but not as common as some others.

For singing songs, there aren’t standardized keys like fiddle and banjo tunes. What determines the key is the vocal range of the singer/s. For instance, when I sing “Happy Birthday” I’ll do it in the key of G–it fits my voice. But a bass singer may do the same song in C because that key fits his voice.

But whether you sing “Happy Birthday” in G or C, the chord structure never changes. Let me show you. A basic arrangement of chords for Happy Birthday in G are (each letter represents a measure):


Now, this is in the key of G. G is the root because we’re in the key of G, and G is referred to as the “1” because it is the root. If we referred to the chords as numbers as we would in the Nashville Number System, you would need to know the G major scale:

G A B C D E F# G
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
(It’s not spacing right for me, but each number is supposed to reside under the corresponding ordered note. C is the 4, and E is the 6, etc.)

So now we could write the chords with the corresponding numbers instead of letter names, and the chords to “Happy Birthday” would be:

1 5 5 1
1 4 5 1

Do you see what I’ve done?

Now, the reason why that is helpful is because those numbers do not change, no matter what key you’re in. Let’s go back to Mr. Bass Singer who likes to sing this song in C–but, the numbers don’t change! All that changes is the root. Instead of singing in my range of G, we are going to sing in his range of C–C is the root, and C is the new 1. Now, we need to know what the C major scale is to know what chords to play:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

And when we apply our Nashville Number Pattern to the C major scale, we find our chords for Happy Birthday in the key of C are:


And now, I can take my number pattern for “Happy Birthday” and play in whatever key I’d like, I just have to start on a new 1 for whatever key I’m in.