Number Chart System
Modern songwriting is as fascinated with chords as it is with melody and lyrics. Chords form the bed for the melody to flow within the chord structure. The Nashville number chart system is really a chord chart system, giving the musician a roadmap of the chords to be used in the song, regardless of the key.
To continue, make sure you have a good working knowledge of the major scales. In other words, you should be able to sing or play a "do re mi" scale using the numbers one through seven instead of "do re mi’s"
Two of the same notes are a unison. Two different notes form a duo called an interval. Three different notes, on every other degree of a scale, form a group called a chord.
Chords should be analyzed in the key of their root. For a C chord, use a C scale with C as 1 for your starting point.
C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C = 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-1
Every chord has a root, third, and fifth. In other words, every chord has a 1-3-5 notes in it to form the chord.
A Major chord is
Thus with a C chord:
A C major is C-E-G.
Try these out on your guitar, keyboard, or what-have-you. You are probably already used to the sound of major and minor, but it wouldn’t hurt to acquaint yourself with the diminished and augmented also.
These notes can appear in any order and be repeated ad infinitum. In other words: G-B-D-G-B-G is still a G major chord, as a matter of fact, this is how it appears on the guitar. As long as you have the root third and fifth, you have a chord.
Now, we’ll turn to seventh chords. You simply add a seventh to the root, third, and fifth.
Major seventh chord
Strangest of all is the fully diminished seventh ( o ). This is the diminished chord most people are familiar with (" Help, help, he’s tying me to the railroad tracks!) It uses a doubly flatted seventh. In C this would be a Bbb which would sound the same as A. 1-b3-b5-bb7
The fully diminished seventh chord repeats its intervals so perfectly, that any note in the fully diminished seventh chord can be the root.
The ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth chords are built directly on the seventh, which may be: seventh, major seventh, or minor seventh. If you haven’t noticed yet, chords are built on every other note in the scale. Skip a number after seven and you would get two, but that could have been confusing, so we called a two built on a seventh chord a ninth. Continuing with this, we call a four an eleventh, and a six a thirteenth. Here’s a common thirteenth chord.
(Notice that the common
extended chords have a flat seven, this allows them to lead to another chord e.g.
a G7, G9, G11, or G13 want to lead you to a C chord. If they had a natural
seven, they would just "sit there"
(Gmaj7, Gmaj9, Gmaj11, or
There are a
few other chords or tone clusters that are used by songwriters. Perhaps the most
familiar is the suspended chord (mistakenly referred to as a
"sustained" chord.) A suspended chord "suspends" the
listener from knowing whether it is major or minor. It substitutes either a four
or two for the three or flat three.
2 5 or 1 4 5
common is the Sus4, which can be referred to simply as Sus. The Sus2 must be
written as such. The Sus4 is the "Pinball Wizard" chord; the Sus2 is
the "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" chord. Another
chord often used by songwriters is the Add9 chord. It leaves out the
There are a few other chords or tone clusters that are used by songwriters. Perhaps the most familiar is the suspended chord (mistakenly referred to as a "sustained" chord.) A suspended chord "suspends" the listener from knowing whether it is major or minor. It substitutes either a four or two for the three or flat three.
2 5 or 1 4 5
The more common is the Sus4, which can be referred to simply as Sus. The Sus2 must be written as such. The Sus4 is the "Pinball Wizard" chord; the Sus2 is the "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" chord.
Another chord often used by songwriters is the Add9 chord. It leaves out the seven.
This one usually follows a specific pattern.
Steely Dan called this a "mu" chord. When played on the guitar as a C add9, usually following a G chord, it has been called a "Nashville C". CEGDG (The sixth string is not played.)
Songwriters often come up with other "added" chords, like an Am add11 (an Am with a D note, but without the seventh or ninth…theory cats: I know this could be a D9, but bear with me.) Very often these chords are useful to the single act, but would sound strange if the whole band played them. (If you really need it, show it to the guitar player, but make it an Am on the chart.) With experience you’ll find when such chords are appropriate.
Last but not least is the drone chord. Not really a chord, the drone is made up of a root and fifth. It is neither major nor minor and it allows the melody to move from the b3 to the 3, giving a bluesy or "modal" sound. It’s found a lot in country and metal (how’s that for an eclectic chord?) You’ll hear it in the Judds’ "Why Not Me" and in "Smoke on the Water." It’s the "power" chord.
I know this is a lot, but if I can get on the Internet, you can figure it out. While you’re sifting through this, remember that chords may have different names depending on what you call the "root." You often identify the root in context. Also the bass note (which is not necessarily the root) affects the "feel" of the chord. Some bass notes even seem to operate independently of the chord, (Theory cats, close your eyes…) like an F chord with a G in the bass in the key of C. In Nashville we’d call that a four over a five. (OK cats, it’s a G11? Then, where’s the third and fifth?)
Once again, you’ll need to get a decent grasp on this to continue. Be practical. Figure out your own songs. Think about what chords you use. If you don’t use ninths and thirteenths, you don’t need to worry as much about them.
Part three will be about time. Until then, eat your 1622656 in the key of C.
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