Number Chart System
Time, scientists say it is relative. Anyone who has ever waited in a long line for a good movie has experienced the relativity of time. The wait took forever, the movie ended quickly. Because of this phenomenon, most songwriters learning the Nashville number system have more trouble with time than with anything else.
Put quite simply, time in music can be broken down to 1,2,3.
We start with tempo. Tempo is the speed at which we establish a regular beat. Tempo alone is not counted in groups so we could express it as: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1…
We gauge this speed with minutes. For example, if we have one beat per second, we would say that the speed was 60 beats per minute (or, commonly, 60 quarter notes per minute.) If the beats occur twice a second, this would be 120 beats per minute. If you whistle a common march like "the Marine’s Hymn" or "Col. Bogey’s March," you will probably be close to 120 bpm.
Marching, obviously, groups a tempo into twos (left, right,) and fours (left…left…left, right, left.) We call this 2/4, or 4/4 time. This means we are grouping either two or four quarter notes, with the quarter note being one beat.
Two points are intersected by a straight line (marching.)
Three points are intersected by a plane (lateral motion is now possible, waltzing.) Grouping tempos into threes gives us 3/4, 6/8, or 12/8 time.
Other, more complex times are simply combinations of simple times. 5/4 time (as in Dave Brubeck’s "Take Five,") is a 3/4 and a 2/4. 7/4 time (as in Pink Floyd’s "Money,") is a 3/4 and a 4/4. All groupings of beats (ones) can be broken down into twos and threes.
Now comes the really confusing part. Within these beats, the time can be divided by either two or three. In other words, you can divide the beat by evenly saying, "One and Two and Three and Four," or by saying "One and uh Two and uh Three and uh Four." Make sure you are counting these evenly. A common mistake is to give more time to the "One" than to the "and" or to give less time to the "uh." You’ve got to make them as even as a metronome. (Which brings us to the question: do you have a metronome? No? And you call yourself a Musician?)
If your song is divided "one and two…," we call this straight eighths, or simply, eighths. If your song is divided "one and uh two and uh…," We call this a shuffle or swing. Some swing can be a little "off" from the triplet beat of a shuffle; this sophisticated approach gives the swing either a "tight" or "loose" feel. Merle Haggard’s "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" is a shuffle. The Eagles’ "Lyin’ Eyes" is eighths and Duke Ellington’s "Take the ‘A’ Train" is a swing. It is important that the band knows whether your song will be eighths, a shuffle, or a swing.
Using the Nashville number chart system, each number represents not only a chord, but also a measure. If you change chords within a measure, and the change is even (changing on beat number three in 4/4 time) you can simply underline both chords, put them in parenthesis, or put them in a box. The first line of "Jingle Bells" would read:
1 1 (14) 1
The one and four chords in parenthesis would fall on the words, "Jingle all the…" with two beats for the 1 and two beats for the 4.
To express quarter notes, you can put dots over the numbers to be counted as beats:
means, one beat of one, one beat of five one beat of four.
More complex rhythms can be expressed using standard Music notation.
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