The Nashville Number System – Playing Piano By Numbers?

by Omar Zulfi on October 25, 2012

Nashville Number SystemWussup everyone,

So I’m almost done practicing the C Major Piano Scale – I’ve been memorizing the piano fingering technique and just constantly playing the C Major Scale over and over again.

But before I stop practicing there’s one thing I want to do.

The Nashville Number System is an important concept to understand because it will make playing piano by ear (without sheet music) and creating our own songs that much easier. So how does it work?

Basically what you do is assign a number to each note of the scale you’re playing. For us (at this point in practicing) we’re going to use the numbers 1-8. You can also assign numbers passed this (9 – 16), but that’s beyond what we’re doing right now.

So since I’m still practicing the C-Major Scale (almost done! don’t worry..) I’m going to use it as an example.

In case you forgot, the C-Major Scale goes a lil something like this:

C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C

So all you have to do is assign the numbers 1-8 to each of these piano notes.

What you end up with is:

  • C = 1
  • D = 2
  • E = 3
  • F = 4
  • G = 5
  • A = 6
  • B = 7
  • C = 8 (a.k.a octave)

What this means is that the C note is the 1st tone of the C Major Scale. The D note is the 2nd tone of the C Major Scale, the E note is the 3rd tone of the C Major Scale and so on, and so on.

I have no idea why they call it the Nashville number system, but who cares, really?

Why is this important? Well, when you’re building piano chords, chord progressions and playing songs, knowing the numbers of each note in the scale helps you TREMENDOUSLY.

And if you decide you want to play a particular song, but in a different key (i.e. you want to play the song using the F scale instead of the C scale to give it a more unique sound) then it’s easy to transpose the song into that key. (Transpose is a fancy word that means “translating” a song into a different key/note. Sort of…)

Or if you want to play a C Major 7th chord (the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th tones of the C major scale), knowing the different numbers of the scale will let you easily build the chord.

So it’s an important thing to know. And like with anything when learning to play the piano, you gotta memorize it!

So memorize those scale numbers before moving onto learning the next piano scale. You need to know those by heart so that if I was to ask “What’s the 7th tone of the C Major Scale” you’d be able to say “B” without even blinking an eye.

That’s it for now. I’ve been reciting the scale numbers for a couple days now, and am going to continue doing that for the next few days. Trust me… if you try memorizing the Nashville number system for 20-30 minutes a day, everyday, you can bang out these scales in no time.

Here’s a dope lil chart that lists out the numbers involved in the Nashville numbering system.

Nashville Number System Chart