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CHAPTER 6:
How Chords and Chord Progressions
REALLY Work
  
6.4 The Nashville Number System

 
PAGE INDEX
 

6.4.1 “Harmonic Degree”: Just a Fancy Name for “Chord”

6.4.2 The Seven Harmonic Degrees

6.4.3 An Example: The Seven Harmonic Degrees in the Key of C Major/A Minor

6.4.4 The Nashville Number System of Chord Notation: Why It’s Important and How It Works

 

~ • ~ • ~ • ~


6.4.1

“HARMONIC DEGREE”: JUST A FANCY NAME FOR “CHORD


In harmony, Roman numerals represent whole chords, which are named after their roots. Here’s how scale degree Arabic numbers and chord Roman numerals are related:

 

        A chord with scale degree 1 as its root is called the I chord (the “one chord"). For example, in the key of C major, the chord C major is the I chord (the “one chord”).

 

        A chord with scale degree 4 as its root is called the IV chord (the “four chord”). For example, in the key of C major, the chord F major is the IV chord (the “four chord”). Etc., etc. So far, so good.


     Now for the important part.


     The relationship between harmony and melody begins with the identification of the seven harmonic degrees. As you’ll see in a minute, this is the basis of the Nashville Number System.


     So . . . what’s a harmonic degree? Just a technical name for “chord.” These chords are the triads (three notes, separated by intervals of a third) whose roots are the seven individual scale degrees of a given diatonic scale.



6.4.2

THE SEVEN HARMONIC DEGREES


Have a look at Table 38 below. Each vertical column shows which three notes (scale degrees) form a triad (a chord, or “harmonic degree”), each built on a different note of the diatonic scale:




TABLE 38  The Seven Harmonic Degrees (Also Known As Triads or Chords)



Notes That Comprise Each Chord

The Seven Chords

5th Note Up From Root

(Interval of a third)

5

6

7

1

2

3

4

3rd Note Up From Root

(Interval of a third)

3

4

5

6

7

1

2

Root of Triad

(Scale Degree)

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

Chord (Harmonic Degree)

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII





     An example is coming up in a minute. For now, bear in mind that each Arabic number represents a note of the major scale. So, in the key of C major, for example, 1 = C, 2 = D, 3 = E, etc. Each Roman numeral represents a chord. So, for example Roman number I = the chord C.


     As you study Table 38 with considerable diligence, forsaking even a trip to the Wrong Ranch Saloon for a double Wild Turkey, you will notice that the chords with roots 1, 4, and 5 are shaded lightly, whilst chords with roots 2, 3, and 6 are marked with darker shading. And out there on the right, the chord with root 7 bears the darkest and scariest shading. The reasons for these shading variances will become blindingly clear in a minute.


     Also, notice that scale degree I (8) is missing. In harmony, unlike melody, scale degree I (8) has no meaning because the notes of a chord, including the chord root, apply universally to any and all octaves equally. Again, this will become clearer as you fight your way through this chapter with masochistic but admirable determination.


     As you’ve discovered, chords consist of “third” intervals stacked atop each other. In any diatonic scale, if you select any note as a starting point, you will always get an interval of a third simply by skipping one note of the diatonic scale.


     For example, in the key of C major, if you start on the note D and skip to the note F, you get an interval of a minor third (three semitones). If you start on F and skip to A, you get an interval of a major third (four semitones). Remember, even though one interval is a major third and the other is a minor third, both are still considered to be “thirds.”


     Everywhere along the scale, skipping one note gets you an interval of either a major third or a minor third.


     So, any triad will consist of...

 

        A root note, which can be any note of the scale, plus

 

        The third note up from the root (skipping over the second note), plus

 

        The fifth note up from the root (skipping over the fourth note).



6.4.3

AN EXAMPLE: THE SEVEN HARMONIC DEGREES IN THE KEY OF C MAJOR/A MINOR


Using the key of C major as an example, you can find out exactly which chords are this key’s seven “harmonic degrees” (just a fancy name for “chords”), and which notes make up those chords.


To start, here’s the scale you’re dealing with (Figure 43):




FIGURE 43  C Major Scale



 




     And here are the seven harmonic degrees (chords) in the key of C major, showing which three notes comprise each triad (Table 39 below):




TABLE 39  The Seven Harmonic Degrees (Triads or Chords) in the Key of C Major / A Minor



Notes In Each Chord

Names of the Seven Chords

 

C

Major

D

Minor

E

Minor

F

Major

G

Major

A

Minor

B

Dim.

5th Note

G

A

B

C

D

E

F

3rd Note

E

F

G

A

B

C

D

1st (Root)

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

Chord (Harmonic Degree)

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII






     Why “C Major / A Minor” in the title of Table 39? Because in harmony, the major and relative minor keys are so intimately related that they share the same “harmonic scale,” sometimes called the scale of harmonic degrees, as you’ll see shortly.


     You’ll note that, of the seven triads in Table 39 above:

 

        Three are major triads (major chords)

 

        Three are minor triads (minor chords)

 

        One is a diminished triad (diminished chord)


     For example, the notes that make up the chord with root C consist of an interval of a major third (C – E) on the bottom and a minor third on top (E – G). So it’s a major triad (C, E, G).


     The notes that make up the chord with root D consist of a an interval of a minor third (D – F) on the bottom and a major third on top (F – A). So it’s a minor triad (D, F, A). And so on.


     Now it’s becoming clearer how chords add a “third dimension,” a sense of depth and color to music.


     Speaking of color, in Table 39 above, shading identifies the chord types. The major triads are lightly shaded, the minor triads medium-shaded, and the diminished triad darkly shaded.

 

     One of the first things you’ve probably noticed about the chords that make up the seven harmonic degrees is that three of them, the three major chords, C major, F Major, and G major, are the same three chords you find in 87 gazillion popular songs. The famous “three basic chords” that everybody learns to play on the guitar pretty soon after first picking up the instrument. (And, for a lot of guitar pickers, the only chords they ever learn.)

 

        These three chords, C, F, and G, happen to collectively contain all seven notes of the C major scale and its relative minor, the A natural minor scale.

 

        Same goes for the three minor chords—they also collectively contain all seven notes of the A natural minor scale and its relative major, the C major scale.



6.4.4

THE NASHVILLE NUMBER SYSTEM OF CHORD NOTATION: WHY IT’S IMPORTANT AND HOW IT WORKS


A lot of session players in Nashville do not read music. So they use a system of chord notation that originated in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Starting in the 1950s, Nashville players began adapting it for their own needs. Now everybody knows it as the Nashville Number System.


     The Nashville Number System is “chord shorthand” based on the chords of the seven harmonic degrees (Tables 38 and 39 above). The Nashville Number System makes it possible for any player to play the correct chords of a song in any key, simply by numbering the chords according to their harmonic degrees.


     The advantage?


     Once a lead or lyric sheet is notated using the Nashville Number System, performers can use it to play or sing the song in any key. Players do not have to re-notate lead sheets every time someone decides to try out the tune in a different key. Which happens an awful lot.


     The Nashville Number System works like this:

 

        Each chord of the seven harmonic degrees (Tables 38 and 39 above) gets notated on the lead sheet according to the number of the chord’s root.

 

        You can (and should) use Roman numerals to represent the chords, but in Nashville they usually use Arabic numbers (which is a bit confusing, since Arabic numbers apply to scale notes as well).

 

        For the minor triads, add a lower case “m” to the number.

 

        For the diminished chord, add the symbol “º”. Add other symbols as needed for different extensions of chords such as ninths.


     Table 40 below shows the Nashville Numbers for all seven harmonic degrees.




TABLE 40  The Seven Harmonic Degrees (Triads or Chords): The Nashville Number System

 

Harmonic Degrees (Chords)

  

 

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

Nashville Number

1

2m

3m

4

5

6m

What They Call It

“the one chord”

“the two chord”

“the three chord”

“the four chord”

“the five chord”

“the

six chord”

“the seven chord”

Chord is Always ...

major

minor

minor

major

major

minor

dimin-ished





     Now, the above chart is not exactly right. In Nashville, all Nashville Numbers are considered to be major chords unless you specify otherwise.


     So, for example, if you say, “Play the two chord,” the Nashville session player will play the two major chord unless you say, “Play the two minor chord.”


     If you say, “Play the seven chord,” the session player will play the seven major chord unless you say “Play the seven diminished chord,” or “Play the seven minor sixth chord,” or “When can we take a break and grab a beer?”


     In the remaining discussion of harmony, the Nashville Number System applies. However, only Roman numerals are used for chords, not Arabic numbers. For example, the Nashville Number of the “seventh” of the chord built on scale degree 5 is notated as V7 (instead of 5 - 7).


     When referencing a specific key, such as the key of C, alphabetic letters replace Roman numerals to identify chords. Like so (Table 41):




TABLE 41  The Seven Harmonic Degrees: Modified Nashville Number System



Harmonic Degree

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

Modified Nashville Number

I

IIm

IIIm

IV

V

VIm

VIIº

Example: Chords in Key of C/Am

C

Dm

Em

F

G

Am






     One other thing: It's standard in "normal" chord notation to:

 

        Capitalize the letter of the root chord (“A” for A major, instead of “a”)

 

        Use a capital M for a chord with a major seventh interval, as AM7 (A major seventh)

 

        Use a lower case m for a chord based on a minor triad, as Am7 (A minor seventh)


      When using Nashville Numbers, always capitalize the equivalent Roman numerals.


     For example, in the Nashville Number System, the chord Am7 in the key of C major/A minor becomes "VIm7" (“six minor seventh” or "the minor seventh of the six chord") in the Nashville Number System. The chord AM7 in the key of C major/A minor becomes VIM7 (“six major seventh” or "the major seventh of the six chord").


     Some people use lower case Roman numerals to signify “minor”. That is, vi = minor and VI = major. For instance, they'll write in an e-mail to a friend: "yesterday i was working on a chord progression in the key of c and i was playing a vi chord ..."


     Now, would that be the chord A minor or the chord A major?


     Don’t do this. Do not use lower-case Roman numerals, ever. It only breeds confusion.

Always use capital Roman numerals when using Nashville Numbers.

     Note, however, that there’s no "world standard" on this issue, as there is, for example, in tuning musical instruments, where "Concert A=440 Hz" is the recognized world standard. So if you insist on using lower case Roman numerals for minor chords, Marshal McDillon will not arrest you. But you might get confused.


 

The Oldest Jordanaire

 

Neal Matthews is credited with devising the Nashville Number System. For some 47 years, until his death in 2000, Matthews sang tenor as a member of The Jordanaires, who gained international fame as background vocalists for Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, and hundreds of other great songwriters and performers.


The Jordanaires are still performing today. The oldest Jordanaire, the legendary counter-tenor Little Willy Jim Bob Peabody, cut his first record in 1886, at the dawn of the age of wax cylinder recordings.


In 2006, Peabody celebrated his 120th year in show business with a backing vocal performance on Celine Dion’s cover recording of the Metallica classic, “So What.” Dion’s husband and manager, Rene Angelil, had to hire extra security for the recording session to keep the frisky 143-year-old Jordanaire charmer at a respectable distance from Dion, who apparently enjoyed all the attention, as she often complains she doesn’t get enough. Attention.



~ • ~ • ~ • ~

 

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You are reading the FREE SAMPLE Chapters 1 through 6 of the acclaimed 12-Chapter book, How Music REALLY Works!, 2nd Edition. Here's what's in Chapters 7 through 12. 

 

To order the book, click here:

        
 

 

 

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

   Top

 

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