The Nashville Number System
by Matthew Slack – LC Team
A few friends and I recently visited The Belonging Co in Nashville after hearing so many amazing things about their worship ministry. One really cool thing that we noticed during our time there was that in a portion of their worship set, they entered a time of spontaneous worship where the leader was directing the band and calling out chord changes not with his voice, but with a hand behind his back. By simply holding up different fingers, his band knew exactly what chords to play. What he was doing was using something called “the Nashville number system” to accomplish this.
If you’re not familiar with this system, we would highly recommend looking into it. In its simplest form, the number system assigns a number to each note or scale degree of a given key. For example, in the key of C, your root (C) would be the “1”, D would be the “2”, etc. There are many reasons that understanding this approach is helpful especially for those in worship ministry! Below we’ve listed the top 3 reasons you should consider training your team on this system.
1. Easily learn songs
You can learn songs by simply listening to them without even needing to sit at your instrument. One nice thing about the number system is that every “number” will take on the same harmonic characteristics, despite the key of the song. So it can become very easy to identify and recognize what the “4” sounds like, and the same goes for every other number in the scale. When you learn the relationships of how these numbers sound in relation to one another, you will begin listening for the numbers instead of specific note names, which will rapidly expedite the time it takes for you to learn a new song for an upcoming service!
2. Easily transpose songs
You can easily transpose songs you know and play them in any key. To take the previous point one step further, once you have learned the numbers (chords) for a given song, you can then apply those to any major key and immediately know which chords to play and where relative to the key you’re playing in. If you’re looking for ways to equip your team with the tools they need to not be as dependent on chord charts, this is the next step to take.
3. Easily navigate moments of spontaneous worship
Familiarity with the number system will make it much easier for your team to navigate moments of spontaneous worship. In the same way we noticed at the Belonging, with enough practice, you can utilize this system in moments of free worship. Since numbers are infinitely easier to sign with your hand than letters, you’ll find that as an MD or even a worship leader, you can clearly indicate to your band what chords you’d like to play.
Take some time and investigate the Nashville number system. In a worship setting, the ability to adapt is important, and by using numbers as opposed to note names, you’ll find that it is much easier to communicate with other band members. This will help everyone play together in confidence even when in the middle of spontaneous or free moments of worship.