First off, sorry to all my loyal readers for my lack of blog posts in the month of March. At the end of February, I received a nice opportunity to begin working on a transcription and article for Downbeat Magazine, so I've been pretty busy getting all of that together. However, I need a break and I've been wanting to write a post on Jim Riley and his great book for a long time now. I hope you enjoy, and thank you as always for visiting! Last month the blog had close to 2,000 unique visitors! I always appreciate the nice emails I receive each week, and I encourage you to go one step further and "like" the articles, as well as write in the comments box, so we can help spread the word further. Thanks!
The Book: (Click here to buy book)
I won't give out specific details from Jim's book because you should pick up a copy, but at the basic level the Nashville Number System uses numbers instead of chord symbols. For example, if we were in the key of Bb major and we wanted to show a simple ii - V - I chord progression, instead of writing Cmin F Bb... we would write 2- 5 1 ... If we changed keys, the numbers would stay the same. Think about that for a minute...
So what's the big deal?
The big deal is that you can write ONE chart on a single page for the entire band, and it is instantly transposable for all instruments in all keys! Normally if you had a chart in your book and say a singer sits in who couldn't sing it in that key, the whole band would need to do some pretty quick mental math to wrap their head around the new key. Although tranposition is an essential skill for all instrumentalist, it sure would be nice to have one chart that made all of this easier. The Nashville Number System totally streamlines the process of writing charts and it is used in high level professional situations on a daily basis. Sound simple? It is, but it serves the purpose unbelievably well. There is much to learn about this system and I can't possibly detail it all in the this blog, you just need to pick up the book.
But, there are hits and breaks in songs... what then, ahhh!?
No worries, in the book Jim discusses techniques Nashville musicians have used for years in detailing these charts. These are universal symbols that any musician/band can learn in five minutes, tops.
But I'm a drummer, I don't care about chord symbols?
*leaning in*....come closer....closer.... How are you going to communicate with other musicians and understand music if you don't have an understanding of melody, harmony, and chord progressions? Smarten up buddy, it's time to evolve! "But, but...Ringo and Bonham...?" You aren't them! :)
Ok, I'm being a jerk, but if you want to be taken seriously and contribute to the writing process in your band, let alone survive studio sessions, you had better get your theory chops together. It will change the way you hear music. In the meantime, there are some great substitutes for chord symbols that drummers can use in their charts... Jim discusses one technique in his book that works well for drummers, and you can read that to find out. In addition to his method, I like to use numbered bars in each section of my charts. These numbered bars aren't meant to represent chord values, but instead simply detail the number of measures per section.
Here is an example chart for your reading pleasure, High and Dry, by Radiohead. You will probably see a few symbols here that you don't understand, but they will be further explained in the book. I added in a few of my own symbols that Jim doesn't use, namely a circled number meaning an important crash, but that's just my own thing. The good thing about this system is that you can customize charts in ways that make the most sense to you...unless of course you are sharing this with everyone as an actual Nashville Number chart, in which case you would need to write actual chord numbers for the band.
The template you see above is something I developed in Excel so I didn't have to always re-write boxes and lines. If you would like to Download your own blank template for your use, please click here.
Thanks everyone, and enjoy!