Premier Guitar features affiliate links to help support our content. We may earn a commission on any affiliated purchases.

The Nashville Number System Demystified

The Nashville Number System is used by nearly every working musician in Nashville. Learn it!

I did a session a little while ago with a guest keyboard player who had painstakingly transcribed every note he planned on playing. He was über-prepared but regrettably misguided, because once the singer decided he wanted to try the song up a half step, this guy was screwed. When I handed him a number chart, he looked like he was going to sob, pee his pants, and then hide. The poor bastard was an egghead who knew a lot about music but never took the time to learn the down-and-dirty stuff that working musicians use every day: the Nashville Number System.

Literally, everybody working a decent gig in Nashville reads number charts—including every good engineer and drummer, even though they're not playing notes, per se. It's a brilliant system that allows players to change keys to accommodate any moody singer immediately. They can be written quickly and sight-read easily after a bit of practice. Much like chord charts, they don't give you the melody, but you can write out simple signature parts in numbers. For those who haven't yet learned the Nashville Number System, I present to you the keys to the kingdom.

Everybody writes charts a bit differently. Mine tend to be sloppy, but they all have the same basic format. In short, a line is usually four to eight measures. Each number denotes the scale degree of your key signature. All standard symbols for music apply.

An example of an eight-bar progression written with the Nashville Number

In Figure 1, the upper right-hand corner (the circled “G" that looks a lot like a “6") tells us that we're playing a waltz (that is, in ¾ time) in the key of G. That means G is our 1. Measure one is a G. Measure two is a straight G for the first two beats, then a G with a B (3) in the bass on the last note of the measure, leading us into the C (4) chord for measure three. Play a straight C (4) for the first two beats, then play the G (1) over B (3) as a passing chord to A (2) minor for the fourth measure. Play a D (5) Major 7th for measure 5, then a straight D for the first beat of measure six. Play two beats on a D (5) with an F# (7) in the bass for the rest of measure six, then resolve back to our G, strumming three quarters for the 7th measure and hit a single whole note strum for the eighth measure. Then follow those repeat signs and do it again.

If your singer wants to modulate to A, the A is now your 1, D is your new 4, etc. It's amazing how much information you can convey with just a few numbers and symbols. Figure 2 shows a list of a few symbols that you will eventually see in Nashville Number System Charts. Next time you're recording or learning a song, write a number chart. Eventually, you'll be able to read them without thinking so you can get down to just playing.


Common Nashville Number System symbols.

John Bohlinger

John Bohlinger is a Nashville guitar slinger who works primarily in television, and has recorded and toured with over 30 major label artists. His songs and playing can be heard in major motion pictures, major label releases and literally hundreds of television drops. Visit him at: or

On her new record with her trio, Molly Miller executes a live-feeling work of structural harmony that mirrors her busy life.

Photo by Anna Azarov

The accomplished guitarist and teacher’s new record, like her lifestyle, is taut and exciting—no more, and certainly no less, than is needed.

Molly Miller, a self-described “high-energy person,” is fully charged by the crack of dawn. When Ischeduled our interview, she opted for the very first slot available—8:30 a.m.—just before her 10 a.m. tennis match!

Read MoreShow less

John Mayall in the late ’80s, in a promo shot for his Island Records years. During his carreer, he also recorded for the Decca (with the early Bluesbreakers lineups), Polydor, ABC, DJM, Silvertone, Eagle, and Forty Below labels.

He was dubbed “the father of British blues,” but Mayall’s influence was worldwide, and he nurtured some of the finest guitarists in the genre, including Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Harvey Mandel, Coco Montoya, and Walter Trout. Mayall died at his California home on Monday, at age 90.

John Mayall’s career spanned nearly 70 years, but it only took his first four albums to cement his legendary status. With his initial releases with his band the Bluesbreakers—1966’s Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton; ’67’s A Hard Road, with Peter Green on guitar; plus the same year’s Crusade, which showcased Mick Taylor—and his solo debut The Blues Alone, also from 1967, Mayall introduced an international audience of young white fans to the decidedly Black and decidedly American genre called blues. In the subsequent decades, he maintained an active touring and recording schedule until March 26, 2022, when he played his last gig at age 87. It was reported that he died peacefully, on Monday, in his California home, at 90.

Read MoreShow less

Featuring enhanced amp models, a built-in creative looper, AI-powered tone exploration, and smart jam features.

Read MoreShow less

Donner andThird Man Hardware’s $99, three-in-one analog distortion, phaser, and delay honors Jack White’s budget gear roots.

Compact. Light. Fun. Dirt cheap. Many cool sounds that make this pedal a viable option for traveling pros.

Phaser level control not much use below 1 o’clock. Repeats are bright for an analog delay. Greater range of low-gain sounds would be nice.


Donner X Third Man Triple Threat


A huge part of the early White Stripes mystique, sound, ethos, and identity was tied to guitars and amps that, at the time, you could luck into for cheap at a garage sale. These days, it’s harder to score a Crestwood Astral II, or Silvertone Twin Twelve with a part-time job in the ice cream shop. Back in the late ’90s, though, they were a source of raw, nasty sounds for less than a new, more generic guitar or amp.

Read MoreShow less