If You Can Count to Seven, You Already Know Basic Music Theory

The beauty is that you already know more than you think.  I realize the headline is somewhat click-baity, but once you finish reading this article, it will make perfect sense!  (Stick with me until the end, there really is an artistic benefit to all of this!)


Understanding this system can help you with writers block and it can aid your understanding of how chords fit together.  It can help you write melodies and understand what melodies work over certain chords.  It can help you identify chords in a song while you’re hearing it for the first time.  It can help you play songs you’ve never heard before.


The Nashville Number System & The Sound of Music

For example, on Broadway in Nashville, Tennessee, there is live music in every bar for several blocks.  Band leaders hire musicians to play those gigs.  They all gig so much that they don’t even have time to practice together.  But because they all know the Nashville Number System, the band leader can say at the beginning of any given song, “1 4 5 2 in A major” and the band instantly knows what chords to play (kind of like when Marty McFly says “Ok guys this is a blues riff in B, watch me for the changes).  He can even hold up a number of fingers to indicate what chord comes next!


In the Nashville Number System, each chord in a given key is given a number of one through seven.  These correspond exactly to “do re mi fa so la ti do,” from The Sound of Music [insert youtube link].  They are usually noted as Roman numerals.




Here is a table comparing a few different “notations” of music for a scale.  We will just look at C major for now.  (For you tabbers, imagine you have a guitar tuned to C)

  • facebook

©2019 by Michael Bivens